Because the terms “smoke detectors” and “smoke alarms” are used almost interchangeably it can be confusing to distinguish between the two devices. A smoke detector is part of the fire alarm system, it has a built-in sensor for smoke and sends a signal to the fire alarm panel. A smoke alarm is a stand-alone device with a sensor for smoke, a sounder, and a power supply. A smoke alarm is not connected to a fire alarm control panel, but may be interconnected with other smoke alarms within the building.
Legal requirements of Smoke Alarms in Rental Properties
In Ohio, every apartment or rental property must have a smoke alarm installed in the immediate vicinity outside of all sleeping rooms, as well as inside each sleeping room. Alarm signaling devices must be clearly audible in all bedrooms within the unit when all internal doors are closed. Outside of the apartment units, property owners are required to have alarms installed in or near the return air stream for each floor. If the apartment does not have central return air systems, alarms need to be installed on each floor on the corridor or lobby side and within five feet of all stairway and elevator doors. If the apartment complex has fire walls and fire doors, smoke alarms must also be placed on each side of, and within fifteen feet of, the fire doors. Ohio also requires the smoke alarms to be interconnected within each unit and to have the primary power for smoke alarms to be from the building wiring with a battery backup.
In Indiana, an apartment or rental property must have at least one functional smoke alarm installed outside of each sleeping area in the immediate vicinity of the bedrooms. Smoke Alarms must be on each additional story of the dwelling, including basements, cellars, and habitable attics. Unless there is a door between levels in dwellings with split levels, a smoke alarm must be installed only on the upper level if the lower level is less than one full story below the upper level. All smoke alarms must be battery operated or hard wired into the dwelling’s electrical system, accessible for servicing and testing, maintained, and tested at least one time every six months by the unit occupant.
In Kentucky, smoke alarms are required to be installed in each sleeping room, outside each sleeping area in the immediate vicinity of bedrooms, and on each additional story of a dwelling, including basements. Smoke alarms are prohibited from being installed in locations where the temperatures fall below 32 degrees F or rise above 100 degrees F. It is not recommended to install smoke alarms in crawl spaces, uninhabitable attics, or closer than 3 feet from the door to a kitchen or bathroom with a tub or shower, with the exception of alarms specifically listed for the application.
Check your Local Laws
Wherever you are, it is important to review your local laws for requirements. For example, in Cincinnati it has been legally required since 2013 for all rental properties to have photoelectric smoke alarms installed outside the structure’s sleeping quarters. In addition, rental property owners are now required to inspect the photoelectric smoke alarms annually and when executing new lease agreements, and document their findings on the proper form which is checked by the Cincinnati Fire Inspectors and Community Development Building Officials.
Placement and Mounting of Smoke Alarms
NFPA 72 has guidelines for the placement of smoke alarms on walls or ceilings. A smoke alarm mounted on a ceiling is not to be closer than 4 inches from a wall. If mounted on a wall, the top of a smoke alarm must be between 4 to 12 inches from the ceiling. Mounting of a smoke alarm on a sloped, pitched, or cathedral ceiling, must be at or within 3 feet of the highest point of the peak.
Power Requirements and Interconnected Smoke Alarms
Smoke alarms are also required to be interconnected such that the activation of one alarm will cause all the alarms in the individual unit to sound. This is to ensure that every occupant in that unit can hear the alarm regardless of any closed doors between the individual and the sounding alarm.Smoke alarms are required to receive their primary power from the electrical service and a secondary power source of a battery. While it is the responsibility of the property owner or manager to install and maintain smoke alarms, it is generally the responsibility of the tenant or occupant to regularly test the smoke alarms and notify the landlord of any required maintenance. Owners are responsible for all smoke alarms in common areas, and should test smoke alarms inside apartments at a change of tenancy.
You can read more about smoke sensing technology here.
When selecting doors for your facility, it is equally important to consider life safety, security, and ADA compliance. The following post outlines national standards for these issues, but you should always check your local code to ensure compliance when selecting fire doors.
