Smoke alarm regulations for California residential rental properties

California requirements for smoke detectorsSo, do I really have to replace all my smoke alarms with 10-year battery versions? No, not necessarily. The California Senate Bill 745 changed the law so that every new smoke detector sold and installed in California must come with a 10-year battery that can’t be removed. In addition, all new smoke alarms must have a manual silencing feature and a designated place to write the installation date by January 1, 2015. The new law does not apply to alarms that are hard-wired.

The new devices cannot be turned off and will still chirp when the battery gets low. However, they will be required to have a “hush” feature to stop the chirping. But, you do not have to change out the old ones for the new type yet. You only need to install the 10-year battery models when:

  • A current detector isn’t working.
  • Work is done to a unit requiring a permit – and when the value of the work totals $1,000 or more.

In 2016, more requirements took effect, with smoke detectors required in all bedrooms and other
rooms where people sleep, in accordance with state fire marshal regulations. In most jurisdictions, you will also need to install one just outside the sleeping area as well. If you know tenants are using a bonus room or other room in the house as a sleeping area, be sure to install one there as well.

Rental property owners are responsible for testing and maintaining smoke alarms. When it comes time to replace one, you’ll need to install a smoke detector that:

  • Displays the date of manufacture on the device
  • Provides a place on the device where the date of installation can be written
  • Incorporates a hush feature
  • Incorporates an end-of-life feature with notice that the device needs replacing
  • If battery operated, contains a non-replaceable, non-removable battery capable of powering the smoke alarm for at least 10 years.

Determining how often to test is an issue, but one easy solution is to do it at the time change in the spring and fall. It also gives you a good way to do a basic condition inspection and make sure the furnace filter has been changed. Just give your tenants notice and plan to check things out.

Use the time change to do your residential rental property inspections

Inspection of rental property recommendationsSpring Forward and Fall Back. The time changes twice a year, so how can you, as a landlord, use that to help you manage your properties? One simple thing to do is to simply send your tenants a reminder of the need to change their clocks, and, at the same time, remind them to test their smoke alarms and change their furnace filters.

Want to do a bit more? Plan to use the time change to remind you to do the alarm test yourself. In California, you are responsible, as the landlord, to make sure that your tenants have operational smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors, so you really ought to do it yourself. That also gives you a chance to take a look at the general condition of the unit as well. Give your tenants notice and do a walk-through, with them if you can, to make sure everything is in good order. If twice a year is too much for you, plan to do it at least one time per year. This allows you to head off major repairs before there is a major problem.

You can also use the opportunity to change the furnace filter. While you can make the tenant responsible for changing the filter, if you take care of it yourself, you are able to be a bit more certain that it is being done. Keeping the furnace in good working order will help prolong the life of this very expensive piece of equipment.

Property owners should encourage renter’s insurance policies

Renter’s insurance coverage recommendedMany renters think that insurance is too costly or just plain unnecessary.

Since all properties are susceptible to a variety of damages, whether it be fire, theft, or even a broken kitchen appliance, there really isn’t a scenario in which a tenant should go without renter’s insurance. But it is important to weigh the associated costs, both monetary and sentimental in determining just how much insurance to carry.

A common reason tenants avoid renter’s insurance is they do not think their belongings are worth the coverage. But most people underestimate the value of their possessions and would be surprised by how much it would cost to replace the things they have accumulated. If your tenants balk at buying insurance, suggest that they go around their residence, room by room, and take full inventory of their belongings before making a decision. People tend to only think of big ticket items, but it isn’t just the refrigerator, computer and television, but the towels, clothing, bedding, dishes, utensils and food, too. The average renter in a two-bedroom apartment has about $30,000 worth of stuff.

Renters often think that their landlord’s insurance will cover them in a fire or other emergency. What they don’t realize is that the insurance policies that landlords hold for their properties typically only protect the building itself. Even if the landlord owns appliances or other items within your rented home, he or she is not responsible for damages they inflict on your personal property. For example, if you just bought a few hundred dollars’ worth of frozen food and you stuck it in the freezer that the landlord owns, and it breaks down, spoiling all the food, the landlord would not responsible for it. That would be part of renter’s insurance if you wanted coverage for that lost expense.

Accidents happen too. For example, a flood in your apartment (if your bathtub overflows and water seeps into the unit below damaging your neighbor’s things) may damage other tenants’ property and can be costly. Renter’s insurance can help you to cover the cost of this type of damage (up to the policy limits chosen by the renter).

Renter’s liability protection can cover medical or legal expenses associated with your rental too. For example, if someone trips and falls in your apartment during a party, could you afford to pay the potential medical expenses associated with their injury? And in the event of a lawsuit, could you pay the legal expenses as well? A typical renter’s policy will cover that full range of risks that any renter could be exposed to.

Renter’s insurance coverage needs are different for every individual, based on factors like age, location, and protection needs from things like natural disasters. Renters need to give serious thought to their needs, and they should check with several insurance companies before making a decision. The average policy runs only $15 to $20 per month, and, in the end, is well worth the cost.