Is Your Smoke Detector Working?

Daylight Savings Time “FALL back” is SundayNovember 4, 2012 at 2:00 a.m.

This weekend in addition to turning our clocks back, we all should change the batteries in our smoke detectors and test all hard-wired smoke detectors.

smoke detector

For many years, the lawyers at Perey Law Group have represented families who lost loved ones, and people who have been severely injured in fires that burn homes and apartment buildings.

In investigating an injury or death caused by an apartment fire, it is important to determine what disclosures were made to the renter regarding smoke detectors.

RCW 59.18.060 provides:

The landlord will at all times during the tenancy keep the premises fit for human habitation, and shall in particular:

(1) Maintain the premises to substantially comply with any applicable code, statute, ordinance, or regulation governing their maintenance or operation, which the legislative body enacting the applicable code, statute, ordinance or regulation could enforce as to the premises rented if such condition substantially endangers or impairs the health or safety of the tenant;

. . .

(11)(a) Provide a written notice to all tenants disclosing fire safety and protection information. The landlord or his or her authorized agent must provide a written notice to the tenant that the dwelling unit is equipped with a smoke detection device as required in RCW 43.44.110. The notice shall inform the tenant of the tenant’s responsibility to maintain the smoke detection device in proper operating condition and of penalties for failure to comply with the provisions of RCW 43.44.110(3). The notice must be signed by the landlord or the landlord’s authorized agent and tenant with copies provided to both parties. Further, except with respect to a single-family residence, the written notice must also disclose the following:

(i) Whether the smoke detection device is hard-wired or battery operated;
(ii) Whether the building has a fire sprinkler system;
(iii) Whether the building has a fire alarm system;
(iv) Whether the building has a smoking policy, and what that policy is;
(v) Whether the building has an emergency notification plan for the occupants and, if so, provide a copy to the occupants;
(vi) Whether the building has an emergency relocation plan for the occupants and, if so, provide a copy to the occupants; and
(vii) Whether the building has an emergency evacuation plan for the occupants and, if so, provide a copy to the occupants.

RCW 43.44.110 provides:

Smoke detection devices in dwelling units–Penalty

(1) Smoke detection devices shall be installed inside all dwelling units:

(a) Occupied by persons other than the owner on and after December 31, 1981; or
(b) Built or manufactured in this state after December 31, 1980.

(2) The smoke detection devices shall be designed, manufactured, and installed inside dwelling units in conformance with:

(a) Nationally accepted standards; and
(b) As provided by the administrative procedure act, chapter 34.05 RCW, rules and regulations promulgated by the chief of the Washington state patrol, through the director of fire protection.

(3) Installation of smoke detection devices shall be the responsibility of the owner. Maintenance of smoke detection devices, including the replacement of batteries where required for the proper operation of the smoke detection device, shall be the responsibility of the tenant, who shall maintain the device as specified by the manufacturer. At the time of a vacancy, the owner shall insure that the smoke detection device is operational prior to the reoccupancy of the dwelling unit. . .

(4) Any owner or tenant failing to comply with this section shall be punished by a fine of not more than two hundred dollars.

(5) For the purposes of this section:

(a) “Dwelling unit” means a single unit providing complete, independent living facilities for one or more persons including permanent provisions for living, sleeping, eating, cooking, and sanitation; and
(b) “Smoke detection device” means an assembly incorporating in one unit a device which detects visible or invisible particles of combustion, the control equipment, and the alarm-sounding device, operated from a power supply either in the unit or obtained at the point of installation.

The Washington Administrative Code paraphrases RCW 48.48.010 and also shifts the burden to maintain a smoke detector to a residential tenant after occupancy as follows:

212-10-050. Maintenance.

It is the responsibility of the occupant of all new or existing dwelling units, owned by other than the occupant, to maintain and test all smoke detection devices installed within the dwelling unit by the owner. Actual costs of maintenance, repair or replacement of smoke detection devices shall be as agreed beforehand by the occupant and owner. However, failure of the owner to abide by the terms of any such agreement does not relieve the occupant of the responsibility to maintain the smoke detection devices in a fully operational condition at all times. Failure to do so can subject the occupant to the penalty provisions of WAC 212-10-055.

Installation of smoke detection devices shall be the responsibility of the owner. Maintenance of smoke detection devices, including the replacement of batteries where required for the proper operation of the smoke detection device, shall be the responsibility of the tenant, who shall maintain the device as specified by the manufacturer. At the time of a vacancy, the owner shall insure that the smoke detection device is operational prior to the reoccupancy of the dwelling unit. . .

Key questions asked during the initial investigation of an apartment fire case are: (1) what type of smoke detector was in the apartment and whether it had “push button” testing, (2) whether the smoke detector was tested by the landlord prior to occupancy, (3) whether a written notice was given to the renters regarding smoke detection devices at the time of occupancy, and (4) whether the renters tested and maintained the smoke detector after occupancy.  Other important considerations are to determine the floor plan of the apartment building and location of the smoke detector as the WAC is detailed about the requirements for the location and number of smoke detectors based upon different floor plans of the dwelling unit.

When it comes to fire safety, a working smoke detector is essential. Add battery replacement and testing of smoke detectors to your list this weekend and sleep better this winter!