Are smoke alarms a landlord’s responsibility?

There is currently a great deal of discussion about ‘building warrant of fitness’ for rental properties.

Unsurprisingly, one of the common criteria on checklists has been the installation of smoke alarms: There is no question smoke alarms are a key warning device in reducing deaths or injury caused by fires at home.

According to the NZ Fire Service, smoke alarms were either not installed, or not working, in 80% of the house fires that firefighters attended last year!

The greater awareness in fire safety (and heightened sense of responsibility) has led to a number of calls from property owners, wishing to clarify their legal responsibilities in providing smoke alarms for their rental property.

Currently the Residential Tenancies Act 1986 requires a landlord to “comply with all requirements in respect of buildings, health, and safety under any enactment so far as they apply to the premises”.

In effect, this means that all houses must comply with the Building Act 2004, and this states all new houses and consented alterations must provide a "means of detection and warning" in the event of fire.

So, when it comes to existing properties, the requirement for alarms is triggered if the owner is carrying out any building works that require an application for building consent from the local council.

Once fire alarms are installed, educating tenants in utilising the effectiveness of the alarms is also important; this includes pointing to the potential outcomes if alarms are obstructed, or are not regularly checked. Alarms are also ineffective if they are not installed in the correct locations throughout the home.

Even if you, as a property owner, are not required by law to have smoke detectors installed, Lodge recommends it is done as part of your landlord responsibilities. Politically, indications are that smoke detectors will become mandatory for rental properties in the not-too-distant future.

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