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I live in a studio apartment that has an ionization-based smoke detector right next to the kitchen. Unfortunately, almost anything I cook triggers a false alarm.(Even turning on the oven with nothing inside will set it off.)

I think it may be possible to solve this problem responsibly by replacing the smoke detector with a photoelectric detector, but if I do so, am I legally "tampering" with the detector? I've technically removed their smoke detector, but I've preserved (perhaps even improved) the general fire safety of the apartment.

What are the legal consequences for doing this in the state of Georgia?

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    What does your landlord think of replacing it? Have you spoken to them? The legal consequences may be different depending on whether you have their permission to do the replacement or not.
    – Kevin
    Dec 30, 2022 at 22:48

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There's multiple layers of laws and contracts that apply to fire/smoke detectors:

Fire code

The fire code (usually on a county layer) can demand certain styles or models of smoke detectors. They can be requested at the fire department. For example, Denver's Handout indicates:

  • Smoke alarms are required in every residential dwelling or sleeping unit, including single-family homes.
    Every multi-family residential facility is required to have smoke alarms, whether battery-operated or hard-wired with battery backup.

  • Smoke alarms are required in every bedroom, outside each sleeping area, and on every level of the home including the basement

  • Required: Denver Fire Code requires that you have your smoke alarms inspected and tested at least monthly and at intervals not less than that required by the manufacturer’s published instructions. You may hire someone to do this, you may do it yourself or, if you live in a multi-family residential facility, your management may take care of this. It is required that the batteries (primary and back up be changed) to a 10-year lithium-ion battery.

    • Required: As the homeowner, you must fill out a residential Fire Safety Equipment Report and submit it to the property management or homeowner’s association annually unless the management is providing the maintenance for you. You may download the form at www.denvergov.org/fire.

In Denver's case, altering the type of smoke alarm requires an update to the Fire Safety Equipment Report.

has a fire safety minimum standard that adopts the IFC 2012. Section 907.1 is all about fire alarm systems:

907.1

The State's minimum requirements for fire alarm systems in proposed (new) buildings and structures approved as set forth in 103.3.1 of this Code shall be as required by NFPA 101, Life Safety Code, as adopted by this Chapter 120-3-3. Fire alarm systems shall be designed, installed, tested, and maintained in accordance with NFPA 72, National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code, as adopted by this Chapter 120-3-3. (b) New fire alarm systems to be installed in existing buildings shall be designed, installed, and maintained in accordance with NFPA 72, as adopted by this Chapter 120-3-3. (Refer to Table 102. 13 — CODES REFERENCE GUIDE)

103.3.1

Pursuant to O.C.G.A. 25-2-14.1(b), every proposed building and structure listed in paragraph (1) of subsection (b) of O.C.G.A. 25-2-13 shall comply with the adopted minimum fire safety standards that were in effect on the date that plans and specifications therefore were received by the proper fire official for review and approval. Complete plans for proposed (new) buildings and structures recorded as received by the authority having jurisdiction for review prior to the effective date of this Chapter, may be reviewed under the codes, standards, and Rules and Regulations of the Safety Fire Commissioner in force prior to the effective date of this Chapter.

Noncompliance with the code might result in a fine or even a criminal offense.

Insurance contracts

Depending on the homeowner's insurance, a specific model, type, or even manufacturer of smoke detectors might be prescribed. Usually, the one renting the apartment would need to inquire with the landlord to learn if such a thing is in the contract.

Noncompliance means that the place is not covered by insurance.

Tenament contract

The lease might contain a passage if you are allowed to do any work on the smoke detector. I know that my sister's last rental contract did have a clause that she wasn't allowed even to touch the smoke detectors and that they were to be serviced by a specific company.

Noncompliance can be used as a reason to break the lease extraordinarily.

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Here's a bit of Georgia law that is relevant. By law, your apartment

shall have installed an approved battery operated smoke detector which shall be maintained in good working order unless any such building is otherwise required to have a smoke detector system pursuant to Code Section 25-2-13.

Also, "Detectors shall be listed and meet the installation requirements of NFPA 72". Furthermore,

Any occupant who fails to maintain a smoke detector in a dwelling, dwelling unit, or other facility, other than a nursing home, listed in subsection (a) of this Code section in good working order as required in this Code section shall be subject to a maximum fine of $25.00, provided that a warning shall be issued for a first violation.

(note that there is a burden on the occupant, not just the landlord). However,

Failure to maintain a smoke detector in good working order in a dwelling, dwelling unit, or other facility listed in subsection (a) of this Code section in violation of this Code section shall not be considered evidence of negligence, shall not be considered by the court on any question of liability of any person, corporation, or insurer, shall not be any basis for cancellation of coverage or increase in insurance rates, and shall not diminish any recovery for damages arising out of the ownership, maintenance, or occupancy of such dwelling, dwelling unit, or other facility listed in subsection (a) of this Code section.

Whether or not a photoelectric smoke detector is NFPA-compliant is not a legal question, but you could read NFPA's comparison of ionizing and photoelectric detectors here. If we assume (as is reasonable to do) that you install an approved device, then there is no code violation by picking your own device, does not change liability, and can have no effect on insurance rate / cancellation. OTOH, it is conceivable that the lease is written to prohibit any monkeying around with the smoke detector.

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