HomeSmiles Carbon and Smoke Installation and Testing Explained

    Carbon and Smoke Detector in Redwood City

    As Bob Dylan once wrote, “The times they are a changing…”  This has definitely proven true in the real estate property management arena over recent years.  Constant changes to regulation have continued to place greater burdens on property managers to comply with legislative and regulatory changes.  A perfect example for illustration purposes are the newly implemented “carbon and smoke alarm” testing regulations in California.

    Although most landlords and property managers now understand that they are required to “test and maintain” the carbon monoxide and smoke alarm devices in their units, many are still unaware of what this requirement really entails. The California Health and Safety Code requires owners or property managers of multi-unit residential property or a single family residence (SFR) rental property to install, maintain and test smoke alarms on their property. [Health & S C §13113.7(d)(2)]

    Testing and maintenance is further defined under “National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code 72” (NFPA 72).  In order to be compliant, owners or their agents must ensure that:

    • there have been no changes which would affect the device’s performance (e.g., building modifications, occupancy changes, changes in environmental conditions, physical obstructions, device orientation, physical damage and/or the degree of cleanliness of the device)
    • the devices are installed in the correct positions to meet local codes (room location and position on the ceiling/wall)
    • the devices have not passed their “replace-by date” [1]
    • the devices are functioning and have a tightly connected battery that is charged and free from corrosion and/or leakage
    • the power supply to hard-wired (electric) alarms is connected to the alarms
    • the devices emit a siren at a decibel level that meets UL standards
    • the devices are adequately secured to the ceiling or wall; and, the test button is functioning properly (causes the device to emit a siren) [2]

    Prior to the change in the law, owners (or property managers, as owners’ agents) were only required to ensure smoke alarms were operable when a new tenancy was created. [Health & S C §13113.7(d)(2)(B)]  The law now requires annual “testing” of the rental units, at minimum, as outlined above, to ensure safe operation. [Health & S C §13113.7(d)(2)]

    Although prior smoke detector laws didn’t mandate the frequency of owner inspections, landlords have always had a duty to inspect the premises upon entry for any purpose. Inspections did not need to be thorough, but landlords were liable for any dangerous condition that was observable by a reasonable person. [Mora v. Baker Commodities, Inc. (1989) 210 CA3d 771]  This obligation still exists and thus, if a smoke alarm defect can be reasonably ascertained visually during a landlord’s visit to the unit at any time, the landlord needs to repair or replace the device.

    While it is the duty of the landlord to test and maintain the devices during the course of the tenancy, the tenant still has a corresponding duty to notify the owner once they become aware of a problem with the device. Once an owner has been notified, he or she is then required to correct it under their obligation to “maintain” the device.  There are also additional benefits to carbon & smoke alarm “testing and logging” procedures.  A reasonable inspection schedule to test and maintain the devices (whether annually, semi-annually, or quarterly) will allow you to legally gain access to your tenants’ units. While inside, use the opportunity to investigate any other problems requiring repairs or maintenance. performs scheduled annual maintenance for home owners and property managers.  Smoke detector and carbon monoxide testing is part of the thorough 18 point scheduled annual maintenance service performed by technicians.  To learn more about and their services, visit

    [1] Many property owners and managers are unaware that carbon & smoke devices contain “Replace by dates” as part of their Underwriters Laboratory testing requirements. These dates can generally be found on the battery compartment lid or in the battery area.  Failure to abide by these replace by dates can be grounds for negligence claims down the road in the event of an incident.  Accordingly, owners and mangers need to be cognizant of these dates in conjunction with their testing and logging procedures.

    [2] Use of “carbon” and “smoke” in a can is the preferred procedure for testing as the use of the “Test” button will only show that the “Test” button itself is operational.  The emission of sound from the “Test” button does not necessarily mean that the device is functional.  Again, this is why the “Replace by date” should also be reviewed at this time as a best practice for testing/logging procedures.

    Jesshill Love

    Jesshill Love has a JD/MBA and has dedicated his life to the efficient ownership and management of real estate. He is a licensed California real estate attorney with over 20 years of experience in the context of real estate liability litigation. He is the former Chief Operating Officer and Chair of the Real Estate Department of an international law firm. He has counseled hundreds of clients as to how to best avoid liability claims. He owns and operates extensive real estate portfolios in California where he has personally implemented the SAMS approach to maintenance and personally experienced the benefits. He is also the founder of is the industry leader in Scheduled Annual Maintenance Services for real estate professionals. He lives in Menlo Park, CA with his wife and two children.

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