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Smoke Alarms in Rental Properties

2020 saw a raft of changes implemented relating to Smoke Alarms in Rental Properties and the responsibility surrounding specific tasks and responsibilities.

There was already the structure of some very good framework surrounding smoke alarms but they weren’t clear enough, many felt, when it came to who needed to do what.

We finally have set out in simple terms the Office of Fair Trading’s outline of responsibilities and I think it’s pretty simple;

Requirements for landlords and agents

  • Where a smoke alarm is not in working order, landlords and agents must ensure the alarm is repaired (this includes replacing a battery) within 2 business days.
  • Landlords and agents must check smoke alarms every year to ensure they are working.
  • Landlords and agents must ensure:
    • smoke alarms are replaced within 10 years of manufacture, or earlier if specified by the manufacturer
    • batteries are installed or replaced every year (or for lithium batteries, in the period specified by the manufacturer).
  • Landlords and agents must give at least 2 business days’ notice to inspect or assess the need for smoke alarm repair or replacement, and at least 1 hour notice to carry out repair or replacement of a smoke alarm.

Requirements for tenants

  • Tenants must notify their landlord or agent if they discover that a smoke alarm is not working (this includes when the battery needs to be changed).
  • Tenants must notify their landlord when they change a battery in a smoke alarm or engage a licensed electrician to repair or replace an alarm. The different circumstances where a tenant can change a battery or engage a licensed electrician are provided in the table below. This does not apply to social housing tenants.

Whilst the requirements list agents along with owners, when it comes to checking or changing batteries, agents, and agencies simply can’t risk taking care of the landlords’ responsibilities for smoke alarms. You can read about the legislation in more detail here but you get the idea.

So why all the smoke alarm talk? Because there is a solution to ensure that these crucial and lifesaving alarms are not only present in rental properties but that they are working and compliant. I recently was sent and read a Coroner’s Report detailing a rented property that had an alarm with no battery installed, the Property Manager had inadvertently stated on an inspection that it was working when it was not. Whilst this was pre-2020, I would not want to imagine or have question marks placed on any compliance practices, especially not when it comes to the very basic safety measure of Smoke Alarms.

Importantly, before entering into any new leases and completing a condition report you must be able to state and sign off that the Smoke Alarm has been checked within the last 12 months. Without this step, a landlord has not complied with the terms of the Act & Regulations, therefore, having a lease that could be deemed to be invalid.

Another issue is documenting and being able to prove that the landlord or agent has checked the smoke alarm and changed the battery, actually, I see many issues when it comes to documenting and managing smoke alarm compliance where a landlord may try to manage these themselves. This is why Property Managers have and offer the best practice solution to ensuring Smoke Alarms compliance. For years, we have strongly recommended and insisted on outsourcing the servicing, replacement, and annual checks of Smoke Alarms to specialist Smoke Alarm compliance companies.

We currently enlist the help of BCMC Safety Solutions but have previously worked with Smoke Alarms Australia & Detector Inspector. These companies, for a very small outlay, will annually inspect and certify the property as compliant. They provide a comprehensive report that signs off on the age of smoke alarms, the type, location, and that batteries have been changed. In adopting this service, the provider assumes responsibility and therefore liability should anything go wrong.

I think most agents would adopt similar services, having spoken with many other Property Managers on this topic, most of us now list a Smoke Alarm Subscription as a non-negotiable. When I say “subscription” we are talking about a cancel-anytime arrangement, currently at a cost of $75 – $99 per annum. It is essentially paying for peace of mind.

We at The Management Agency made the decision that we are not able to enlist new properties where there is no such arrangement in place. Whilst owners can take responsibility for their own smoke alarms and carry out the annual inspections, due to the amount of information that needs to be signed off on for these inspections, we don’t feel that appropriate risk coverage is in place in these circumstances. I for one wouldn’t feel comfortable certifying that my tenant’s smoke alarms are 100% compliant.

“Importantly, before entering into any new leases and completing a condition report you must be able to state and sign off that the Smoke Alarm has been checked within the last 12 months.”

The Strata Plan Confusion

Are we doubling up on Compliance Checks? The quick answer is a resounding NO.

A strata scheme is a building or group of buildings that have been divided into ‘lots’ such as an apartment, townhouse, or villa. There are many strata schemes also known as Strata Plans across Sydney & NSW. Simply put, there is shared ownership of common areas, walls, and the structure itself and it is identified as a Strata Plan.

At least once a year, the management of any Strata Plan has to carry out annual fire safety inspections and lodge the final report with their local council to ensure that each building is compliant with a differing set of guidelines. They check things such as fire-rated safety doors, smoke alarms, sensors, and dampers in common areas and apartments.

Whilst many people believe this inspection is a double up of the agent’s inspection, it is in fact not. The Annual Inspections carried out by the Strata Management will not change the batteries, check smoke alarm expiry dates or provide a compliance certificate to cover each landlord’s responsibility.

My standard response here is that Strata’s inspection encapsulates Local Councils’ fire safety compliance and that the owner’s inspection is to comply with the Residential Tenancies Act & its relevant regulations.

It is only in very (very) rare cases that Strata will take responsibility for smoke alarms and that may be where there are sprinkler systems, interlinked or thermal alarms.

Hopeful that I have provided some greater clarity here.

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– Antonio

Director & Property Manager