Property Managers - understanding your smoke alarm obligations

It could be argued that the laws surrounding smoke alarms are some of the most important to consider when it comes to rental properties.  In the case of a fire resulting in damage or even loss of life, if smoke alarm regulations haven’t been followed to the absolute letter, there can be serious legal consequences for the property owner or even the property manager in certain situations. 

As a professional property manager, it is up to you to remain well and truly up to date with legislation concerning smoke alarms.  In many cases, property owners will rely on the property manager they have enlisted to inform them of, and even to supervise their property’s smoke alarm requirements. 

Although smoke alarm laws can vary from state to state, it is usually the landlord who is responsible for smoke alarms, not the tenant.  The Building Code of Australia sets out a minimum of one smoke alarm per property and at least one alarm on every level of the dwelling.  Smoke alarm laws also set out the required location of smoke alarms, technical specifications, the type of power supply they must use and the frequency with which alarms must be checked and batteries replaced. 

In most cases laws state that smoke alarms must be inspected within 30 days before any tenancy change or tenancy renewal.

Although every agency will have different practices, in the absence of appropriate training, it can often be a large, unnecessary risk for property managers to take on the responsibility of smoke alarm maintenance personally (or as a company).  Likewise it is often wise to advise the landlord (your client) to refrain from conducting their own inspections and deeming smoke alarms to be in a satisfactory condition.

In the case of major damage and/or loss of life due to a faulty smoke alarm, insurance often becomes void.  Although smoke alarms may look fairly uncomplicated, factors such as their position, power supply connection and required range of decibel output can be tricky to determine if you haven’t been trained in the area.

In your role as a property manager, if you sign off that a property’s smoke alarms are clean, in good working order and without damage, you could in effect be exposing yourself to legal action if the smoke alarms turn out to be faulty.   

Some property managers find that a good way to manage the risk of smoke alarms is to hire a professional service.  By using a certified service to sign off on the compliance of smoke alarms, if a fire occurs due to a faulty piece of equipment, the property manager and owner usually cannot be held liable.  Note that it is important for the smoke alarm service used to have Personal Indemnity Insurance.    

It is definitely necessary for property managers to understand the legalities surrounding smoke alarms.  Knowledge could save you from legal liability, and more importantly could prevent property damage and the injury or death of a tenant in the case of a fire. 

Posted by Reality Bytes - Real Estate Training Blog on 09/08/2010 at 12:38 PM | Categories:


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