Landlords! Here’s What You Need to Know About Virginia’s New Smoke Detector Law

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This may come as a surprise, but, before this year, the Commonwealth of Virginia did not have a specific standard for the installation and maintenance of smoke and carbon monoxide detectors in rental units. Although these life-saving devices have been in our homes, schools, and places of work for decades (the very first electric fire alarm was patented in 1890), July 2018 was the first time that legislation went into effect codifying a particular standard. Before this year, each locality has implemented its own smoke alarm and carbon monoxide detector ordinances, which led to sometimes contradictory and confusing standards throughout the state. Under this new legislation, these uniform standards will be incorporated into the Virginia Landlord Tenant Act, the Uniform Building Code, and public safety laws.

As this new legislation comes into effect, landlords, let’s take a look at what this means for your rental properties.

Smoke Alarms are Required in Any Rental Property

Under the 2018 law, all Virginia landlords must install smoke alarms in rental properties, if they have not already done so. If putting in new smoke alarms, the installation must comply with the Virginia Uniform Statewide Building Code (USBC). However, the new law does not require landlords to rewire their existing smoke alarms to comply with this code.

If a tenant is deaf or hearing impaired, the law does require that a landlord make reasonable accommodations regarding smoke alarms.

Regular Inspections and Certifications

The new smoke detector law does require landlords to have smoke alarms inspected every twelve months. These inspections do not need to be done by a professional; they can be conducted by the landlords themselves, their employees, or a contractor hired to perform the inspection on the landlord’s behalf. After each inspection, the landlord should provide the tenant a certificate stating that the required smoke alarms are present in the home, have been inspected, and are operational. The Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development has created a form for such certification, which can be downloaded here.

Carbon Monoxide Alarms are Required if the Tenant Requests

Although not required in all rental properties, the 2018 law requires all residential landlords to install a carbon monoxide alarm in rental units within 90 days of receiving a written request from a tenant. The landlord is permitted to charge the tenant a reasonable fee for the costs of the detector and the installation.

Consult with an Experienced Landlord Representation Attorney

Whether you own one rental unit or several hundred, it is essential for all landlords to understand their obligations under the law. To avoid conflict with tenants, potential fines, and lawsuits, it is best to consult with an attorney before a problem arises. If you are a Northern Virginia landlord and would like to learn more about your obligations and responsibilities under Virginia law, feel free to reach out to us at Wakefield Law. We have 30 years of experience working on landlord representation matters in Northern Virginia. Our office number is 703-771-9740.