Environment, Safety and Standards RPI

Carbon Monoxide: The silent killer

Sally Walmsley
Written by Sally Walmsley

Carbon monoxide. It is known as the silent killer. Odourless and invisible it can be fatal if you are exposed to high levels, with 50 people a year dying from CO poisoning and thousands more needing treatment. Next month marks three years since the Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarm (England) Regulations 2015 yet there is still some confusion about the rules. On Carbon Monoxide Awareness Week, in this article first published in the RLA’s Residential Property Investor  we look at your responsibilities.

According to the Chief Medical Officer for England, accidental carbon monoxide poisoning results in recorded cases of 50 deaths and 200 hospitalisations each year in England & Wales, with 4,000 treated at A&E.

Carbon monoxide (CO) is created when fuel does not burn fully and household appliances, such as gas fires, boilers, central heating systems, water heaters, cookers and open fires which use gas, oil, coal and wood may be possible sources of CO gas.

Even if it doesn’t prove fatal, CO poisoning can lead to lasting neurological damage.

According to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents those most at risk are the under 14s and the over 65s, with these age groups accounting for 31% and 25% of these hospital admissions.


In 2009 a landlord was given a 16-month suspended sentence and fined £4,000 at Derby Crown Court after her tenant died of carbon monoxide poisoning when she failed to carry out gas safety checks.

The 39- year-old, described as an ‘amateur landlord’ by the judge admitted seven counts of breaching gas safety regulations over a four-year period.

Her 51-year-old tenant died after reconnecting the gas boiler, which had been condemned 18 months earlier.

He failed to pass the engineer’s report on to the landlord, but she was ultimately responsible for carrying out annual gas safety checks, which she failed to do.

What does the law say?

The Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarm (England) Regulations 2015 came into force on 1 October 2015.

The rules, which also cover smoke alarms, state PRS landlords must have a carbon monoxide alarm in any room containing a solid fuel burning appliance, eg a coal fire or wood burning stove.

Government guidance also encourages landlords to ensure that working carbon monoxide alarms are installed in all rooms with gas appliances.

After that landlords are responsible for making sure the alarms are in working order at the start of each new tenancy.

Anyone breaching the rules can be fined up to £5,000 where they fail to comply with a remedial notice.

Local authorities are responsible for enforcing the requirements.

It should be noted, carbon monoxide alarms do have a shelf life of around five – seven years.

Research by Which? in March 2016 found that of the 691 people they interviewed 39% did not know this, so it is worth checking your rental properties to see how old your alarms are and whether they need to be replaced.

What do I look for?

In addition to installing alarms there are certain signs that act as warning flags. These include:

  • Boiler pilot light flames burning orange instead of blue
  • Sooty stains on or near appliances
  • Excessive condensation in the room
  • Coal/wood fires that burn slowly or go out
  • Families suffering prolonged flu-like symptoms
What should I be doing to keep my tenants safe?

You as the landlord are responsible for testing the alarm on the first day of the tenancy.

It is recommended that you ask the tenant to sign the inventory to record that the alarms have been tested and that they are happy with them.

After this it is the responsibility of the tenant, but it is a good idea to remind them that they should test all alarms on a monthly basis.

If they find the alarms are not working they should replace the batteries, or contact you as the landlord.

Consumer charity Which? said you should expect to pay around £20 for a reliable alarm, with cheaper models, failing their safety tests.You should also check for a Kitemark.

Gas appliances in your rental homes must also be serviced annually by a qualified Gas Safe Registered engineer.

What to look for in a CO alarm

Consumer champion Which? has produced a checklist to use when buying and installing a carbon monoxide alarm.

  • Seek out the Kitemark: Look for the BSI Kitemark. It shows that an alarm has been tested to the EN 50291 safety standard.
  • Pay for protection: Pay around £20 for a CO alarm. Dangerous alarms that failed Which? tests – and lookalike brands – all cost around £10.
  • Reputation matters: Choose brands that are widely available from shops such as Argos, B&Q, Currys, John Lewis, Homebase, Screwfix and Wickes.
  • Battery types: Alarms with sealed batteries usually last around five to seven years, with some lasting 10 years, after which the alarm will need replacing. Replaceable battery alarms need new batteries every two to three years.
  • Install correctly: Fit your alarm high up in the same room as the potential source of CO, 15cm from the ceiling and at least one metre away from boilers, cookers and fires.
  • Beware patch detectors: Patch-style detectors change colour in the presence of CO, such as from a faulty boiler. But they are silent, and therefore less effective.
  • LCD screens aren’t essential: All you need is a noisy alarm that sounds when needed.

About the author

Sally Walmsley

Sally Walmsley

Sally Walmsley is the Magazine and Digital Editor for the NRLA. With 20 years’ experience writing for regional and national newspapers and magazines she is responsible for editing our members' magazine 'Property', producing our articles for our news site, the weekly and monthly bulletins and editorial content for our media partners.

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