What Are The Fire Safety Requirements for Building Owners With Tenants?

Smoke detectors are designed and installed to provide an early warning of a fire. In California, it’s a legal requirement for building and property owners to install, maintain, and communicate to tenants the fire safety systems that operate throughout the building — whether it is a rental property or privately owned home.

While state guidelines are strict when it comes to installation and placement, cities and counties can enact even more stringent requirements. San Francisco has several of its own fire safety ordinances for rental and residential properties. Below we’ve simplified what steps landlords need to follow for tenant disclosures, posting requirements, and the new July 2021 fire alarm ordinance.

New July 2021 Fire Alarm System Requirements

By July 1, 2021, owners of Group R-2 occupancy buildings with 3 residential sleeping units or more — are required to upgrade fire alarm systems to pass the “Pillow Test.” Alarms must reach specific noise level requirements as measured from the pillow of sleeping areas (passing “the pillow test”) either by July 1, 2021, or when the landlord pulls a building permit for $50,000 worth of work or more. And if buildings are sold or transferred after September 1, 2017, twelve months after the sale of the property, whichever occurs first. 

Annual Disclosure Requirements

Statement of Compliance Form

  • Building owners must file the fire alarm system Statement of Compliance Form by the filing and posting compliance dates, depending on the number of units in the building, and every year after that.

Posting Requirements

Apartments of 3 or more units must have diagrams for each floor depicting all fire alarm pull stations, fire exits, fire escapes, and extinguishers. Diagrams need to be posted in common areas on each level of the building.

To assure that fire officials administering inspections can gain entry,  the landlord’s phone number always needs to be posted by the entryway on the outside of the building.

Owners of buildings with fire alarm systems will need to file and post paperwork proving they have regularly complied with inspections. They also have to keep records showing that they provided the specified information to their tenants before occupancy, and then every year after.

Additionally, even smaller rentals will require new signage detailing for tenants the importance of maintaining smoke detectors within units. More information on the specific posting requirements can be found on the San Francisco Fire Department website.

Why Are Fire Safety Ordinances Are Important?

A rental or residential property must be livable, which means it meets all state and local codes and ordinances that ensure a safe living space. Examples of conditions required for livability include working electrical and plumbing systems, fire exits, adequate trash containers, and appliances in good repair, to name a few. A working fire alarm system is part of the habitability requirements outlined by the state of California.

All information that is shared with a renter about the property or a renter’s rights are considered disclosures. Landlord disclosures can either be included in the rental agreement or the lease or some other form of writing. Also, landlords must submit documentation to the San Francisco Fire Department, proving their tenants have received all the necessary information about fire safety and how to report hazards. Moreover, a fire code violation hotline is listed prominently on the now-mandatory signs.

Apart from providing tenants with practical information about where essential fire safety items are located in the building, the disclosure and posting requirements aim to empower tenants to keep an eye out for problems and report them. That’s partly to keep a civilian eye on the insides of private apartments since fire firefighters generally don’t enter apartments during routine inspections.