Visual smoke alarms now a state law! (From the Texas Association of the Deaf Newsletter, Fall 2009)
If requested by a tenant, a landlord must install a visual smoke detector that is capable of alerting a person with a hearing impairment of the presence of smoke. Effective: Jan. 1, 2010.
It was late at night in January 2005 when Tyrus and Sephra Burks, both deaf, were asleep in their apartment after celebrating the birthday of one of their four children. A fire broke out and the living room was in flames before Tyrus, who had fallen asleep on the couch watching TV, woke up. He was able to save two of his children, but the fire had grown too large for him to pass in order to reach Sephra who was sleeping in the bedroom upstairs and his other two children. Sephra and two of their children died in the fire that night. A visual smoke alarm in the bedroom might have prevented their deaths. The tragedy that led the Texas Legislature to pass SB 1715 is worth remembering. To honor the Burks family that lost so much, SB 1715 is now known as the Sephra Burks’ Bill.
As of January 1, 2010, landlords of dwelling units in Texas, such as apartment complexes, will be required to purchase and install visual smoke alarms upon request for their deaf, hard of hearing, or deaf-blind tenants. These visual smoke alarms must be installed in the bedroom where a deaf, hard of hearing, or deaf-blind person will be sleeping.
The law applies to any “home, mobile home, duplex unit, apartment unit, condominium unit, or any
dwelling unit in a multiunit residential structure.” It also applies to “one or more rooms rented for use as a permanent residence under a single lease to one or more tenants.”
Deaf-blind individuals who cannot see the flashing component then the landlord should provide a smoke alarm bed shaker.
The landlord is responsible for the purchase and installation of the visual smoke alarm, just as they
are responsible for traditional, audible smoke alarms.
Generally, you should put your request in writing and inform your landlord that you (or someone else
living with you) are deaf, hard of hearing, or deafblind, and that you need a visual smoke alarm because you cannot hear the audible smoke alarm. The landlord should purchase and install the visual smoke alarm within a reasonable amount of time after they have received your request. If you need a specific type of visual smoke alarm, such as a bed shaking smoke alarm, you should include that in your request and explain why. Be sure you keep a copy of your request. An example of a request you can make to your landlord can be found at the end of this article.
Generally, the landlord should purchase and install the visual smoke alarm within a reasonable amount of time after receiving a request.
The landlord may ask you for such proof, which might include a statement from a doctor or audiologist.
However, the landlord cannot ask for other medical history; the request must be limited to just that information required to show the hearing loss.
Landlords should treat the provision of visual smoke alarm the same as they do for the other smoke alarms they provide. If they do not require a deposit from their hearing tenants for the smoke alarm, then they should not require you to pay a deposit for the visual smoke alarm.
If you have children who are deaf the landlord must provide a visual smoke alarm in their bedroom(s).
If the landlord does not grant your request (after the law takes effect in 2010, you should contact the Advocacy, Inc., office nearest you. Our locations and contact information can be found at www.advocacyinc.org. Additionally, your landlord should contact the Texas Apartment Association (www.taa.org) to get more information on their obligations under SB 1715. This information has been provided by Advocacy, Incorporated and is not legal advice. Please consult an attorney if you have any questions. Advocacy is a federally funded, non-profit agency that provides legal and advocacy services on behalf of people with disabilities.
– Thanks to Texas Association of the Deaf Newsletter, Fall 2009 and Examiner.com