6,000Units Under Management
Less Than 1% Eviction Rate
Avg. Time Rental Is on Market 23 Days

Smoke Detector Laws: What Every Landlord Needs to Know


The benefits of a working smoke detector are not hard to imagine. During a five-year period in the US alone, departments responded to over 350,000 residential fires. Whether accidental or intentional, dwelling fires are a significant risk to the safety of occupants, neighbors, and emergency services. In Maryland, new state laws several years ago aimed at reducing the number of civilian deaths resulting from a house fire. As a landlord, protecting both your property and tenants by following all smoke detector requirements is essential. So, if you are not already aware of the current smoke detector laws, continue reading below to find out more.

What are the New Smoke Detector Laws?

Older smoke detectors had a battery that needed frequent replacement, which could impact its effectiveness. In addition, some tenants would remove the battery to avoid the “chirping,” ultimately rendering the device useless. So, to boost fire safety for civilians and first responders, new smoke detector laws were enacted.

These new smoke detector laws require the replacement of all battery-only detectors more than 10 years old. Homeowners must instead use a unit that is powered by a 10-year sealed long-life battery. The benefit here is that these alarms provide extended and continuous coverage for a decade without changing the battery. In Maryland, this new law affected approximately 800,000 homes.

Does a Sealed Battery Really Make a Difference?

The use of 10 year sealed battery detectors came as a recommendation from the National Fire Protection Association and the National Association of State Fire Marshalls. Across the United States, around 66% of fire casualties stem from homes without a functioning smoke alarm. The NFPA reports that the majority of these malfunctions were due to either missing or disconnected batteries.

Encasing the long-life battery inside the unit helps prevent tenants or homeowners from disconnecting or tampering with the battery. In addition, it eliminated low battery “chirping” and allowed for more reliable fire alerts.

Terms of the MD Smoke Detector LawsTerms of the MD Smoke Detector Laws

Understanding the law is critical to ensure compliance as a landlord of either a single-family residence or multi-family building. The deadline for compliance with the new smoke detector laws that took effect in 2013 was January 1, 2018. Let’s review the various stipulations below –

  1. Homeowners must replace all battery-only operated smoke alarms with detectors powered by a 10 year sealed battery with a “silence/hush” feature.
  2. Upgrade as needed to comply with smoke alarm placement minimum standards based on when the building was constructed.

Smoke Detector Placement Requirements

  • Property Constructed Before July 1, 1975 – For homes built before July 1, 1975, smoke alarms must be present outside each sleeping area. In addition, owners must upgrade any battery-only units to new, 10-year sealed long-life battery smoke alarms equipped with a hush feature.
  • Any Homes Built Between July 1, 1975, and June 30, 1990 – Originally, property constructed between July 1, 1975, and June 30, 1990, needed an AC-powered smoke alarm in each sleeping area. Then, in 1990 these were required to have a battery backup. Any alarms installed during this period should have been replaced after 10-years under the existing law. Instead of the 9v backup, it is anticipated that hard-wired smoke alarms will incorporate 10-year long-life batteries in the future.
  • New Homes Constructed After January 1, 1989 – New homes built after January 1, 1989, require at least one AC-powered smoke alarm on each level of the home, including the basement. Units must be interconnected so that the activation of one results in the sounding of all smoke alarms. As mentioned above, these must also have a battery backup.
  • For All New Construction – Updates to Maryland’s Smoke Alarm Laws better align with the International Residential Code and NFPA 72, National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code. Currently, an AC-powered battery backup smoke alarm must be in every bedroom, in the common area outside of the bedrooms, and located on every level of the dwelling unit. Additionally, all required smoke alarms must be interconnected.

Smoke Detector Laws and Requirements for Landlords

The smoke detector laws take into account the unique challenges facing landlords. After all. Accessing a home to redo all smoke detectors can be a large undertaking depending on the property and the current state of alert systems. However, ultimately it is the landlord’s responsibility to comply with all smoke detector laws and ensure their units follow building codes. That said, landlords must ensure the following –

  1. Upgrade existing smoke detectors to new, 10-year sealed battery devices when there is a change in occupancy or whenever those systems reach 10 years old or malfunction.
  2. For any residential buildings with more than 2 units, tenants are responsible for testing the smoke alarms and notifying their landlords of any problems. As a landlord, ensure the tenants know the proper testing procedure and location of all detectors.

