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Smoke alarms: everything a landlord needs to know

You might assume a smoke alarm is a basic piece of equipment that everyone should have. But think again – plenty of people neglect to have them installed.

For landlords, the consequences of not having a smoke alarm are disastrous.

And in many states, you could be fined thousands of dollars for not having smoke alarms installed. In some it’s even a criminal offence. Do you really want to risk it?

According to FRNSW Investigation and Research, 21 deaths occur every year in New South Wales due to residential fires. And one third to a half of those could be prevented if the homes had working smoke alarms.

In a shocking event, eleven people died in Queensland when a fire tore through the house. None of the smoke alarms had worked for years.

The incident even prompted Queensland to update its smoke alarm legislation.

Unfortunately, like many property issues in Australia, the laws regarding smoke alarms differ from state to state. So we’ve put together a handy guide to help you understand what your obligations are – and what your tenant's’ obligations are – when it comes to smoke alarms.

Before you start reading, you should keep in mind a couple of things. There are two different types of smoke alarms - and some states require a specific type.

Ionised smoke alarms typically pick up on small particles produced in flaming fires.

Photoelectric smoke alarms are better at detecting smoke, which can be produced by smouldering fires well before a large flame takes hold. Many experts say photoelectric smoke alarms are superior, and many Australian governments require them instead of ionised alarms.

With that in mind, here are the laws as they apply to each state.

Jump straight to:
Victoria
New South Wales
Queensland
Northern Territory
Western Australia
South Australia
Tasmania
Australian Capital Territory

VICTORIA:

Smoke alarms are compulsory in every home in Victoria, and it’s the legal responsibility of the landlord to install the alarms. However, the state doesn’t dictate whether you should use ionised or photoelectric alarms.

Homes built before 1997 require 9-volt battery powered alarms, but anything newer needs a 240-volt main power backed alarm. Backup batteries are also required in every alarm. Any alarms older than 10 years need to be replaced. Smoke alarms should be located between each bedroom area, and the rest of the house – including within any bedroom where someone sleeps with a closed door. In a two-story home, smoke alarms are required on every story located in the path people will use to evacuate. Landlords are responsible for maintenance – the MFA recommends testing smoke alarms twice a year. However, tenants must test smoke alarms each month, contact the agent or landlord if the alarm isn’t working, or if the alarms omit a “chirping” noise due to fault. Click here for more info Scroll to bottom to see how Cubbi helps

NEW SOUTH WALES:

All NSW homes need at least one working smoke alarm on every level of the home, and landlords are responsible for installing those alarms. You can give two days’ notice to get access in order to install alarms. NSW doesn’t dictate whether landlords should use ionisation alarms or photoelectric alarms. There are several rules NSW landlords need to follow:

  • Battery powered alarms must have batteries replaced at the start of a tenancy (tenants are responsible thereafter).
  • However, smoke alarms that are “hard wired” with a backup battery are the responsibility of the landlord, not the tenant.
  • The condition report section of the tenancy agreement must include a specific reference to smoke alarms.
  • Owners of residential properties who rent out their premises as holiday accommodation are responsible for installing smoke alarms and replacing batteries.

After the tenancy begins, the tenant is responsible for replacing the battery if needed. However, if the tenant is physically unable to change the battery the tenant is required to notify the landlord. Fire and Rescue NSW provides a guide for monthly, twice-yearly and yearly maintenance. Scroll to bottom to see how Cubbi helps

QUEENSLAND:

Queensland landlords should pay careful attention to smoke alarm legislation – new laws came into effect on January 1, 2017. Rules that apply to all homes include:

  • Any smoke alarms older than 10 years need to be replaced with photoelectric alarms (this includes hardwired alarms, not just battery-powered alarms)
  • No new smoke alarms should contain an ionisation tester (any new alarm needs to be photoelectric)
  • Faulty smoke alarms must be replaced immediately with photoelectric alarms (faulty hardwired alarms must be replaced with photoelectric alarms)
  • Smoke alarms should be interconnected with a backup power source
  • New homes require the installation of photoelectric alarms

More detailed information Additionally, legislation coming into effect in 2027 mandates all smoke alarms need to be placed:

  • On each story
  • In each bedroom
  • In hallways that connect bedrooms and the rest of the dwelling
  • If there isn’t a hallway, between the bedroom and other areas
  • If there are no bedrooms, at least one smoke alarm in the mostly likely path of travel to exit

Landlords need to abide by these laws. Additionally, laws coming into effect on 2022 require the installation of hardwired photoelectric, interconnected smoke alarms. If a hardwired smoke alarm cannot be installed, non-removable 10-year battery smoke alarms can be installed in place. Landlords are responsible for maintenance as laid out by Queensland Fire and Emergency Services here, but tenants are responsible for testing once a month. Diagrams for where smoke alarms should be installed are available here.  For more info from the RTA click here. Scroll to bottom to see how Cubbi helps  

