A number of members have complained to us as PCC have asked them to confirm that they test fire alarms weekly. Please note - as a Landlord you DO NOT need to test fire alarms weekly. In fact, it would be an intrusion on the privacy (and the 'entitlement to QUIET enjoyment") of your tenants if you did. Read on for the current situation…
When we asked the administrator at PCC why she was asking members to test weekly, she said, "I have not told people to test their alarms weekly", however the Private Sector Housing team have produced a 'Fire Alarm Testing & Maintenance Self Declaration" which they ask HMO landlords to complete and that includes the following text:
"You must regularly test your alarms and should keep a written record of these tests, using the system log book; or on record sheets such as a Fire Alarm System Maintenance and Service Log sheet. These can be in electronic format but must be made available to the Council on request. Reputable manufacturers and fire authorities recommend that all smoke, heat and carbon monoxide alarms are tested weekly."
Whilst PCC are not telling anyone to test weekly, we can see why members are coming to the conclusion that they are being asked to test weekly.
As a landlord, the legal requirement is that you have an appropriate fire detection and alarm system (and you will have determined what that is by carrying out a fire risk assessment), you will test it when tenants move in and at the same time, you will advise them to test it regularly for their own safety and you should also give advice on escape routes / what to do if there is a fire / etc. If you have done this, you do not need to go into the property or test alarms during the tenancy except if one or more of the detectors reaches 'end of life" and needs to be replaced during the tenancy. (Obviously if you have vulnerable tenants you may have determined when you did the fire risk assessment that it is necessary to test more often, or even to test to ensure alarms are still in place and have not been broken or stolen - but in general terms, normally advice to tenants is sufficient)
Most detectors these days, whether battery or mains, consist of a baseplate screwed to the ceiling and an 'alarm head" which fixes or slots onto the baseplate. On the 'alarm head" there is usually a plastic tab which you press to test the alarm - if you take one apart (which you should not do with an alarm that you intend to use again) you will see this tab is a very flimsy cover for an even flimsier mechanism. In our view, anyone testing weekly for the full 10-year life of one of these alarms will find the tab breaks long before the 10-years is up.
We did talk to a specialist at leading detector/alarm manufacturer Fire Angel and he confirmed that as a manufacturer they state alarms should be tested weekly but quickly added that he had never come across anyone who had. When pressed about whether the plastic would withstand 500 depressions (weekly use for 10 years) he said yes, but not with any conviction - we may be reading too much into the response, but we took it as confirmation that a cheap plastic mass produced cover which becomes brittle with age is not going to withstand repeated bending over a period of 10 years…
So do test alarms when new tenants move in. Do advise tenants to test regularly and more importantly, talk to your tenants about the different routes out of the house should a fire start and the need to 'not ignore" alarms if they sound. We are talking to PCC about the guidance they give and also, the PDPLA guidance in this area - hopefully soon we will have an up to date and consistent set of simple rules for you to follow. In the interim, common sense and attention to detail is usually sufficient.
Written & oral information and advice from the Portsmouth & District Private Landlord's Association is given in good faith, but no responsibility whatsoever is accepted by the Association or it's officers for the accuracy of it's information & advice nor shall the Association be held responsible for the consequences of reliance upon such information.