What Landlords Must Know About The New Smoke Alarm Laws In Victoria

smoke detector and small house on blueprint

For landlords of residential properties in Victoria, changes to the Residential Tenancies Act (RTA) have been made that will impact your legal obligations that you need to be aware of now. The changes to the legislation were delayed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, however the Residential Tenancies Amendment Act 2018 has now come into effect as of 28th March 2021.

Landlords must act now to meet these new laws. Fortunately, PSA Products is one of Australia’s top smoke alarm suppliers, providing smoke alarms that are compliant with the new regulations so can ensure that you don’t fall foul of the changes in legislation.

What are the changes?

The key points for landlords regarding smoke alarm obligations are:

  • