By February 9, 2016 Read More →

How private rental sector law changes impact on you and your customers

Fitting an alarm 2
Martyn Walley, National Technical Manager at Aico Ltd, looks at the recent change in legislation in respect of smoke and CO alarms in privately rented homes and the new opportunies that this presents for electrical wholesalers.

A significant change in the law came into effect in England on October 1st, 2015. For the first time, legislation came into force compelling landlords in the private sector to retrospectively fit smoke and Carbon Monoxide (CO) alarms.

I use the word ‘significant’ for good reason as the private rental sector is relatively unregulated, even though it is rapidly growing, with greater numbers of people forced to rely on it as house prices rise and social housing declines.

According to Civitas (the Institute for the Study of Civil Society), four million homes are now privately rented in England, accounting for almost one in five households; it is expected to account for more than a third by 2032. The sector has doubled in size since 1989 and contains more households now than social housing. Furthermore, owner-occupation is in decline.

So the introduction of new legislation in this sector is meaningful.

What has changed?

The new law is in many ways quite straightforward. Here is a summary of the legislation, passed through Parliament in September 2015:

  • Landlords must fit a smoke alarm on every storey
  • Landlords must fit a CO alarm in every room with a solid fuel burning appliance
  • Alarms must be tested and working on the start of each tenancy
  • Penalties of up to £5,000 will be enforced by the relevant Local Authority for those that flaunt the rule.

Although the legislation only specifically requires a CO alarm in rooms with a solid fuel burning appliance, the accompanying Q&A booklet states in relation to gas appliances that: ‘we would expect and encourage reputable landlords to ensure that working carbon monoxide alarms are installed in rooms with these (gas appliances)’. In fact, best practice dictates CO alarms be installed in rooms that have any fuel burning appliances; where people spend the most time; where people sleep; and in each room that a flue runs through or alongside. It’s important to remind your customers of this.

What alarm types should be used?

Where the legislation is less prescriptive is in the types of alarms to be installed. This has been left as: ‘Landlords should make an informed decision and choose the best alarms for their properties and tenant’. Even though there hasn’t been a reference to the type and siting of alarms, Aico recommends that the British Standard BS EN 50292:2013 should be adhered to when fitting CO Alarms in residential/domestic premises in accordance with Building Regulations; and that the British Standard BS 5839-6:2013 should be adhered to when fitting smoke alarms.

4487 Aico Products Montage

How can you encourage customers to invest in quality premium alarms?

Landlords could easily go down the route of buying the cheapest battery alarms they can find, install them on the ceiling and then test each alarm individually when a new tenant moves in.

If you have customers working with private landlords – especially for those with multiple properties – it’s worthwhile pointing out the drawbacks of this approach.

Firstly, there’s not much profit to be had in fitting cheap battery powered alarms! Whilst this in itself shouldn’t be a guiding factor when dealing with safety, the use of mains powered alarms in tenanted properties is seen as best practice as the issue of battery replacement (or lack thereof) is a serious cause for concern.

Secondly, smoke and CO alarms are life saving products. Pay less, get less; it really is that simple. Is it really worth saving a few quid and putting people’s lives and, in the case of smoke alarms, landlord’s own properties’ at risk? Investing in quality alarms that have been individually tested during the manufacturing process, rather than batch tested, provides maximum reliability.

Thirdly, in the private rental sector the trend is very much for short term lets, with typical contracts being just six months to one year. With a relatively high turnover of tenants, testing each and every alarm manually with every change of tenant is time consuming. And then there’s the proof: if something should go wrong and there was an incident caused by fire or a CO leak, how can the landlord prove they have tested the alarms to ensure they are in working order and indeed installed at the commencement of the tenancy?

What are the three most important recommendations you can make to customers?

There are options here to make the landlord’s life easier, to make the tenants safer and to increase both the installer’s and your bottom line. Here are three key recommendations to make to your customers:

  1. Battery removal from alarms is a big problem in rented properties. According to the Government’s ‘Fire Statistics: Great Britain April 2013 to March 2014’ in dwelling fires where a smoke alarm was present, 39% of all battery-powered smoke alarms failed compared to just 20% of mains-powered alarms in 2013-14. Missing or flat batteries accounted for 24% of all failure in battery-powered smoke alarm. Installing mains powered alarms, or ten-year alarms with sealed in Lithium batteries such as Aico’s Ei160e, Ei208 CO range, overcomes this.
  1. Interconnect the alarms within a property to increase audibility and give the tenants the best chance of exiting the property safely. When one unit goes into alarm, all the alarms interconnected on the system will sound. The use of wireless alarm interconnection, such as Aico’s RadioLINK, is ideal here as it won’t require the landlord to undertake redecoration or cause any disruption to tenants.

Furthermore, with a system such as RadioLINK you can add in a wire free wall mounted Alarm Controller which enables tenants and landlords to test all the alarms on a system at the press of a button. It’s a good, useful up sell opportunity!

  1. But we still come back to the question of how to prove those alarms have actually been tested. Thankfully, a new breed of alarms with data retrieval technology is now available which is ideal for this task. Aico’s AudioLINK, for example, enables landlords, installers or maintenance personnel to download a full report on each alarm on to any tablet or smartphone using a free App. Aico’s AudioLINK is contained in all Aico CO alarms that show the AudioLINK logo. The report from these alarms includes detection levels of CO, including background CO, with details of when it occurred; alarm battery life; alarm sensor status; number of times tested and removed from its installed location. AudioLINK is also available in Aico’s new Multi-Sensor Fire Alarm (Ei2110e). Here the report provides information such as dust contamination levels, records alarm activations, run time and battery levels.

These simple suggestions could make all the difference to tenants in England, provide peace of mind for landlords and represent a good business opportunity for you and your customer, especially when you bear in mind there are more households renting from private landlords today than at any time since the 1960s. That’s a lot of homes and a lot of people to protect.

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