Smoke detectors

Smoke detectors are required by either state law or local ordinances.  The Texas law on smoke detectors is set forth in the Property Code at 92.251 – 92.264. You can find out more by watching this video. Texas law governs, but cities may adopt ordinances that conform to Texas law or contain additional enforcement provisions. For information on whether your community has adopted such ordinances, consult your local building, fire or housing codes. With 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 the smoke detector stops working and the landlord knows it, the landlord does not have to do anything about it unless you, the tenant, give the landlord a request to repair it AND have paid your rent. 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.

Landlord’s duty to inspect and repair

The landlord has to test the smoke detector at the beginning of your tenancy (or when they install it). After you have moved in, the landlord only has to inspect or fix the smoke detector if you give the landlord notice of a problem or make a written request to the landlord for inspection or repair. 

The landlord has a “reasonable time” to inspect and repair the smoke detector. The length of time that is “reasonable” depends on the availability of materials, labor, and utilities. A landlord does not have 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 does not have to provide replacement batteries for a battery-operated smoke detector, as long as it was working when the tenant moved in.

My landlord isn’t fixing the smoke detector problem.

If you ask your landlord to install, inspect, or repair a smoke detector in your apartment and they don’t do it within a “reasonable” time period, you should give your landlord another written notice that says,

“If you fail to comply with my request for [insert installation, inspection or repair] of a smoke detector within seven days, I may exercise the remedies provided in the Texas Property Code.” 

If the landlord does not install, inspect, or repair a smoke detector correctly within seven days of your request, Section 92.260 of the Property Code allows you to file a lawsuit against the landlord (see Sue your landlord) or you may legally terminate (end) the lease without court proceedings.

To succeed in court, you must be up-to-date on your rent from the time you gave your landlord the first notice. If the damage to the smoke detector was caused by you or your family or guests, you must also have paid 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 inspect the smoke detector; (3) an award of one month’s rent plus $100 as a civil penalty against the landlord; (4) court costs; and (5) attorney’s fees in a suit seeking a court order directing the landlord to comply with the request or in a suit seeking a judgment against the landlord for a civil penalty. See section 92.260 Texas Property Code.