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Smoke Detectors: Rights and Duties

Fire in the home is a serious threat to a family’s safety. Each year in the United States fires kill approximately 6,000 people, injure another 100,000, and cause more than $7 billion in property damage. Most fire victims die from inhalation of smoke and toxic gases, not as a result of burns. Most deaths and injuries occur in fires that happen at night while the victims are asleep.

Properly installed and maintained, the home smoke detector is considered one of the best and least expensive means of providing an early warning for a fire. Eighty percent of fire deaths take place in residences not equipped with working smoke detectors.

Smoke detectors may operate off batteries or a residential electrical circuit. Battery-powered detectors should have their batteries replaced at least annually. Plug-in units must be connected to an electric outlet where they will not be unplugged and cannot be turned off at a wall switch. They should not get their power from a distant plug by means of an extension cord. Every smoke detector should be tested monthly.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, minimum protection requires a smoke detector outside each sleeping area and on every level of the home. If someone is hearing impaired, there are smoke detectors that are wired to high-density strobes.

The Texas legislature passed a law requiring most landlords to install smoke detectors in the apartments and houses they rent to people. If your residence does not have adequate smoke detector protection, the law requires that you notify your landlord. Similarly, if your smoke detector is not working, you must request an inspection and, if necessary, repair of your smoke detector. Repairs, however, do not include replacement of dead batteries.

If your lease is in writing, the lease may require that this notice be in writing.

If you give notice to your landlord of the absence or defect in your smoke detector, the landlord must install, repair, or replace the smoke detector within a reasonable period of time. If this is not done, the landlord may be legally responsible for any damages you sustain as a result of a fire. Similarly, failure to give your landlord notice of a problem regarding a smoke detector may relieve the landlord of any responsibility for failing to furnish a reliable smoke detector.

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