Smoke alarms and carbon monoxide alarms are nothing new. Such devices have saved countless lives and can be found in virtually every home and workplace in the United States. It wasn’t until 2018, however, that Virginia adopted a statewide standard for the installation and maintenance of smoke and carbon monoxide alarms in rental properties.
Although the topic of statewide smoke and carbon monoxide alarm legislation might sound trivial, Virginia’s new laws (which became effective on July 1) address what was a significant source of confusion, danger, and expense for landlords, tenants, and real estate developers. The Virginia Apartment Management Association neatly summarized the issue in a recent newsletter:
“Prior to July 1, 2018, localities were largely left to their own judgment when implementing smoke alarm and carbon monoxide alarm ordinances. The practice led to a variety of often contradictory and sometimes illegal ordinances across the state. Some localities were even attempting to condemn older buildings that met code when constructed but did not retrofit smoke alarms into every bedroom when the new building codes were enacted.”
The new laws end this patchwork of local ordinances by clarifying the rights and obligations of landlords and tenants throughout Virginia. Here’s what’s changed:
Smoke Alarms Are Required, But New Wiring Is Not Necessary
Landlords in Virginia must install smoke alarms in any rental property they own if such devices have not already been installed in accordance with the Virginia Uniform Statewide Building Code (USBC). The USBC’s requirements for existing buildings containing dwelling units state:
“AC-powered smoke detectors with battery backup or an equivalent device shall be required to be installed to replace a defective or inoperative battery-powered smoke detector located in buildings containing one or more dwelling units or rooming houses offering to rent overnight sleeping accommodations when it is determined by the building official that the responsible party of such building or dwelling unit fails to maintain battery-powered smoke detectors in working condition.”
This does not mean that landlords must retrofit their buildings. In fact, the new laws specify that locality are not permitted to “require new or additional wiring.” A landlord must, however, make reasonable accommodations for a tenant who is deaf or hearing impaired.
Landlords Must Inspect and Certify Smoke Alarms Every 12 Months
Every 12 months, landlords must provide a certificate to each tenant stating that required smoke alarms are present, have been inspected, and are in good working order. Landlords may inspect the devices themselves, or have employees or independent contractors perform inspections on their behalf.
The Department of Housing and Community Development is currently developing a state form landlords can use for certification. The form, which will be available on or before January 1, 2019, will also provide information about a landlord’s smoke alarm maintenance obligations.
Carbon Monoxide Alarms Must Be Installed at Tenants’ Requests
Landlords are now required to install a carbon monoxide alarm in a rental unit within 90 days of receiving a written request from a tenant. The landlord may charge the tenant a reasonable fee to recoup the costs of equipment and labor for the installation.
Next Steps: How to Ensure Compliance
To help Virginia landlords meet the new requirements, the attorneys of Offit Kurman’s Landlord Representation suggest the following:
- Incorporate smoke alarm inspections into your annual unit inspection process.
- Create a new policy to provide certificates upon move-in and renewal.
- Use the Department of Housing form smoke alarm certificate once it is published.
As additional security, you may decide to include certification language into your Virginia lease form or create an addendum that corresponds to the language of the new laws.
With the right processes and protections in place, you can not only ensure compliance but protect your property and tenants while keeping costs to a minimum. That is to say, your legal obligations may be new, but they are no cause for alarm.
In my next article, I will discuss another new Virginia law concerning rent with reservation.
ABOUT W. MARTIN WILLIAMS
W. Martin Williams represents clients in a variety of litigation matters, including real estate disputes, landlord-tenant claims, fair-housing investigations, and debtor/creditor litigation. He assists clients throughout the litigation process, from pre-filing advice through settlement negotiations and trial.
ABOUT OFFIT KURMAN
Offit Kurman is one of the fastest-growing, full-service law firms in the Mid-Atlantic region. With over 170 attorneys offering a comprehensive range of services in virtually every legal category, the firm is well positioned to meet the needs of dynamic businesses and the people who own and operate them. Our twelve offices serve individual and corporate clients in the Virginia, Washington, DC, Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York City regions. At Offit Kurman, we are our clients’ most trusted legal advisors, professionals who help maximize and protect business value and personal wealth. In every interaction, we consistently maintain our clients’ confidence by remaining focused on furthering their objectives and achieving their goals in an efficient manner. Trust, knowledge, confidence—in a partner, that’s perfect.
You can connect with Offit Kurman via our Blog, Facebook, Twitter, Google+, YouTube, and LinkedIn pages. You can also sign up to receive Law Matters, Offit Kurman’s monthly newsletter covering a diverse selection of legal and corporate thought leadership content.
MARYLAND | PENNSYLVANIA | VIRGINIA | NEW JERSEY | NEW YORK | DELAWARE | WASHINGTON, DC