“Prevention is always better than the cure”, these were the words emphasized by our Captain every month during our safety briefings. Coming from a maritime background the importance of being prepared for the improbable event of a fire has remained with me through the transition into a career in property management. Although working at sea and managing properties may seem a world apart there are some mutual dynamics which have an equal significance. One of these involves the topic of smoke alarms and how something so small and often forgotten about can have such a lifesaving impact when the unthinkable happens.
As a landlord, your responsibility is quite simply laid out according to the Residential Tenancies Act (RTA);
· There needs to be at least one working smoke alarm within 3m of each room where someone sleeps,
· Each level of the property needs at least one working smoke alarm,
· Ensure the smoke alarms are working at the beginning of every new tenancy.
· In addition to this, there are more specifics which can be found at https://www.tenancy.govt.nz/maintenance-and-inspections/smoke-alarms/ .
Failure by landlords to follow these responsibilities has been viewed by the Tenancy Tribunal in astern fashion. There have been several cases where landlords have been fined for not providing these safety facilities, the maximum fine being $4000. In two recent cases the landlords were ordered to pay $2000 and $2500 for failing to provide smoke alarms. The details of these Tribunal Orders can be viewed at https://forms.justice.govt.nz/search/Documents/TTV2/PDF/4058085-Tribunal_Order.pdf and https://forms.justice.govt.nz/search/Documents/TTV2/130606623.pdf
As with any successful symbiotic relationship though, there is a part for both parties to fulfill. In this case,the responsibility of changing the batteries of smoke alarms falls on the tenant. During the term of the tenancy, tenants are encouraged by Tenancy Services to test the smoke alarms and check the expiry date when the clocks change. In addition to this, Fire and Emergency NZ suggest vacuuming the sensor every 6 months. For tenants who remove, disconnect or damage the smoke alarms,a fine of up to $3000 can be expected.
By viewing your rental property as your product and the tenant as the customer, it sets out the notion that just as with any other product or service there are regulations that need to be adhered to for the safety of the customer. By providing a safe environment for tenants to live, landlords are improving the quality of their product and just as with any other business setting, the quality of the product will reflect in the interest, sustainability and price.
Fire and Emergency NZ discovered that in 80% of the house fires they attended to the property either hadn’t installed smoke alarms correctly or they were not working. As much as there is a responsibility on the tenant’s behalf to report failures and maintain the batteries, as the provider of the product, landlords should proactively seek to safeguard their investment. By maintaining the effectiveness of a property’s smoke alarms, a landlord is essentially taking out a very cost-effective insurance on the unlikely event that a fire was to occur (this may be a good time for landlords to assess how their actual insurance policy is impacted by fire). This not only aids in protecting the property but more importantly alerting the tenants to the potential dangers of a fire and avoiding a preventable tragedy.