Smoke Alarms and Sprinkler Systems

Smoke Alarms

General Requirements

Maryland state law requires that each sleeping area in a residential dwelling have an automatic smoke alarm. This requirement applies to one- and two-family homes, apartment buildings, dormitories, and hotels.

A smoke alarm must meet four requirements under state law:

  • Installed in accordance with the National Fire Alarm Code
  • Listed and labeled by a nationally recognized testing laboratory
  • Able to sense visible or invisible particles of combustion
  • Able to sound an alarm that will warn people in the sleeping area

As discussed in greater detail below, there are stricter requirements for recently constructed buildings.  Read the Law: MD Code, Public Safety § 9-102

Maintenance

The landlord or property owner must install smoke alarms. A landlord is also responsible for repairing or replacing a tenant’s smoke alarm.

A tenant is responsible for testing the smoke alarms. If a smoke alarm needs to be repaired or replaced, the tenant must tell the landlord in writing. The landlord must acknowledge the tenant’s notice in writing and repair or replace the smoke alarm within five (5) days of receiving the tenant’s notice.

A tenant may not remove or tamper with a smoke alarm.  Read the Law: MD Code, Public Safety § 9-106

Deaf or Hearing Impaired Tenant

A tenant who is deaf or hearing impaired can request from the landlord, in writing, a smoke alarm that provides a signal that will warn a deaf or hearing-impaired person. A landlord who gets a written request must provide an appropriate smoke alarm.

However, the landlord can require the tenant to reimburse the landlord for the cost of the smoke alarm. Read the Law: MD Code, Public Safety § 9-105

Special Requirements Based on Date of Building Construction

There are different requirements depending on the age of the building.  The newer the building, the stricter the requirements. 

For all new residential buildings with construction permits issued on or after July 1, 2013, the owner must install a smoke alarm in every bedroom, every hallway or common area that is outside a bedroom, and on every floor of the house (including the basement but excluding the attic, garage and crawl spaces).  These alarms must be arranged so that activation of any one alarm activates all of the alarms within the residential unit.  The alarms must also run on alternating current and have a battery backup or other approved secondary power source. Read the Law: MD Code, Public Safety § 9-103

For all new residential buildings with construction permits issued on or after July 1, 1990, all smoke alarms required by this law must be the kind that operate both by battery and on the unit’s regular source of power.

For buildings constructed on or after January 1, 1989, there must be at least one smoke alarm on each level of the building, including the basement and excluding an unoccupied attic, garage, and crawl space.  If two or more smoke alarms are required, they must be installed in a way that activation of one causes activation of all of the other alarms.

Smoke alarms in buildings built before 1989 must be updated if:

  • the existing smoke alarms were manufactured more than 10 years ago
  • the existing smoke alarms no longer work
  • there is a new tenant and the smoke alarms have not been upgraded within the last 10 years
  • If none of the above applies, the smoke alarms must still be updated by January 1, 2018.

There are two basic requirements for the updates. First, there must be at least one smoke alarm on each level of the building, including basements and excluding unoccupied attics, garages, and crawl spaces. Second, in most cases, the smoke alarms must run on alternating current with battery backup. Read the Law: MD Code, Public Safety § 9-104

Investigation after a Fire

If a fire official investigates a fire and finds that the required smoke alarms were not installed, he or she will issue an order requiring the responsible landlord, owner, or occupant to install fire alarms.  The alarm(s) must be installed within 5 days. Read the Law: MD Code, Public Safety § 9-108

Penalties

A person who is convicted of knowingly violating the laws or regulations regarding smoke alarms is guilty of a misdemeanor and may be fined up to $1,000, imprisoned up to 10 days, or both. Read the Law: MD Code, Public Safety § 9-109

Exceptions

Although the State Fire Marshal or the appropriate local authority may grant certain exceptions from state or local fire and building codes, no exception may be granted to the smoke alarm requirements. Read the Law: MD Code, Public Safety § 9-205

Fire Safety for Mobility Impaired Individuals

The owner of a residential high-rise building with must annually provide a written notice to all tenants to inform any mobility-impaired tenants of their right to request a rental unit on the first five floors of the building if one should become available. Read the Law: MD Code, Public Safety § 9-405

Sprinkler Systems

Required in New Construction

Automatic sprinkler systems are required for newly constructed dormitories, hotels, rooming houses, and multi-family dwellings if the initial building permit was issued (or construction began) after July 1, 1990, or after July 1, 1992 for newly constructed townhouses. The State Fire Marshal or appropriate local authority must approve the sprinkler system, and it must be installed in accordance with prescribed national, local, and state standards. However, these requirements do not apply to dwelling units that are not served by a public water supply system. Read the Law: MD Code, Public Safety § 9-204

Exceptions

The State Fire Marshal or the appropriate local authority may grant certain exceptions, including exceptions from these sprinkler system requirements, if there is clear evidence that the exception will not adversely affect the fire safety of the building or its occupants. Read the Law: MD Code, Public Safety § 9-205

Penalties

Any person who knowingly violates these requirements is guilty of a misdemeanor and may be fined up to $1,000, imprisoned for up to 10 days, or both. Read the Law: MD Code, Public Safety § 9-206

Source: 

Baltimore Neighborhoods, Inc. (BNI); edited by www.peoples-law.org/contributors

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