Standards set by: National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 101’s Life Safety Code
Purpose: Fire safety
NFPA 101’s Life Safety Code specifies guidelines for fire doors, which prevent the flow of toxic smoke and fumes throughout the facility in the event of a fire. Fire doors are rated for their fire resistant and protection based on how long they can withstand exposure to fire test conditions. The rating of fire doors must match that of the wall on which they are installed, although fire walls are able to rate higher than fire doors. When this happens, the highest rated door is used. For example, a fire wall can be rated at 4 hours, but fire doors and frames can only rate as high as 3 hours. So a 3-hour door is used on a 4 hour rated wall. Fire doors are required to be inspected and maintained on an annual basis.
Standards set by: Builders Hardware Manufacturers Association (BHMA)
Purpose: Protect people and property
BHMA’s standards outline the performance parameters of door hardware to protect people and property. These standards ensure that doors and related hardware are sturdy enough to withstand normal use, abuse and even break-in attempts. The door products and hardware are tested and certified by BHMA to ensure compliance. Be aware, these certifications ensure a minimum standard – they are not a recommendation for top performing doors and hardware.
Standards set by: ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) Standards for Accessible Design
Purpose: Providing access to people with disabilities
If you own or manage a facility that is open to the public, you need to ensure that all people are able to independently access and exit the building. The ADA Standards for Accessible Design are issued by the Department of Justice and provides guidelines on accessibility. The International Code Council (ICC) provides specifics on how hardware should be installed and function to provide this accessibility.
It is imperative that you check the local code for what is required from these standards can vary greatly. In general, all doors should allow everyone, including those with a wheelchair, to
pass through. Exit doors should have a simple operation, such as pushing, to open it. Exit doors, and directional signs to exit doors, should be marked with tactile signs. This primer for small businesses is an easy overview of ADA requirements for commercial buildings. [https://www.ada.gov/regs2010/smallbusiness/smallbusprimer2010.htm]
Current legal restrictions on grill usage at rental properties are in place to decrease fire hazards and protect tenants and property.
Three out of five households own a gas grill, which translates to a lot of tasty meals. But it also means there’s an increased risk of home fires. Each year, grilling causes an average of 8,900 home fires, and close to half of all injuries involving grills are due to thermal burns.
Gas grills can cause a lot of problems for landlords and their properties when tenants use and store them improperly. Many people believe that the danger from gas grills is low to non-existent because they are outside. However, gas grills pose several fire dangers through ignition explosion, vent explosion, carbon monoxide leaks, or explosions or gas leakages due to ruptured tanks, valves and hoses.*
Check out NFPA’s handout on grilling safety!
The Law on grills in multi-family dwellings
Gas and charcoal grills may not be operated on balconies or within 10 feet of the building/home. There are limited exceptions to this rule in Ohio, Indiana, and Kentucky (click the links for the full text of that State’s Code as it relates to grills).
There are some exceptions to when grills are legally acceptable to use on balconies or within 10 feet of construction, these are outlined below by State.
In Ohio, grills are acceptable if:
- It is a One- or Two-family dwelling.
- The building, balconies or decks are protected by an automatic sprinkler system.
- It is a charcoal burner, AND fire extinguishers of the proper rating, quantity and size are present, AND all other combustible material has been removed from the balcony or cooking site.
- Natural gas fired open flame cooking devices and/or appliances if the LP-gas container has a water capacity not greater than 2 1/2 pound [nominal 1 pound (0.454 kg) LP-gas capacity].
- If it is a natural gas supplied cooking device, the natural gas fuel supply piping system is connected to the building where the cooking is to occur. There cannot be any storage tanks or cylinders located in or near the dwelling unit structure where the cooking is to occur.
- The fire code official may require that any person responsible for the use of a natural gas fire open flame cooking device carry comprehensive general liability insurance at an amount to cover any possible damage to people or property by the open flame device.
- Gas pressure supplied to the natural gas fueled cooking appliance must follow the pressure recommendations by the cooking device/appliance manufacturer. In no case can the maximum pressure supplied to the device or appliance exceed 2 pounds per square inch (psi).
