Before you install home security equipment, there’s one requirement that may come as a surprise - a security alarm permit. Many municipalities require permits to reduce the number of false alarms so that emergency resources are not unnecessarily taxed. Burlington, NC Community Resource Officer, Bobby Davis, shared why:
“Sometimes people have alarms that are obsessively going off. They never get them fixed and it ties up emergency personnel,” he said. “A permit holds the homeowner accountable to make sure their alarm is working properly. If the homeowner or business is taking care of that part (alarm permit) they get less false alarms.”
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department Officer Craig Allen echoed Davis’ thoughts.
“It reduces the amount of calls for service for alarms which allows officers to focus on other things. Because the people registered and are hopefully being responsible.”
Security alarm permits also help responders contact homeowners faster in the event of an emergency. It eliminates the guesswork of who else to contact if the homeowner is unavailable by quickly looking in an electronic database.
During alarm permit registration, many municipalities require at least two emergency contacts to reference and quickly alert of suspected danger. You’ll learn your municipality’s definition of a false alarm, ways to prevent them and potential fines as a permit holder. According to Allen, before Charlotte, NC implemented the False Alarm Reduction Program in 1996 there were 112,000 false alarms the year prior. Since the program, Charlotte responders have an estimated 30,000 false alarms annually.
Municipalities, like Burlington, NC, hope that security alarm permits and hefty false alarm fees will encourage homeowners to fix defect alarms and reduce false calls when emergency assistance is needed. If responders act on a false alarm without a permit, you may incur more pricey fines than you would with the permit, some fees upwards of $100. If there is a false alarm, many local emergency responders will respond, but you’ll be warned to register your system as soon as possible.
“We’ll still come out, no doubt about it. But then, that person will be required to register,” Davis shared.
Keep in mind, some areas, like San Francisco, have policies that don’t require responders to answer your home’s alarm without a security permit. Other policies, like those of Winston-Salem, NC, don’t require police to respond after nine false burglar alarms within a year. If the security system provider alerts Charlotte police, but cannot provide the requested permit number or the permit is not valid, CMPD is not required to respond to the alarm. However, if a homeowner presses the security system’s ‘Panic’ button, CMPD will respond to the homeowner. If there is an unregistered security system they’ll receive a follow-up letter requiring them to register the system and a $100 fine. The fine can be waived by completing the online security alarm education program.
What is a false alarm?
If you have a home security system that signals an emergency response in any way, such as professional monitoring, it’s defined as a security system and falls under false alarm reduction programs.
False alarms can be defined a number of ways including a family member entering an incorrect code or accidentally setting off the alarm when opening a door or window when the system is armed. Other false alarms can stem from improper installation, a system glitch or the alarm’s power source - such as low batteries. If emergency responders arrive and no danger is detected, you could be charged a fine. However, Davis shared a few exceptions:
“If there’s a break-in, power outage or if the alarm system calls and cancels with us, we won’t count that as a false alarm,” he pointed out.
Alarm permit fees and fines
The cost of an alarm permit varies based on your local municipality but can range from free to a one-time fee of $30 up to $50. Costs may also vary for senior citizens, veterans and businesses.
Once you have a security alarm permit and false alarms sound, you could face fines. Most municipalities excuse the first one to two false alarms without any penalties. Once you’ve registered your security system, beware of the cost of false alarms can add up. Some municipalities won’t charge for the first two false alarms, but after three false alarms within a calendar year, you could pay anywhere from $50 up to $500.
Davis also shared that false alarm fees for fire responders may be higher than police fees because of the heavier lift to bring a fire truck and equipment. Residents and business owners have the right to appeal false alarm fines with their local government or town manager.
How to register for an alarm permit
Many municipalities don’t require responders to test the security system before registering unless homeowners request so. It’s as simple as agreeing to terms and paying a registration fee. Every area’s alarm permit registration process will vary, but here’s what to expect during enrollment.
- Visit your local municipality's Town Hall or official website for alarm permit guidelines.
- You’ll be provided instructions for registering your security system online or by mail.
- Review and agree to the terms and conditions of your alarm permit, including the definition of a false alarm, fines and appeals.
- Complete the alarm permit application for your home’s security system. Most applications require you to enter the alarm company, address of the alarm and emergency contacts or occupants such as your spouse.
- Submit forms and method of payment. Confirmation and registration may be sent via mail or email and could take up to 10 business days for most municipalities.
A homeowner’s perspective on alarm permits
SimpliSafe home security customer and Charlotte, NC resident, Alex Carter, shared how he found out about the law and process. Carter bought a security system for smart home functionality and extra home protection for his new home but was shocked by the security permit notice.
“When I got the SimpliSafe package in the mail, there was this little piece of paper that came with it telling me I may need a security permit,” he said.
Carter began the process to register his security system but found a few concerns during the process.
“I did my research and there was an online option, but our address wasn’t in the database. So, I had to mail in the permit - which I thought would be a really easy mail in. But this permit agency is in Florida, so I had to mail my Charlotte permit to Florida for my security system,” Carter explained.
It took Carter a few weeks before receiving a mailed confirmation that his equipment was registered.
“I wish I had known more about the permit process on the front end of things,” he said. “There should be a way to pre-approve the monitoring equipment because in the first couple of weeks you’re already wondering if your system is set up correctly. The fact that the permit wasn’t approved yet made me feel like something might fall through the cracks.”
As you shop for a home security system, keep these three factors in mind:
- Properly install the security system and understand how it works to prevent accidentally triggering the alarm.
- Make sure everyone in the home, including overnight guests, knows the security code and practices it to avoid false alarms for emergency responders.
- Change batteries and report any system defects to your security provider immediately.