Letter: Landlords or tenants – who changes smoke detector batteries?

Letter: Landlords or tenants – who changes smoke detector batteries?


To the editor:

This letter is to all concern regarding responsibility for checking smoke/co2 detectors for people living in a rented unit. After experiencing an issue where my smoke alarm was being tested for inspection, the alarm did not work; which was later discovered there was no battery installed. What turned into finger pointing for blame. It was discovered that the fire codes do not express who has the responsibility to check and change out the batteries in smoke alarms in rented apartments. The fire department did not help much as they could not answer the question either. You would think it would be the landlord as he would be responsible for the fire alarm but the code does not cover smoke/CO2 detectors.

Unless it is stated in your lease that the tenant is responsible, the landlord should ensure they are tested annually and the battery should be changed yearly at the time of daylight savings time changes. On a word of caution do not rely on your landlord doing that and check them for a piece of mind and safety.

David Silvia
503 Wood Street


  1. Though not a renter, I would think of it no differently than changing a light bulb when it burns out. Most of us have heard the obnoxious beep when the back-up smoke detector battery is low. My first reaction would be to take some personal responsibility and change the battery.

  2. lastoneleft, if you read the article did you miss were it was stated after the inspection it was found there was no battery installed, therefore there was no beeping to warn anyone. Again if the landlord inspected these alarms at least yearly he would have found this and it could have been corrected. I had no idea these alarms were missing the battery as they are mounted on a 9ft ceiling.

    • Dave: mine are hardwired with battery back-up. There is always a green light displayed when powered. Also, there is a button on the smoke detector that you press to test it to make sure it is working. Usually every quarter I hit this button with a broom handle to test and so my children understand what the sound is. I’ve also discovered that after 7 years, whether powered or not, the CO2 detectors will start beeping and the entire unit needs to be replaced, not just the battery.

      I do believe a landlord should check each unit on apartment turnover, just as you would have to (by law) when you sell your home.

  3. I was raised in an apt house. My family did everything as if it were our own house.
    That included taking out our trash, shoveling snow, and simple repairs of things in the apt.If the faucet dripped my father went to Merciers ( boy do I miss them ) picked up a new washer and replaced it.If the battery is dead, then replace it. If you are just moving in then it should be ready to go with a fresh battery installed by the landlord. If you been there over a year then get a new battery and change it. If your physically unable to do it then get someone who can. If the detectors are in the hallway or basement, change it or let the landlord know, he cant hear it from his house.If it is a financial issue then send in the reciept with the rent. What are we talking here, a 9 volt battery that cost a few dollars. People spend money on coffee or cigarettes every day, we are talking once a year. Stop whining and put on your big boy pants.

  4. pfisher I take your comment as an insult. Let me say this again, there was no battery installed when I moved in!!!!!! No Battery, no sound, no lights, no nothing. Thats how we found the alarm not working when it was tested by the button. The landlord is responsible for the fire alarm he should be responsible for the smokes too. If someone died from a non working smoke detector who is going to get sued, surley not the dead tenant, but the landlord. Thats why we pay rent, not to take care of his house. Hell I bought the battery and replaced it, without a thankyou. Please come over and tell me how to put my big boy pants on!

    • Hell I bought the battery and replaced it, without a thankyou.

      You wanted a thank you, for replacing a $1.89 battery? Do you also want a ‘participation trophy’ just for being the guy’s tenant?

      Sheesh. A lightbulb burns out, you replace it. A battery goes dead, or is removed by the prior tenant, you replace it. No thanks, no trophies, just comfort in the knowledge that you’re a functioning adult.

      The only thing I’ve learned from your letter and follow-on comments is that I will make it explicitly clear in all future tenant leases that the tenant is responsible for replacing the smoke alarm batteries … and that the landlord is not to be considered in breach of contract for failing to send the tenants a thank you note when they do so.

