Although residential rental properties make up only 33% of New Zealand housing stock, they account for 55% of all house fires and 89% of all fatal fires. The key risk groups most vulnerable to fire are also overrepresented as users of rental properties. These included low socio-economic families, young children, elderly, Maori and Pacific Islanders.
There were five serious house fires in November and December in 2014 in rental accommodation. Four people died and three more suffered severe burn injuries. Of the 7 people killed or injured by fire, six were remote from the location where the fire started indicating they had time to escape had they been aware of the fire. 14 people were living in one of the homes that caught fire.
While accepting that there is no perfect solution to stop all fires, evidence shows that early detection of fire allows occupants to control the fire or escape safely. Working smoke alarms directly contribute to reducing property damage, injuries and deaths from fire.
Proposed amendment to Residential Tenancies Act 1986 (the Act)
The New Zealand Property Investors Federation (NZPIF), the Real Estate Institute of New Zealand and the New Zealand Fire Service wish to show their collaborative support for the introduction of mandatory smoke alarms in residential rental properties.
The above parties support a proposal that:
landlords are required to install smoke alarms to provide for the safety of the occupants
tenants are responsible for informing their landlord if the alarm is not working consistent with Section 40 (d) of the Act.
tenants are responsible for any damage they inflict on the smoke alarm consistent with Section 40 (2) (a)of the Act as they would for any other property they damage .
The NZPIF believes that the majority of rental property owners already provide smoke alarms, so these regulations should not add significant costs to rental property owners, especially when compared to the significant improvement in tenant safety.
While specific issues on the introduction of these regulations still need to be established, the three organisations believe that Photoelectric long life smoke alarms on each level of a dwelling should be a minimum requirement.
Photoelectric alarms placed correctly have the added benefit of being less likely to activate from activities such as burning toast. This reduces the potential for tenants to interfere with the alarms.
Long life alarms are more expensive than typical 9 volt alarms. However the NZPIF believes they are cheaper over the whole life of the alarm. The Federation is also looking at bulk purchase price savings for their members to keep costs down.