Important Changes to Smoke Alarm Compliance Requirements in the ACT
27 February 2015 Badenoch Real Estate
Recently there has been changes to the Residential Tenancies Act with an Amendment Bill coming into effect for required minimum housing standards on properties in the ACT.
The Act specific amendment states that properties built post September 1994 must be fitted with hard-wired (240v) smoke alarms. Section 8 of the Amendment Bill sets out the new minimum housing standards for ACT rental properties as of January 1st 2013. In particular, 8/35C states that properties must meet minimum housing standards determined by the Minister (8/35B (b) – including hard wired smoke alarms (x) where required. Section 8.35E states that it is the lessor (landlords) responsibility to ensure these standards are met.
Landlords, property managers (as agent for the landlord), and tenants have specific responsibilities in regards to smoke alarms:
A landlord must ensure their rental property is fitted with the required number of working smoke alarms compliant with Australian Standard 3786-1993 and installed as outlined in the Building Code of Australia.
The Building Code of Australia requirements are:
- Smoke alarms must comply with Australian Standard AS 3786
- Smoke alarms must be installed on or near the ceiling in ;
Any storey containing bedrooms – between each part of the dwelling containing bedrooms and the remainder of the dwelling; and where bedrooms are served by a hallway, in that hallway; and on any other storey not containing bedrooms. It should be noted that smoke alarms are required to be installed in other storeys even if those storeys consist of only car parking, bathrooms, laundries and the like.
The Building Code of Australia also states that the preferred location for smoke alarms will be the path of travel people will most likely take to evacuate the building. This will ensure an alarm will be raised before smoke makes the common exit path impassable.
Regulations place the responsibility of smoke alarm compliance on the property owner. Property managers (as the owner’s agent) accept contractual responsibility for ensuring that smoke alarms comply with Australian Standards and all regulations. Property managers have a duty of care to their tenants to ensure a safe living environment and a duty of care to their owners to ensure all regulations are being met. Failure of a landlord and property manager to meet this duty of care could have disastrous consequences including loss of life, negligence claims, litigation and the voiding of the owners insurances in the event of a claim. Property managers need to have established policies, procedures and systems to ensure they meet their responsibilities and duty of care.
Prior to the commencement of a tenancy, smoke alarms should be checked, cleaned and tested. Alarms and batteries should be replaced if they are faulty, missing or past their expiry date (all smoke alarms (including 240v hard-wired alarms) must be replaced no later than 10 years after their manufacture date). The Condition Report should show that this has been done and the date the tests/checks were performed.
Ongoing maintenance and inspection of smoke alarms is important. There are examples of tenants who have sued property managers for failure to maintain smoke alarms and therefore breached their duty of care.
Property managers who chose to undertake this work themselves run significant risk. Property managers are generally not appropriately qualified or trained to ensure total smoke alarm compliance. There is also a significant WHS risk in climbing ladders/chairs to inspect and service the alarms. Best practice is to have appropriately qualified professionals to ensure smoke alarm compliance and that all responsibilities are being met.
When using a smoke alarm professional you should ensure that at the commencement of a tenancy (and at least annually thereafter) they provide a dated, written report stating that:
- The smoke alarms meet Australian Standard AS 3786
- The smoke alarms are located as per the requirements of the Building Code of Australia
- The smoke alarms are not past their expiry/replace-by date
- The smoke alarms have been fitted with new batteries
- The smoke alarms siren has the required decibel output of 85dBa
- The (240v) smoke alarms are actually connected to the power supply
It is common that following a fire in a rented property, the Fire Authority will ask the property manager to provide documented evidence of the smoke alarms being checked and that the property was fitted with compliant smoke alarms. The dated report from the professional is your protection and proof that you have met your duty of care.
Not meeting all smoke alarm compliance requirements can have serious consequences for landlords, property managers and tenants. All agents should have documented and established procedures and policies that ensure smoke alarm compliance in properties they manage. By doing so, property managers are meeting their duty of care and protecting their landlords and tenants.
In light of the issues we have outlined above Badenoch Real Estate is now recommending our landlords take out the option of smoke alarm maintenance and compliance with the services of Smoke Alarm Solutions. For the yearly fee of $99, Smoke Alarm Solutions will carry out an initial inspection of your investment property, they will then install or replace the required number of smoke alarms to make your investment property compliant. They will also return to the property as many times in a year as required (free of additional cost) to rapidly correct any faulty or beeping smoke alarm. We are advising all landlords to make this a priority for their investment properties as the consequences of non-compliance could be potentially expensive and/or fatal.