This week, RIAR sent along this information regarding the upcoming  fire requirements for three-family properties that go into effect next week.

 As of December 31, 2010 all common areas shall be protected by AC-powered, interconnected smoke alarms with battery back-up. These alarms may be powered from an existing residential or common circuit. These smoke alarms shall be separate from the smoke alarms in each dwelling unit. There shall be one smoke alarm on each level of the common stairway(s), and at the bottom of the basement stairs.

  • If there is more than one (1) stairway, all detectors in each stairway shall be interconnected together.
  • Wireless detectors shall be allowed as part of an approved system or panel and provided that such system meets all the audible requirements.
  • A local, supervised fire alarm system shall be permitted in place of smoke alarms. Each system shall be installed as per code and provide detection in all common areas, pull stations, etc; and occupant notification.

When were these requirements approved? The fire safety requirements for three-family dwellings were originally slated to take effect on July 1, 2008, but the Fire Safety Code Board of Appeal and Review extended the deadline twice: until July 1, 2009 and then until December 31, 2010.

Why were the requirements extended twice? The purpose of the two extensions was to give the Fire Safety Code Board of Appeal and Review time to address questions about the availability and use of wireless technology, interpretations of the electric code, transfers of short sale and foreclosure properties, and confusion over other enforcement issues.

Also, some electrical inspectors were interpreting the electrical code to require owners of three-unit dwellings to install a separate meter for the new fire safety device instead of drawing from one of the unit meters. Since the electric company requires new meters to be installed on the exterior of the building, could have forced property owners to spend thousands of dollars to relocate the entire meter bank, according to the Fire Safety Code Board. The Board, State Fire Marshal, State Building Board, State Building Commissioner, and others worked together to create a solution to avoid undue hardship to owners of existing three-unit dwellings. 

How aggressively will these requirements be enforced? It depends. Some local fire marshals have been notifying owners of three-family dwellings of these requirements and plan to begin inspections of three-unit dwellings in January, 2011.

Is it legal to sell a three-family dwelling that is not in compliance with these requirements? Yes. A buyer can purchase a three-family that is not in compliance with the new fire safety requirements as long as the buyer is prepared to bring the property into compliance, and assuming that the buyer’s lender will finance the purchase. There is no separate deadline or grace period.

 How will these requirements affect rentals of three-family dwellings? Failure to comply is a code violation for which a landlord can be cited, similar to minimum housing violations.

Chris Wall, an agent from the Providence office, represents many investors and deals with multi-units every day , he and I both felt that these opened up a few more questions,  so he had Monica Staaf, RIAR  Legal Counsel and Government Affairs Director, answer these as well.

Question 4 states that it is legal for a buyer to purchase a property that is not in compliance with this new code, provided that they are prepared to bring the property up to code.  Is there a time limit in which they have to make the property compliant? 

ANSWER:   The deadline for compliance is December 31, 2010, and I’m not aware of any formal grace period for a new owner.   It really depends on how aggressive/proactive the local fire marshal is.   Fire marshals in some communities have already sent notices to owners of three-unit dwellings.  The law does not specifically require the property to be in compliance in order to transfer although lenders and insurers may have their own requirements. 

QUESTION:  And is there a form or disclosure that we would have the buyer fill out in this situation? 

ANSWER:   I continue to encourage members to provide prospective buyers with a copy of this brochure from the State Fire Marshal’s Office.   The brochure is also available on Transit.

The RIAR Multi-Unit Purchase and Sales Agreement includes this language:

14. Additional Seller Obligations:

(a) Smoke/Carbon Monoxide Detectors: R.I.G.L. 23-28.1 requires certain residential dwellings to be equipped with an approved smoke detector and carbon monoxide detector system. When required by law, it is the responsibility of the Seller to deliver the Property at the closing with a smoke detector and carbon monoxide detector certificate dated no earlier than 60 days before the closing. Contact the local Fire Marshal to determine the requirements for this Property.

The parties should be aware of these and other changes to Rhode Island fire safety laws for residential dwellings.

3 units: interconnected smoke/carbon monoxide detectors are required effective December 31, 2010.

REALTORS can include in “Additional Provisions” –  “Buyer assumes all responsibility for compliance with the fire safety requirements  for three-unit dwellings”.   REALTORS can also ask the buyer to acknowledge receipt of the RI State Fire Marshal Smoke Alarm and Carbon Monoxide Brochure.

QUESTION:  More importantly, how will this affect the smoke detector inspection certificate process?

ANSWER:   Check with the local fire marshal.    More importantly, find out what the buyer’s lender or closing attorney will require.   Some fire marshals will issue “certificates” but they may be conditioned on the buyer having certain work completed.

This Week’s Real Estate Insight: 

While we strive to stay up on the laws pertaining to buying and selling real estate,  Realtors are not lawyers, when it comes to legal matters, you should always consult a lawyer if you have any questions.

Sally Lapides

Sally Lapides


Sally Lapides is President of Residential Properties Ltd. and the host of Real Estate Insight, on WHJJ Talk Radio 920 AM. Since 2004 the show has led its time-slot with discussions ranging from home staging, to financing, to pets, to showing nightmares, curb appeal, market trends and just about every imaginable real estate situation.


  1. Patricia Thornton says:

    Dear Sally,
    Can you tell me the requirements for smoke detectors and CO2 detectors for a 3 unit condominium. And what does “interconnected” . One unit is thinking of selling (it was an original 3 family conversion to condo in 2006 building) and was told by an electrician to redo the whole system….estimate $3,100. Although it was last looked at in 2013 and was fine!!!!

    • Eddy Giorgi says:

      Hello Patricia

      To get the most up to date information on regulations please visit the Fire Marshal’s website.

      You can also contact your local fire department and consult with them about local ordinances.

      Thank you for your question.


Leave a Reply