Smoke Detectors

by | Apr 27, 2011 | Renter's Rights, Renting 101 | 0 comments

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We all know we should have an active smoke detector. But did you know it is required in apartments? The Austin Tenants’ Council provides helpful information regarding smoke detectors.
All rental units including apartments, duplexes, condos, and single-family homes must have smoke detectors as required by the Texas Property Code §92.251 – §92.262, Subchapter F.
How Many Smoke Detectors Are Required?
At least one smoke detector must be installed outside of each bedroom. However, if bedrooms are off of the same corridor, the landlord may install instead at least one smoke detector in that corridor in the immediate vicinity of the bedrooms. If at least one bedroom is located on a level above the living and cooking area, the smoke detector for the bedrooms must be placed in the center of the ceiling directly above the top of the stairway. Efficiency apartments must have one smoke detector inside the unit.
How Can a Tenant Get a Smoke Detector?
The smoke detectors should be in place before the tenant moves in. If they are not, a landlord must install one when a tenant makes a request for the landlord to do so. A written lease can require that the request be in writing. Because verbal requests are difficult to document, it is usually best to make requests in writing whether or not the lease requires it.
The Landlord Must Inspect or Repair
The landlord is supposed to inspect and test any smoke detector when a tenant first moves in. After that, the landlord must inspect or test the smoke detector whenever the tenant requests it or gives notice of a problem. The lease may require that the request or notice be in writing, but as stated before, it is usually best to put all requests in writing.
There are also limitations on the obligation of a landlord to inspect or repair a smoke detector. If damage or malfunction to the smoke detector is caused by the tenant, friends, or guests, the landlord is not required to repair or replace the damaged smoke detector unless the tenant pays in advance for reasonable cost of repair or replacement.
What if the Landlord Refuses to Install One?
If the landlord does not install, inspect, or repair the required smoke detector within seven days of receiving a written request and notification that the tenant may exercise rights under the Smoke Detector Subchapter of the Texas Property Code, the tenant may exercise certain legal remedies.
What Are the Remedies for the Tenant?
If the landlord does not install, inspect, or repair within seven days of receiving the written request, a tenant can go to court and the court can order the landlord to install, inspect, or repair the requested smoke detector. The court can also order the landlord to pay the tenant any damages suffered as a result of the landlord’s violation, a civil penalty of one month’s rent, plus $100, and court costs and attorney’s fees;
A tenant can terminate the lease and move out.
Tenant Liabilities
A tenant can be held liable for resulting damages if the tenant removes a battery from a smoke detector without immediately replacing it with a working battery or knowingly disconnects or intentionally damages a smoke detector, causing it to malfunction. Additionally, a lease between the landlord and tenant may allow the landlord to seek a court order directing the tenant to comply with the notice and to pursue civil penalties of one month’s rent, plus $100, plus attorney’s fees and court costs. This lease clause must be in underlined or bold print, and the landlord must give the tenant a separate seven-day written notice to correct the situation before the landlord can go to court.
What Else Does the Law Say?

  1. The tenant must have the rent paid in full when requesting installation or inspection of a smoke detector to hold the landlord liable if the landlord does not act on the request.
  2. If either the tenant or the landlord files suit in court to harass the other party, they can be held liable for a civil penalty of one month’s rent plus $100, plus attorney’s fees and court costs.
  3. The tenant cannot waive (give up) the right to have a smoke detector, even in a written lease.
  4. The tenant is responsible for replacing batteries if the smoke detector was in good working order when the tenant took possession.
  5. If requested by a tenant as an accommodation for a person with a hearing-impairment or as required by law as a reasonable accommodation for a person with a hearing-impairment, a smoke detector must, in addition to complying with all other requirements, be capable of alerting a hearing-impaired person in the bedrooms it serves.

The information in this brochure is a summary of the subject and other pertinent matters. It should not be considered conclusive or a substitute for legal advice. Unique facts can render broad statements inapplicable. Anyone needing legal assistance should contact an attorney.

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