NORTHERN TERRITORY:

The NT government updated smoke alarm legislation back in 2011. All homes need to have a smoke alarm, although you don’t need a photoelectric alarm until you sell your home, or rent out your premises or renew a tenancy or your current alarms simply cease to work, That means all landlords need to install photoelectric alarms whenever a lease begins, or is renewed. However, tenants are responsible for making sure smoke alarms are maintained properly. Scroll to bottom to see how Cubbi helps

WESTERN AUSTRALIA:

Landlords in Western Australia are subject to laws that changed in 2009: all homes must have smoke alarms that are powered by the main power system. These don’t have to be photoelectric smoke alarms, although the government recommends them. Landlords need to make sure the alarms are no more than 10 years old, are in working order and comply to Building Code of Australia standards. Landlords also need to make sure:

  • Each alarm works
  • Is connected to the mains power supply
  • Ensure each alarm has not reached its expiry date
  • Are regularly maintained

The Department of Fire and Emergency Services recommends maintenance once per month, replacing batteries annually and ensuring all mains powered smoke alarms have back-up batteries. Landlords are responsible for all of this. Alarms powered exclusively by batteries are allowed only in limited circumstances, and any homes approved for construction after May 1, 2015 must have interconnected alarms. Western Australia distinguishes between different classes of buildings for where smoke alarms should be placed. Diagrams and classifications are available here. Information from the Department of commerce can be found here. Scroll to bottom to see how Cubbi helps

SOUTH AUSTRALIA:

All homes in South Australia need to be fitted with working smoke alarms, and residential landlords are responsible for installing them. You don’t need a photoelectric alarm, but the MFS recommends it. For homes purchased on or before 1 January 1995, a 240-volt mains-powered smoke alarm is required. For those built after 1 February 1998, any type of alarm is fine. For newer dwellings beyond those dates, the law requires a 240-volt mains-powered smoke alarm, or a 10-year life, non-replacement, non-removable, permanently connected battery powered smoke alarm. New dwellings and new additions or extensions to existing dwellings require the interconnection of smoke alarms. Landlords are responsible for installation and maintenance – but you can’t install them yourself. They need to be installed be a licensed electrician. There are also clear laws for how you position smoke alarms. Diagrams and details are available in a brochure provided by the South Australian government. Scroll to bottom to see how Cubbi helps

TASMANIA:

Landlords in Tasmania need to fit their homes with smoke alarms, which generally need to be fitted in a corridor or hallway in each story of the home. However, each class of building has its own requirements which can be found here at the Tasmania Consumer Affairs website. All alarms need to be a mains powered alarm - or have a 10-year non-removable battery, (this law came into effect in 2016). Replacing that battery is the responsibility of the landlord. Laws for mains-powered alarms:

  • Alarms must be connected to mains power
  • Back-up batteries must be installed
  • Back-up batteries should not have reached their expiry date and will not do so within 30 days of the tenancy commencing
  • Back up batteries should effectively
  • Alarms must be free from dust and debris
  • Alarms should function effectively
  • Alarms shouldn’t have reached their expiry date

Batteries must be replaced if:

  • They haven’t been replaced for 12 months or more
  • They reached their expiry date
  • No longer function effectively or at all

Laws for 10-year replaceable battery alarms: At the beginning of a tenancy, owners must ensure that all alarms:

  • Are free from dust and debris
  • Function effectively
  • Have not reached their expiry date

Batteries for 10-year non-removable alarms are replaced if they:

  • Have been in use for more than 10 years
  • Have reached their expiry date
  • No longer function effectively or at all

During a tenancy, every six months tenants are required to test all the alarms and remove any dust or debris, but landlords are responsible for replacing alarms once they have been notified of a fault. This needs to happen “as soon as practicable”. Scroll to bottom to see how Cubbi helps

AUSTRALIAN CAPITAL TERRITORY:

The Australian Capital Territory doesn’t have any laws requiring smoke alarms in homes. However, there has been an increasing push from the Tenants’ Union to make smoke alarms mandatory. The ACT Emergency Services Agency recommends using photoelectric alarms.

How Cubbi helps

Smoke alarm laws can be complex - it’s simply not worth getting it wrong for yourself and for the lives of your tenants. At Cubbi we guide you through the whole renting journey for a quick and painless process. In fact you don’t even need to know everything above, just follow our process. Learn more about what we offer Cubbi Landlords.

We also recommend obtaining a compliance smoke alarm certificate to show you have upheld your end of the bargain if anything was to go wrong. These cost $99 per year (depending on your area) and all the work is done for you. Someone will come out to your property and assess your property. If the smoke alarms are not working or compliant in anyway they will be replaced. Thereafter they will test and replace your alarms when they need to be done and provide you with a compliance certificate so you know you’re fully covered.

 

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