Changes to the Residential Tenancy Act (RTA) aim to reduce fire-related injuries and deaths and to make homes warmer, drier and safer for the million New Zealanders who live in rental accommodation.
By 1 July 2016 all residential rental properties covered by the RTA must meet the following regulatory requirements:
- There must be a minimum of one working smoke alarm within 3 metres of each bedroom door, and in a self-contained caravan, sleep out or similar there must be a minimum of one working smoke alarm.
- The landlord is responsible for making sure smoke alarms are in working order at the beginning of every new tenancy.
- The tenant is responsible for replacing batteries (if required) during their tenancy.
- In multi-story units there must be one smoke alarm on each level within the household unit.
- Long life photoelectric smoke alarms are now required where there are no existing alarms. When existing smoke alarms are replaced, the replacements must be long life photoelectric smoke alarms.
- Hard wired smoke alarms are also acceptable.
- All smoke alarms must be replaced in accordance with the manufacturer’s recommended replacement date stated on the alarm.
- All new and replacement smoke alarms in rental properties are to be installed in accordance with placement requirements provided in the manufacturer’s instructions. The illustrations below from New Zealand Standard 4514 provide a simple guide on where to place alarms. You can also find helpful information on the NZ Fire Service’s website.
- When smoke alarms are installed or replaced, you should ensure the alarms you purchase comply with the manufacturing standard: Australian Standard AS3786:1993; or equivalent international standard: UL217 (USA), ULCS531 (Canada), BS5446: Part 1 (United Kingdom), BS EN 14604 (United Kingdom) or ISO12239 (International). (This should be displayed prominently on the packaging.)
It is an unlawful act for tenants to cause or permit any interference with, or to render inoperative, any means of escape from fire – which includes smoke alarms. The maximum fine for this offence is $3,000.
Note: These regulations don’t override any additional compliance requirements for smoke alarms in other legislation eg; multi-unit residential complexes, student accommodation or boarding houses.
It is important that landlords have some form of insurance cover for their rental properties and that they check with their insurer to be clear about landlord and tenant obligations regarding smoke alarms and fires. Landlords should be aware that:
- Where tenants cause a fire through carelessness (negligence) which damages or destroys the property, they may be entitled to immunity from liability if the landlord has insurance coverage.
- Tenants’ immunity exists unless the fire is caused intentionally by them or their guests, by a criminal act on the property (such as manufacturing methamphetamine), or if the tenants have caused the landlord’s claim to insurance coverage to be irrecoverable.
Tenants should be aware that:
- They should regularly check their smoke alarms to ensure they are working properly and report faults to the landlord to ensure their immunity from liability for a negligent (careless) fire, as they may face potentially significant liability in the event of a fire they or a guest causes, if they tamper with, remove or cause a smoke alarm to be inoperative.
- A landlord may be able to pursue a tenant for damages of a negligently caused fire, if an insurer will not pay because the tenant or a guest has done something that interferes with the landlord’s insurance coverage, such as causing a smoke alarm to not work because the battery has been removed.
Tenants who have a serious concern about the quality or performance of the smoke alarm/s in their property and are unable to resolve the issue with their landlord, can take a case to mediation and/or to the Tenancy Tribunal. If agreement can’t be reached through mediation, the Tenancy Tribunal can issue a work order, and also fine the landlord if they do not meet the requirements of the intended regulations for smoke alarms. The new law will no longer allow landlords to pay a tenant money or reduce rent instead of completing a work order relating to smoke alarms, however if a landlord does not comply with a work order the tenant may be given the option to set off the cost in carrying out any required work against rent payable.