In the District of Columbia, the owner of the housing business is legally required to install smoke detectors and maintain them in good working order. An owner who fails to do so violates multiple District laws, including fire-safety laws and the housing code. Such an owner could be subject to civil fines and even criminal prosecution.
If a smoke detector in a rental unit is not working, the tenant should promptly report the problem, preferably in writing, to the landlord or the management office. It is wise to maintain a record of all repair requests, repair efforts and exchanges of communications. If the repair is not made promptly, two District agencies — the D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs and the D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department — have the authority to inspect residential housing for smoke-detector malfunctions. A tenant may request a Consumer and Regulatory Affairs inspection at 202-442-9557. If the building has three or more units, the tenant may request a Fire and Emergency Medical Services inspection at 202-727-1614.
If a rental unit does not comply with the relevant requirements, District law specifically permits a tenant to arrange for the installation or repair of the smoke detector. The same law permits the tenant to deduct the reasonable cost from the rent. The landlord may not charge, evict or in any way penalize the tenant in that situation.
According to the D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department, smoke alarms are the most important appliance in the home because they have been proven to save lives. It is critically important that tenants and landlords do their part to maintain this life and safety measure.
About the Advocate
The D.C. Office of the Tenant Advocate is an independent agency of the District government providing legal assistance, policy advocacy, education and outreach services to District renters. Learn more and contact the agency at ota.dc.gov or 202-719-6560. The office says it is the first tenant advocacy voice within any state or city government in the U.S.