Maryland Association of Realtors has received several questions on the Legal Hotline concerning the recent changes in Maryland law regarding smoke alarms and smoke detectors. Although the law was passed in 2013, the changes were phased in over several years to allow property owners time to become compliant with the new requirements. So, first a quick history lesson, then an explanation of what’s required in 2018.
In 2010, the Office of the State Fire Marshal, an Agency of the Maryland State Police, asked the legislature to create the Maryland Smoke Alarm Task Force. The objective was to reduce fire fatalities in residential structures by examining improved smoke alarm technology and to implement the best practices throughout the state. The Task Force worked with smoke alarms manufacturers, educational institutions and other groups involved in smoke detector research. The recommendations of the Task Force were incorporated into the bill which became law in 2013.
The law implemented a transition from 9-volt battery smoke alarms to sealed, long-life, tamper resistant batteries. The older batteries were unreliable for a variety of reasons: the batteries were disconnected by the homeowner to silence the alarm during cooking; the batteries were disconnected by the homeowner to silence the “chirping” sound made when the batteries were running low; or the batteries were simply removed and not replaced. The intention of the State Fire Marshal and the legislators was to transition to an alarm type which would reduce or eliminate these issues, resulting in a decrease in fire fatalities in the state.
The 2013 law imposed a statewide requirement that an automatic smoke alarm be provided “in each sleeping area” within each residential occupancy. “Sleeping area” does not mean bedroom. Sleeping area is defined as “a space that includes one or more sleeping rooms and a hall or common area immediately adjacent to any sleeping room.” For example, in a Cape Cod style home with two bedrooms on the upper level, a smoke alarm would be required in the common area or hallway immediately next to the bedrooms or directly in at least one of the bedrooms.
“Sleeping room” is a slightly broader concept than “bedroom.” A “sleeping room” was defined as “an enclosed room with a bed arranged to be used as a bedroom.” If the living room or dining room is modified with a bed to accommodate a family member who can no longer use the stairs, that room would be a “sleeping room” although it isn’t a “bedroom.” In this example, if there’s a common hallway next to the dining room/ sleeping room and another first-floor bedroom, it would be permissible to install a smoke alarm in the hallway between the dining room/sleeping room and the bedroom.
The distinction between “sleeping room” and “sleeping area” is particularly important for homes built or renovated on or after January 1, 2013. Maryland law requires those homes to have one alarm in each “sleeping room”; one alarm in each “sleeping area” (hallway or common area outside of the sleeping rooms); and one alarm in a hallway or common area on each level, including basements but excluding unoccupied attics, garages, and crawl spaces. The alarms are required to operate on alternating current (AC) with a battery backup or approved secondary power source. If more than two alarms are required in a new or newly renovated residential dwelling, the alarms must be configured to sound simultaneously.
The type of smoke alarm required in a dwelling depends upon the age of the property.
In many ways, the law is simpler now. As of January 1, 2018, Maryland law is as follows:
There are some practical considerations for you and your clients. A seller who fails to comply with the law is subject to a fine, imprisonment, or both. A listing agent representing a seller who is in violation of the law must disclose to prospective buyers that the seller is not in compliance. If a buyer’s agent is aware that the seller is not in compliance with the law, the buyer’s agent must disclose this fact to his or her buyer client.
Finally, with respect to rentals, landlords must provide special alarms for the deaf or hard of hearing in each “sleeping room,” regardless of when the property was built. The alarm, when activated, must provide “a signal that is sufficient to warn the deaf or hard of hearing tenant” in those sleeping room(s). The landlord may require reimbursement from the tenant for the cost of the alarm(s). As in the past, landlords are responsible for the installation, repair and replacement of smoke alarms, while tenants are responsible for testing the units and notifying the landlord in writing of the failure or malfunction of the unit.
Please remember that some jurisdictions have more stringent rules for new construction or for rentals. This is particularly true for jurisdictions which require rental housing units to be registered. The client should be instructed to verify compliance with the City or County in which the property is located.
1 Maryland Code, Public Safety Article, Section 9-103(d). This Code section specifies that a smoke detector installed “as part of an approved household fire alarm system” is an acceptable alternative, provided the alarms are installed in the required locations.