EPMEPM: Best Practice & Legislation

Where there is Smoke…There Maybe Fire!

Summer in Australia is traditionally bushfire season, so it is now timely to do a bit of a refresher on the subject of keeping your managements and tenants safe from this constant threat.

Tracie Harrington, Principal of LJ Hooker Bulimba, explains some of the statutory requirements, as well as some practical tips for staying safe.

Summer in Australia is traditionally bushfire season, so it is now timely to do a bit of a refresher on the subject of keeping your managements and tenants safe from this constant threat. Tracie Harrington, Principal of LJ Hooker Bulimba, explains some of the statutory requirements, as well as some practical tips for staying safe.

As a real estate office with a sizable property management portfolio, we make it our business to protect people and property from potential threats to the best of our ability.Fire, during the summer months in particular, is one of those treats. In our August monthly newsletter to landlords, we reinforced a regular reminder that it is vital that landlords become more aware of their responsibilities in installing and maintaining smoke alarms in their rental properties. Aside from being required by law, as we have seen tragically and too often in Queensland, it could also be a matter of life and death.

Many landlords are still unclear on their responsibilities when it comes to smoke alarms; and with laws governing smoke alarms differing from state to state, there are grey areas and much room for confusion.A landlord may even misinterpret a property manager’s advice on the testing of smoke alarms as an unnecessary cost whereas in most states, it is a legal responsibility to do so.

This responsibility can extend to the cleaning of smoke alarms. It may also include professional testing, ensuring alarms were tested at the legally required time intervals, ensuring the right type of smoke alarms installed, minimum voltage requirements were met, or mains powered smoke alarms fitted.

Landlords need to be aware of the required intervals for the testing of smoke alarms in their rental properties. While property managers could often organise for smoke alarms to be professionally tested, landlords were ultimately responsible for complying and educating themselves on smoke alarm laws in their state or territory. You should make sure your landlords are aware of this fact through education and regular communication.

Requirements for smoke alarm installation and maintenance
The Building Code of Australia requires that smoke alarms be fitted in all new residential properties and several states require smoke alarms be fitted in all residential properties.

Smoke alarms are mandatory in all dwellings in New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland and South Australia. Additionally, some insurance policies now make it compulsory to have smoke detectors fitted.

New South Wales
As a result of the recently introduced NSW Residential Tenancies Regulation 2010 the responsibility now falls solely on the landlord to ensure smoke alarms are installed and maintained.

Both tenants and landlords have responsibilities for smoke alarms in their rental properties. Tenants have an obligation to clean, test and replace batteries for alarms during a tenancy, while landlords are responsible for the installation, cleaning and testing of smoke alarms as well as replacing batteries before the start or renewal of a tenancy.

In Victoria, self contained smoke alarms must be installed in all residential buildings including homes, units, flats and townhouses. It is the legal responsibility of landlords to install and maintain smoke alarms.

South Australia
Landlords are responsible for ensuring all rental properties have the correct smoke detector installed and operating at all times. The type of smoke detector required depends on the age of the property and when it was purchased. All houses built after 1995 must have 240 volt hard wired smoke alarm.

Northern Territory
It is the legal responsibility of all owners and landlords to install working smoke alarms. Mandatory laws to fit improved smoke alarms could come into effect in the Northern Territory soon, with the Government moving to make it mandatory for all pre-1997 houses in the Territory to be fitted with photo-electric smoke alarms.

Since September 1994 new homes in the Australian Capital Territory have been required to have mains-powered smoke alarms installed. It is also a requirement to have smoke alarms installed in home extensions that affect sleeping and living areas.

Western Australia
From 1 October 2010 mains powered smoke alarms must be fitted in all existing residential buildings before sale and when a new tenancy agreement is signed for rental properties. If there are no tenancy changes in rental properties, then mains powered smoke alarms must be fitted by 1 October 2011. If there is no hidden space to run the necessary electrical wiring and there is no appropriate alternative location — the landlord must ensure the alarm has a 10-year life battery that cannot be removed. The landlord must also ensure that each alarm installed in the dwelling is in working order.

Current legislation requires all new homes to be fitted with the smoke alarms, but the Real Estate Institute of Tasmania wants the rules extended to older homes. In Tasmania, tenants are responsible for keeping smoke detectors clean and replacing batteries.

In summary
All home occupiers, whether they are owners, tenants or landlords should take advantage of the information available through their relevant fire services and statutory bodies.The Queensland Fire and Rescue website, www.fire.qld.gov.au, for example, has excellent checklists for landlords and tenants, and general precautions to protect residents and their homes including:

  • Have a planned safe means of escape.
  • Have a written and practiced escape plan.
  • Have all keys to locked doors and windows readily available.
  • Have an adequate number of smoke alarms and test them regularly.
  • Have a working fire extinguisher in the home.
  • Never leave cooking or other open flames unattended.
  • Never smoke in bed.
  • Keep lighters and matches away from children.
  • Do not overload power points.
  • Regularly clean lint from the clothes dryer.

Bushfires pose a threat to a significant number of Australian households. One important thing to acknowledge is that you do not need to be living in an isolated ‘bush’ location to be affected; suburban properties can also be at risk.Every household should assess its ‘at risk’ potential and have a working Bushfire Survival Plan that every household member is fully aware of and has practice in executing.

Being knowledgeable about bushfire behavior, recognising the characteristics of high fire danger conditions, taking appropriate action on such days, and being familiar with ways you may access, receive, and respond to alerts may be critical to survival. There is a good reason around fire alarm legislation and the plethora of information relating to precaution, prevention, and action. It can help save lives and property.

Tracie Harrington is principal of LJ Hooker Bulimba.

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