Smoke Detectors

Smoke detectors are required by either state law or local ordinances. For information on whether your community has adopted such ordinances, consult your local building, fire or housing codes. Barring some exceptions, at least one smoke detector must be installed by the landlord outside of each bedroom. If several bedrooms are served by the same corridor, one smoke detector may be installed in the corridor in the immediate vicinity of the bedrooms. In an efficiency apartment where the same room is used for dining, living, and sleeping purposes, the smoke detector must be located inside rather than outside the room. If there is a bedroom above the living or cooking area, a detector must be placed on the ceiling above the stairway.

Smoke detectors should be installed on a ceiling or a wall. Smoke detectors installed on a ceiling should not be closer than six inches to a wall. Smoke detectors installed on a wall should be between six inches and 12 inches from the ceiling. If a smoke detector in your house or apartment is not properly installed, you should request that the landlord re-install it by giving the landlord a written notice.

Read the statutes

Many Texas cities adopted their own ordinances on the subject of smoke detectors, and multimillion-dollar lawsuits have been brought against landlords who did not have working smoke detectors in their properties and tenants were injured as a result. Of course, if landlords stand to lose money, the Texas Legislature is going step in and try to help them out. And they have. For example, a landlord has a duty to make sure that any smoke detectors work when the tenant moves in. Fine. But if the smoke detector quits working and the landlord knows it, the landlord does not have to do anything about it unless the tenant gives the landlord a request to repair it and the tenant must be caught up on the rent when the request was given. The landlord does not want anyone injured, but if someone is injured, these requirements were put in the law to prevent landlords from being held liable.

Landlord's duty to inspect and repair

The landlord has the duty to inspect and test the smoke detector at the beginning of your tenancy (or at the time of installation). After you have moved in, the landlord's duty applies only if the tenant gives the landlord notice of a malfunction or makes a written request to the landlord for inspection or repair. The landlord has a reasonable time to inspect and repair the smoke detector, considering the availability of materials, labor, and utilities. A landlord has no duty to inspect or repair a smoke detector that has been damaged by the tenant or the tenant's family or guests, unless the tenant pays in advance for the reasonable costs of the repair or replacement. The landlord also has no duty to provide replacement batteries for a battery-operated smoke detector, as long as it was operating when the tenant moved in.

Procedure and remedies for smoke detector problems

If you ask your landlord to install or repair a smoke detector in your apartment and they fails to do so within a reasonable period of time, you should give your landlord another written notice stating that if she fails to comply with your request within seven days you may exercise the remedies provided in the Texas Property Code. If the landlord improperly fails to install or repair a smoke detector within seven days of your request, you may then bring court proceedings against the landlord or you may terminate the lease without court proceedings.

To succeed in court, you must be current on all rent due to the landlord from the time you gave him the first notice. If the damage to the smoke detector was caused by you or your family or guests, you must also have paid to the landlord in advance the reasonable costs of the repair or replacement of the smoke detector. If you bring court proceedings against the landlord, you may be entitled to obtain: (1) a court order directing the landlord to comply with your request; (2) a court order awarding you damages which resulted from the landlord's failure to install, repair, or replace the smoke detector; (3) an award of one month's rent plus $100 as a penalty against the landlord; and (4) court costs and attorney's fees.