      • nard glimrod, excuse me as I am laughing at your post, you moron, the purpose of this was to be informational to all renters that landlords do not do what they are suppose too. In fact that the smoke/co2 alarm is an important device to have in the event of a fire, if the landlord does not do his job like here somebody could have died in the event of a fire. It is not about the $3.99 spent to replace the battery, it is about responsibility. When your water facuet falls off and water is spraying allover do you go out and buy a new facuet, no you call the landlord has this is his house to keep fixed. The other issue is the state fire code doesnt express responsibility either, which says alot for the state of RI, nobody has learned anything after 100 people were killed because inspectors did not do their job and the owners tried to be cheap. 200 people had their lives turned up side down. So there is a bigger picture out there. If you to stupid to see that shame on you.

  5. the purpose of this was to be informational to all renters that landlords do not do what they are suppose too

    Unless I’m missing something, you wrote above that you read the statute and that the responsibility for replacing consumables like fire alarm batteries is not specified anywhere in the law. Given that statement, I need to point out that it’s only your opinion that changing fire alarm batteries is something the landlord is supposed to do.

    My response to your opinion is that, in the future, I will take the time to do two things:

    1) I will ensure that fresh sets of batteries are installed in all smoke detectors as of the effective date of the lease; and

    2) I will ensure that it is explicitly stated in the lease that, for the entire term of the lease and any subsequent renewals, replacing the batteries in the fire detectors is the sole responsibility of the tenant. I will also include a small line for the tenant’s initials next to this statement to ensure that this point is explicitly understood and agreed to by the tenant.

    Your opinion concerning who is responsible for what is amusing, but please remember it’s only your opinion. Unless you tootle on up to the Statehouse and get the law changed, all you’re doing is puffing up your little boy chest and spewing a bunch of of half-baked (and poorly spelled) theories and insults.

    So, we all thank you for writing your letter, David. Your concern for others is admirable. In fact, here’s a little trophy with your name on it.

  6. narm glimrod, no that is not my opinion, it is fact stated by the RI Fire Marshell, as your not identifing yourself I assume you must be a landlord, and if you take those steps your making for a safer enviorment. And as for a law change that is in the works as we speak. So please take this trophy you speak of and shove it. You seem to love to make fund of people, my spelling is a problem because I am blind in one eye, but you did not know that did you.

  7. As aan apt tenant who pays an exorbitant amount of money for our apt, I would expect the landlord/apartment to pay for bulbs, batteries, as well as any and all maintenance. If I own a home…..it ALL on me. I pay a large amount of money to live where I live. So am I renting the walls, floors etc…..no. I am paying for them to maintain everything.

  8. None of the arguing in this thread was necessary. It’s possible to disagree without getting into a verbal fist fight.

    However, I’d like to point out to Nard Glimrod that the building that burns down will be yours, not the tenant’s, so you might want to take David Silvia’s advice and check the batteries in your tenants’ smoke detectors every year. Also, the rents in the East Bay are very high, and the cost of replacing five or six batteries every year can be a significant expense. I’m spending three-quarters of my Social Security check on rent every month, so I know what I’m talking about.

    Furthermore, there may be liability issues you are not considering. I’ve never owned a building, but I wonder if your insurance policy for the building might not require the landlord to keep the smoke detectors working, not the tenant. If that’s the case, a clause in your leases requiring tenants to change batteries may void your insurance — indeed, those clauses might serve as proof to the insurance company that you were not taking responsibility for the smoke detectors. It should also be noted that some smoke detectors are positioned very high up, and a tenant might not have a ladder high enough to get to them. Not only that, but there may be a risk to some tenants when climbing a ladder. Changing the batteries yourself may, ultimately, be the wiser choice.

    • We have a page in our lease the day they move in that states the smoke alarm is working and that tenant is responsible for checking it regularly. Also. Every tenant needs to have renters insurance. The landlord is not responsible for your personal property. Check your smoke alarms monthly. You can buy them om your next trip to the dollar store, for a dollar. Landlords dont replace your lightbulbs when they burn out either after you move in. Common sense. Stay safe everyone!