In Massachusetts, it is legally required that the seller provide a Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Certificate commonly referred to as “the smoke” at closing to the new buyer. There are general guidelines put out by the state and local cities/towns that can have additional requirements. Since they are mandated by law, fire inspections play a critical role in the Massachusetts home selling process. They can stand between a seller and the closing table. During the COVID-19 outbreak, the supply chain of the Real Estate world has been disrupted, including Fire Inspections. The recommendations of social distancing and the closure of non-essential businesses led to an inevitable Real Estate log jam.
The smoke certificate is issued by the town’s fire department and ensures the buyer that the home is up to the current code. As social distancing increased and the closure of many city and town offices and non-essential businesses began, it became increasingly challenging to schedule a Fire Inspection before the closing date, if not impossible, due to closures. Some towns had to stop doing inspections entirely, leaving many buyers and sellers with no clear path to the closing table.
Governor Charlie Baker issued an emergency order on March 20, 2020, stating that smoke and carbon monoxide inspections can now be completed within 90 days after closing by the buyers, rather than the sellers. We are still recommending to our sellers to get their homes up to code prior to the transfer so they can ensure they are selling the buyer a “safe home” that is up to code. The order assures that closings can move forward as scheduled and helps to take some of the current pressure off Fire Inspectors. A smoke inspection can only be deferred during the COVID-19 State of Emergency if it follows these conditions set forth by the order:
- The Parties to the sale or transfer have agreed in writing that the buyer assumes responsibility for equipping the property with approved smoke detectors and carbon monoxide alarms.
- The buyer agrees as a condition of taking title to equip the property with approved smoke detectors and carbon monoxide alarms immediately upon taking title.
- An inspection as otherwise required under Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 148, Sections 26F and 26F½ occurs no more than 90 days after the state of emergency is lifted.
MAR has specifically developed an addendum that addresses the exact requirements of the emergency order.
We recommend that Sellers get the property up to code before closing, even without a certification.