Landlords have a range of new obligations when it comes to the installation, repair and maintenance of smoke alarms.
Smoke alarms are critical, life-saving devices that provide an early warning of the presence of smoke and fire. This is why they’re compulsory in all residential properties, including rental premises.
“We’ve all experienced the annoyance of a smoke alarm chirping when it’s time for a battery change or the ear-splitting beeping that comes after you’ve burnt your morning toast,” Sandra McGee, Rental Manager at Starr Partners Merrylands and member of the REINSW Property Management Chapter Committee, said.
“While it’s easy to dismiss these small devices as just another item to tick off on our ‘to do’ list, the importance of having compliant and operational smoke alarms in all rental premises cannot be stated strongly enough. Smoke alarms save lives and we all need to take our obligations extremely seriously.”
On and from 23 March 2020, landlords and their agents, as well as tenants, need to be aware of the range of new obligations relating to the installation, repair and maintenance of smoke alarms. And, as a property manager, you need to have systems in place to ensure you’re meeting best practice standards when discharging your responsibilities.
A new section 64A relating to smoke alarms has been added to the Residential Tenancies Act 2010 (NSW).
So what obligations does the landlord now have?
On and from 23 March 2020, landlords must ensure that the repair or replacement of smoke alarms installed in their rental property is carried out in accordance with the Residential Tenancies Regulation 2019 (NSW). If they don’t, a maximum penalty of 20 penalty units will apply.
The Regulation sets out that landlords must:
- Repair or replace a smoke alarm within two business days of becoming aware that it’s not working (see clause 14(1))
- Replace a smoke alarm within 10 years of the date of manufacture, or earlier if specified by the manufacturer (see clause 20(a))
- Install or replace (other than a non-removable battery):
- removable lithium batteries within the period specified by the manufacturer; or
- otherwise annually (see clause 20(b))
- Conduct an annual check of all smoke alarms to ensure they are functional (as required by clause 42.2 of the prescribed standard form of residential tenancy agreement in Schedule 1 of the Regulation).
Notably, clause 15(1)(d) of the Regulation sets out that, in the case of hard-wired smoke alarms, the landlord must engage an authorised electrician to carry out any repair or replacement.
Further, clause 13 of the Regulation allows landlords to enter the premises without the tenant’s consent to either inspect, assess the need for repair or replacement of, or to carry out the repair or replacement of a smoke alarm where the proper notice has been given. In the case of entry for the purposes of inspecting or assessing the need for repair or replacement, at least two business days’ notice must be given. Not less than one hour’s notice must be given in the case of entry for the purposes of carrying out repairs or replacement.
When it comes to tenants’ obligations, the Regulation requires that the tenant must notify their landlord if a smoke alarm needs to be repaired or replaced. It also sets out some limited circumstances when the tenant may repair or replace a smoke alarm.
The tenant may choose to replace a removable battery; if they do, they need to notify the landlord (see clause 15). Further, the tenant may repair or replace a battery-operated or hardwired smoke alarm when they have notified the landlord that it is not working and the landlord fails to repair or replace it within the two business days; in the case of a hardwired smoke alarm, the tenant must engaged an authorised electrician to repair or replace it (see clause 16 and clause 17).
Where the tenant carries out the repair or replacement, they’re entitled to reimbursement for the cost within seven days of providing written notice to the landlord (see clause 18).
The amendments in practice
Sandra said the amendments are a big step forward.
“These new provisions help clarify who is responsible for what and when,” she said. “As property managers, we can now point to these provisions when we talk to our landlords about smoke alarms.”
However, Sandra said the new provisions don’t quite go far enough and fall short of what’s required to ensure all smoke alarms are compliant and operational at all times.
“Put simply, landlords, tenants and property managers are not appropriately qualified and the installation, repair and maintenance of smoke alarms should only be carried out by qualified trades people,” she said.
“REINSW recommends that all repairs to and maintenance of smoke alarms should be carried out by an authorised electrician (for hardwired smoke alarms) or qualified technician (for battery operated smoke alarms), rather than by a property manager, landlord, tenant or handyman.”
An ‘authorised electrician’ is a person who is authorised under the Home Building Act 1989 (NSW) to do electrical wiring work and holds an electrician’s licence.
“Electrical wiring work is specialist work and a person must have an electrician’s licence before starting any electrical wiring work,” Sandra explained.
“In the case of hardwired smoke alarms, you should always engage an authorised electrician for any repairs or replacement. All work orders should include the electrician’s name and licence number, as should the invoice they provide upon completion of the work. Always be sure to check that their licence is valid and current by doing a quick check on the NSW Fair Trading website.
“You should also exercise due diligence by informing any smoke alarm company that you use that an authorised electrician or qualified technician (as applicable) is required to do the work.”
Sandra emphasised that all smoke alarms need to be checked annually to ensure they are functioning.
“Unfortunately, the legislation still allows landlords to carry out this check themselves. However, it’s best practice to arrange for this inspection to be carried out by a recognised smoke alarm company or an authorised electrician, and always ask for a certificate of compliance upon completion of any work carried out.”