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A lesson for landlords: Smoke Alarms

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A lesson for landlords: What can happen when you don’t install smoke alarms in a rental property

In autumn 2018, the Tenancy Tribunal issued a significant fine against a landlord who failed to install smoke alarms – with the added danger of a non-compliant gas supply, and no statement on insulation.

Following complaints of a gas leak at one of the Christchurch boarding houses operated by Lina Liu, the gas supply to the property was found to be non-compliant. When the Tenancy Compliance team looked into the landlord’s operations, it was established that the landlord failed to have working smoke alarms at both of her properties. Also, there were no written tenancy agreements with an insulation statement in place. The result was prosecution.

Lina Liu, who owned two boarding houses, was taken to the Tenancy Tribunal by MBIE’s Tenancy Compliance and Investigations Team because she had failed to meet her responsibilities under the Residential Tenancies Act (RTA).

The Tenancy Tribunal Ordered Ms Liu to pay $4000 in exemplary damages, plus $100.00 for failing to provide a written statement that adequately described the levels of insulation.

The lessons for landlords to learn

  • A statement of smoke alarms must be included in a tenancy agreement
  • Landlords don’t have to replace the batteries in battery-operated smoke alarms (that’s the tenants’ job)
  • The Tenancy Compliance Team (TCIT) has the power to return to non-compliant properties for monitoring
  • It is essential to let Rental Experts know about the status of smoke alarms at the property

The Christchurch example – what happens when a landlord doesn’t offer smoke alarms

As National Manager Tenancy Compliance and Investigations Steve Watson put it, “Insulation statements were introduced to give tenants certainty and choice when it comes to choosing which rental house to live in. The lack of understanding in this area is something we see a lot in our work – it is great to see the Tribunal support the importance of these statements.”

The tenancy inspection team subsequently returned to the property to ensure the gas work has been fixed so that future tenants can safely live in the rental.

The Tribunal issued a restraining order for two years, meaning if Ms Liu is found to breach the law again in that period, she could face criminal charges.

Can’t my Rental Experts Northland property manager handle the smoke alarms?

No, sorry. The reasons smoke alarm testing is outside your property manager’s scope of work are:

  • The Residential Tenancies Act (Smoke Alarms and Insulation Regulations) specifies landlords are responsible for having smoke alarms installed; tenants must ensure batteries function.
  • Insurance doesn’t cover accidents happening to our property managers during inspections
  • Property managers don’t have the equipment to professionally test the alarm’s decibels (sound)
  • Smoke alarm testing is not a standard part of normal 3-monthly inspections of properties
  • Vacuuming a smoke alarm to remove dust is a tenant’s responsibility, not the property manager’s.

Unfortunately smoke alarm testing is not a service your property manager can take care of – please get yours tested by professionals.

We prefer you agree for Smoke Alarm Testing Services (SATS) to test your smoke alarms by ticking the box on the following page and returning to us, so your property can comply with the Residential Tenancies Act Smoke Alarms and Insulation Regulations 2016

Where smoke alarms must be fitted

  • Within 3 metres of each bedroom door, or in every room where a person sleeps
  • In each level or story of a multi-storey or multi-level home
  • In all rental homes, boarding houses, rental caravans, and sleepouts.

All new smoke alarms must be photoelectric and have a battery life of at least eight years, or be hard-wired

  • Existing smoke alarms do not need to be replaced if they are working, and have not passed the manufacturer’s expiry date.
  • Landlords must ensure smoke alarms are in working order at start of each new tenancy.
  • Tenants must replace dead batteries
  • Let the landlord know if there are any problems with the smoke alarms as soon as possible.
  • Landlords have the right to enter a rental home to comply with smoke alarm requirements after 24 hours’ notice between the hours of 8 am and 7 pm.
  • Landlords and tenants could be fined up to $4,000 for not meeting their obligations and tenants can be fined if they interfere with a smoke alarm or let its batteries expire.