Visual Smoke Alarms now state law in Texas

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

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
Additionally, your landlord should contact the Texas Apartment Association
( 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.


Useful information regarding this law can be found here.

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