Property manager gives bad smoke alarm advice

Property manager gives bad smoke alarm advice

A property management company is giving landlords shoddy advice about smoke alarm requirements for rental properties, and tenants could end up footing the bill.

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Last month, Barfoot & Thompson’s Takapuna office sent an email to landlords on its books inviting them to sign up for a $99 annual smoke alarm service. The email claimed smoke alarm servicing is “not an option – it’s the law”.

It also said if the customer didn’t want to pay, they’d have to arrange “alternative smoke alarm compliance”, ensure they had the equipment necessary to test the decibel output of the alarm, and the “correct equipment to clear any debris” from the alarm.

But the company’s claims risk misleading landlords into paying for an unnecessary service. A Consumer NZ member who is among Barfoot and Thompson’s customers says she felt railroaded by the email into paying the $99.

In our view, any competent property management company should be able to check a smoke alarm is functioning by pushing the test button. That’s not worth $99 a year.
In our view, any competent property management company should be able to check a smoke alarm is functioning by pushing the test button. That’s not worth $99 a year.

The Residential Tenancies Act requires rentals to have smoke alarms. But there’s no requirement for landlords to obtain specialist equipment to measure the sound level of alarms. As for having the “correct equipment to clear any debris”, the Fire Service recommends using a vacuum cleaner to remove dust.

Kath Fraser, property manager at Barfoot & Thompson Takapuna, says it’s using a company called Smoke Alarm Professionals to carry out the annual service and information sent to customers was provided by this company. Ms Fraser says she’s not prepared to check smoke alarms as she’s “5 foot 2 and wears high heels”.

Helen Hodgson, property management operations manager at Barfoot & Thompson’s head office, says it’s “not company policy” to require an annual alarm service. She says it’s “left at the branch manager’s discretion” but agreed the email’s wording was “scaremongering”.

We asked Barfoot & Thompson to stop sending the email. The company’s head office has sent a letter to branch managers warning smoke alarm inspection companies are touting for business, and material supplied by these companies should not be used without first being approved by head office.

In our view, any competent property management company should be able to check a smoke alarm is functioning by pushing the test button. That’s not worth $99 a year, a cost that will end up being paid by tenants in the long run.

Smoke Alarm Professionals, which advertises an annual alarm service, says on its website it has “locally employed technicians who are comprehensively trained in the latest smoke alarm legislation and customer service” and will ensure “your property is compliant, smoke alarms are adequately maintained, [and] batteries are replaced”.

The company said information on smoke alarm requirements supplied to Barfoot & Thompson was distributed by a salesperson dismissed in December because of his “very direct approach with the property managers”. It sent us a brochure outlining the services provided for the $99 annual fee. These include smoke alarm installation, inspections and relocation of incorrectly positioned alarms. However, the company did not agree to contact property managers who may still be using the incorrect materials issued by its former employee.

What type of alarms are required in rentals?

  • Photoelectric smoke alarms with a long-life battery. The battery must have a lifespan of at least 10 years. Our testing has shown photoelectric alarms are much better than cheaper ionization models at detecting slow smouldering fires. We recommend Warrior Photoelectric smoke alarms (exclusive to Mitre 10). Hard-wired smoke alarms are also allowed.

  • The alarm must meet the required product standards. Look for one of the following standards on the packaging:

    • AS 3786:1993 (Australia, most common along with UL217)
    • UL217 (USA)
    • ULCS531 (Canada)
    • BS5446: Part 1 (United Kingdom)
    • BS EN 14604 (United Kingdom)
    • ISO12239 (International).

Who keeps them running?

  • Landlords must ensure alarms are in “good working order”, i.e. free of dust and working at the start of a new tenancy (press the test button or look for the flashing warning light). Landlords must give 24 hours’ notice before entering a property to check smoke alarms.
  • Landlords must replace long-life smoke alarms when they reach the manufacturer’s recommended replacement date, or if the alarm is more than 8 years old where there’s no recommended replacement date.
  • Tenants must replace 9V batteries in any functioning disposable battery-powered alarms installed before these regulations took effect in 2016.

Where to install smoke alarms

  • There must be one alarm:
  • In every bedroom OR within 3m of each bedroom door. A bedroom is any space a person might reasonably sleep in.
  • On each storey/level, even if they’re unoccupied.
  • In any sleep-out, caravan or similar.