Smoke Detector Laws and Requirements for Landlords

What if a Smoke Detector Malfunctions?

In a rental unit, tenants are responsible for testing the smoke detector systems and providing feedback to the landlord. A landlord’s responsibility is to install, repair, or replace any smoke alarms to comply with building codes and smoke detector laws.

If the tenant discovers a malfunction, they must notify the landlord in writing immediately. In some cases, a landlord or property management company may have a convenient maintenance request system already. If not, tenants should send a certified letter with a return receipt. Once the property owner receives notification, repairs or replacement should take no more than 5 calendar days to complete.

What Happens if a Landlord Does Not Comply with Smoke Detector Laws?

When a tenant notifies the landlord of an issue or worse, the home did not have the proper detectors, to begin with, landlords must take action. Refusing to do so creates significant liability for property owners as this jeopardizes the safety of all occupants and the property.

If action is not taken, tenants are encouraged to call 3-1-1 to schedule smoke detector installation and then report the landlord to the Office of the Fire Marshall. From there, corrective action, including fines or loss of rental license, could take place against the owner.

How Many Smoke Detectors Does a Rental Property Need?

Smoke detector laws require a unit on every level of the home, which also includes the basement. Additionally, smoke detectors should be present in each sleeping area and common area. To ensure effectiveness, most trusted authorities recommend that owners replace units every ten years or so.

In addition to how many units there are, the specific installation locations will help reduce false alarms or nuisance alarms. For example, place detectors approximately 20 feet from any combustible appliance such as a stovetop or furnace. Furthermore, keep units at least 10 feet from excess humidity from bathrooms or the laundry area.

Do Smoke Detectors Affect My Rental License?

Yes. Smoke detector laws apply to all residential dwellings, including rental property. That said, rental licensing inspections already require hard-wired smoke detectors. So, to obtain a rental license, you may have already upgraded to the proper units.

Why Fire Safety is Important

As a landlord or the average homeowner, taking the necessary steps to avoid a fire disaster is important. Proven methods such as properly installed and functioning smoke detectors help save lives. Each year, fire officials respond to around 350,000 structure fires. Of those annual fire calls, over 2,600 resulted in a loss of life. Moreover, an average of 11,000 civilian injuries occurs each year, along with over $7 billion in direct property damage. According to NFPA, some additional fire statistics include –

  • Between 2014 and 2018, smoke alarms were present in 74% of all reported residential fires
  • 41% of fire casualties occurred in homes with no smoke alarms
  • The risk of dying in a fire is 55% lower in a home with a working smoke detector system
  • Hardwired smoke detectors operated successfully in 94% of fires large enough to trigger them instead of 82% for battery-operated units.

Why Fire Safety is Important

Keep in mind; civilians are not the only ones at risk with residential fires. According to USFA and FEMA, 65 firefighters have lost their lives between 1990 and 2020. Typically, fires and fire casualties result from five main causes.

Common Causes of Residential Fires

  • Cooking
  • Heating
  • Electrical and Lighting Equipment
  • Intentional Fire or Arson
  • Smoking

Common Causes of Residential Fires

Ensure Property Compliance with Expert Property Management

Whether it is ensuring the safety of tenants, protecting your valuable investment, or complying with smoke detector laws – owners have a great deal of responsibility. Before owners can legally rent their home, most jurisdictions require a rental inspection for licensing. It is critical that the property is compliant and ready to go so as not to delay the process or cause unnecessary fees. Therefore, relying on the trusted expertise of a local property management company will help ensure success.

At Bay Property Management Group, we begin the process with a thorough inspection and analysis of the rental property. From there, we help owners understand their home’s potential and what upgrades or changes to make in order to comply with applicable laws. Our goal is to help make your investment venture the profitable and enjoyable experience it should be. Our dedicated staff is well-versed in compliance requirements and can help guide you every step of the way. So, give us a call today to learn more about the benefits of full-service property management.