- While the grill is in use, all combustibles that are not part of the dwelling unit structure shall be kept 5 feet away from the cooking device.
- Any and all building code requirements for the installation and use of natural gas fired grills, open flame cooking devices or appliances must be complied with, including compliance with any permit and inspection requirements.
In Indiana, the exceptions are much fewer. Indiana State Fire Code restricts grills to:
- One- and two-family dwellings, and buildings or decks that are protected by an automatic sprinkler system.
- LP-gas fueled cooking devices having a LP-gas container with a water capacity greater than 2.5 pounds (nominal 1-pound LP-gas capacity) are only allowed on combustible balconies or within 10 feet of combustible construction at one- or two-family dwellings.
In Kentucky, the restrictions are equally restrictive to one- and two-family dwellings. Kentucky adopted NFPA 1, Section 10.11.6 Cooking Equipment, which states:
- No hibachi, grill, or other similar devices used for cooking, heating, or any other purpose shall be used or kindled on any balcony, under any overhanging portion, or within 10 ft. (3m) of any structure, except for at one- and two-family dwellings.
- In addition, no hibachi, grill or similar devices used for cooking shall be stored on a balcony of dwellings greater than 2-family.
As a Landlord, you have the right to ban or allow gas grills on your properties, as long as it falls within the bounds of law.
Single-Family Home Rentals
The toughest call on grills is for gas grills and single family home renters. Most of the legal conditions for limiting or restricting gas grill usage, such as combustible material and limited outdoor space, don’t apply. When deciding if you will allow grills on your single-family rental homes, consider the outdoor space available for grilling. Is the patio big enough? Can the tenant grill a safe distance from the structure and neighbors? The bottom line is that it’s completely up to the landlord about whether or not to allow gas grills in a single family rental property. It’s easy to ban grill usage, citing fire hazards; however, granting permission for a gas grill can give renters a greater sense of home and incentive to renew their lease agreement.
What if I decide to ban Gas Grills?
If you select to ban gas grills on your rental property, make sure to include in the lease agreement that the use of gas grills is strictly prohibited. The lease should also state that there should never be any flammable gas tanks store in the rental property. This will include propane gas tanks used for gas grills, and include any other gas tanks that pose potential fire hazards. If you want to ban all kinds of grills, make sure to use specific language to identify charcoal and gas, or any kind of open flame cooking system.
Should I do anything special if I allow Gas Grills?
If you choose to allow gas grills on your rental property, whether multi-unit or single family, make sure you are very clear in your lease agreement and with the tenant about any restrictions or rules regarding grilling. Give your tenants a copy of the local or state fire code regulations concerning grilling (feel free to use the documents we gave you at the above links). Make sure they understand this is about being compliant with the law and keeping the renters and property (theirs and yours) safe.
Write up a clear addendum to your lease for gas grills which specifically states:
- The locations on the property where a gas grill is allowed.
- Make sure to include distance requirements from any structures (including the dwelling, storage facilities, fences, etc) and exactly what that distance is.
- Also include language about storing the propane tanks, that they should never be stored inside the rental unit or close to it. If there is a shed on the property, that may be an acceptable location to store propane tanks if it is far enough from the house.
- Finally, include language in the addendum about consequences of not following the restrictions for gas grill use or causing damage to the structure with their grills.
What should I do if I discover a lease violation concerning a gas grill?
If at all possible, you should immediately document the lease violation by taking photos of the problem. If photos are not possible, interview neighbors or other tenants for statements of gas grill use and abuse by the tenant in question.
Now, follow your normal steps with any lease violation. Deliver an official comply or quit notice requiring the tenant to resolve the issue with the gas grill within the allotted time frame or face eviction. If the tenant fails to resolve the problem with the grill by the time allowed in the notice, then you may begin eviction proceedings.
You should never take matters into your own hands by removing the gas grill from the property, even if just to store it in a safer location. Even if the presence of the grill is a lease violation, it is still property of the tenant and taking it could be considered a theft and could be cause for police action against you.
The key for gas grills on your rental properties, whether you allow them or not, is to be upfront and consistent in your lease agreements policies and enforcement of those policies.