Host: Belinda Heit – Communication and Education – RTA
Guest: Sarah Halligan – Customer Experience – RTA
Host: Welcome to the Talking Tenancies Podcast, brought to you by the Residential Tenancies Authority. I'm your host, Belinda Heit. Join me as we explore everything you need to know about renting in Queensland with experts from the RTA and industry. We're here to help make renting work for everyone.
Smoke alarms save lives. Reports have found that the risk of death in house fire is reduced by more than half if properly maintained smoke alarms are installed.
The property owner/manager must ensure the rental property meets all health and safety requirements. Today's expert from the RTA is a Sarah Halligan from customer experience. Welcome Sarah.
Guest: Thank you.
Host: Now can you tell us about your role at the RTA and what you're responsible for?
Guest: Absolutely. I'm a Senior Support Officer at the RTA. I work with the Support Team and Customer Experience, and we support customers with additional or more complex needs, handling customer escalations, complaints [or even] alleged fraud. In my day-to-day activities I help resolve complex or escalated inquiries and provide subject matter expertise across service delivery systems and processes.
Host: And I always love chatting with you because you have amazing stories from all the people that you speak to in the call centre and the many problems you help solve. It's so interesting.
Now, today we're talking about smoke alarms and fire safety in rental properties. What are the general responsibilities or obligations as a tenant in a rental property when it comes to those smoke alarms?
Guest: There are certainly a couple. Tenants do have some responsibilities to ensure their own safety when it comes to smoke alarms. And this includes testing and cleaning the smoke alarms at least once every 12 months. You can do this by vacuuming or dusting; replace any flat or nearly flat batteries, usually a beeping noise [is heard] when this is needed; notifying the property owner or manager if there are any issues with the alarms (apart from batteries dying, obviously); allowing the property owner manager entry to install or maintain smoke alarms. Entry notices will be given for this, and it may be an external company carrying out the work.
Guest: Not removing a smoke alarm or working batteries or do anything to reduce the effectiveness of the alarm.
Host: We’ve had some interesting stories about the different types of fire devices that are in a property. Obviously, if you're in units or something like that, you may have sprinklers and smoke alarms. Now people sometimes like to hang Chrissy decorations off them or washing, heaven forbid.
Guest: Yes, I've had those phone calls. Obviously not the purpose of the smoke alarms, they are not to be used for anything other than their intended purposes. That's where you might have things either fall off the ceiling altogether or accidentally set off.
Host: Oh, and the damage that could cause.
Host: You could be in a lot of trouble. And you don't have to be qualified or licenced to maintain those smoke alarms, do you?
Guest: No, you don't. Many people don't know that you actually don't need to be qualified or licenced to clean or test a domestic smoke alarm. You can follow the manufacturer’s instructions for testing and cleaning. Tenants should always be given a copy of these instructions to guide them through the processes. You can also find them online by searching the brand model number.
Host: Now, what about property owners and managers, what are their general obligations in regards to smoke alarms?
Guest: With any tenancy agreement, property owners and managers must ensure the premises are fit to live in and are not in breach of any health and safety laws, which does mean they must be compliant with the smoke alarm legislation. Property owners and managers must test and clean smoke alarms and replace any flat or nearly flat batteries within 30 days before the start of a tenancy.
Host: So that's even if a property is vacant right?
Guest: That's correct. [They must also] not remove a smoke alarm or a battery other than to replace it or do anything to reduce the effectiveness of the alarm. For example, painting over it while carrying out maintenance repairs. If entry is required, the usual tenancy rules of entry do of course apply, such as giving the correct notice period and indicating the time frame of entry. The property owner/manager must give the tenant 24 hours entry notice to install, maintain or test the smoke alarms, and some real estate agents may outsource smoke alarm maintenance to another company, which is fine. Whatever the case the rules of entry still apply.
Host: In recent years, there's been some changes to the legislation governing smoke alarms in Queensland. Can you talk us through what requirements are currently in place right now in 2021?
Guest: Sure. With the changes in the smoke alarms legislation, in addition to what we've mentioned above, the current obligations of property owners also include replacing existing smoke alarms that were manufactured over 10 years ago, immediately replacing smoke alarms that do not operate when tested, installing photoelectric smoke alarms when smoke alarms are being replaced for compliance. Smoke alarms generally have a lifespan of about 10 years, the legislation has been amended to include these upgrades and changes to ensure the smoke alarms in domestic dwellings are the most efficient to ensure the safety of its occupants. If you own or are living in a new building or have renovated since 2017, the smoke alarms should already be compliant with the updated legislation, so there's no worries there. If you're unsure, check now.
Host: Yeah, you've really got to be on top of these things. Now, the most important deadline is coming up very soon, where smoke alarms in Queensland rental properties must be compliant with the updated legislation. What are those requirements and when are they coming into effect?
Guest: 1st of January 2022 marks the second implementation phase with smoke alarms and all rental properties in QLD must be upgraded and compliant with the smoke alarm legislation changes. These additions and changes outline the type and the location of the smoke alarms to ensure occupant safety. Firstly, smoke alarms in all leased dwellings must be the photoelectric ones. These are the most effective type of alarm in domestic situations and meet the Australian standard of 3786-14. Be less than 10 years old, operate and function when tested, be interconnected with every other smoke alarm in the dwelling so they all activate together, and be either hard wired or powered by non-removable 10 year battery.
Secondly, smoke alarms must be installed in each bedroom, in hallways, connecting bedrooms and the rest of the dwelling; if there aren’t any hallways because its multi-level between the bedrooms and the other parts of the property on the same level; if there are no bedrooms on a level, at least one smoke alarm must be installed in the most likely path of travel to exit the dwelling.
Host: That second phase of those legislative changes are really making it a lot safer for tenants and occupants. Having multiple alarms go off in different parts of the property at the same time just raises that awareness quicker and gets people out faster.
Guest: It does. It's likely to increase the number of smoke alarms you currently have in a rental property itself, so that the awareness, if there's any fire, it's going to be heard throughout the whole property.
Host: Absolutely. Now, January 2022 is not that far away and we're recording now in May 2021, right?
Guest: Yep. Getting close. Some people think that the 1st of January 2022 is still far away, and there's plenty of time, but I recommend property owners/managers start the process now and not to leave it until the last minute. Remember you will need qualified electricians for the installation and organised entry with the tenants with enough notice, so this whole process will take time.
If you wait until the final months, electricians and installation workers could be in high demand, and this could easily delay the process. Sometimes smoke alarm stock levels vary as well, so you may find you've waited longer than expected before the upgrades and installation can actually happen. It's much better to get in early, make the upgrades and changes now so you don't have to worry about it anymore and have peace of mind as a property owner and for the tenants as well.
Host: I can just see this last-minute rush. Well, thanks so much, Sarah, for helping us get a greater understanding of what our obligations and responsibilities are when it comes to smoke alarms in a rental property.
For further information, head to our website at rta.qd.gov.au where we have a webinar on smoke alarm laws in partnership with Queensland Fire and Emergency Services.
Thank you for listening to the Talking Tenancies Podcast. For more information about the Residential Tenancies Authority, visit rta.qd.gov.au.