Page One

Smoke detector laws can be deadly

Robert Hagedorn Berkeley
Monday August 20, 2001

The Daily Planet received this letter addressed to councilmember Maudelle Shirek: 

Dear Councilmember Shirek: 


I am writing to you about a life and death matter that applies directly to all residential tenants in Berkeley. The problem is Berkeley’s flawed smoke detector law as it pertains to property owners and their tenants. Recent legislation passed by the Berkeley City Council does little to address this problem. 

The smoke detector law is well intentioned, but incomplete. The law requires landlords to provide their tenants with functioning smoke detectors. So far, so good. Unfortunately, smoke detector batteries last anywhere from six months to two years, depending on several variables. When the battery discharges, the detector begins to emit an annoying chirp, signaling the need to replace the battery with a fresh one. Sometimes the detector itself needs to be replaced. Some tenants will replace the battery themselves, some ask the landlord to replace the battery, and some remove the battery and replace the detector on the wall or ceiling, where the smoke detector now becomes a piece of useless decorative plastic. Carbon monoxide detectors present the same problem. Tenants are often too busy to concern themselves with a smoke detector, thus inviting tragedy to strike. Multiple tenant apartment buildings containing common areas, locked attics, locked basements, and locked storage areas make the issue of individual tenant responsibility moot. Besides, the tenants do not own the building. 

The city ordinance which applies to smoke and carbon monoxide detectors needs to be modified so landlords will be required to replace the batteries at periodic intervals, perhaps once a year, and with alkaline batteries (the best). The landlord must also be required to test and replace the entire detector unit if it is not functioning properly. 

Thank you for your attention in this matter. 


Robert Hagedorn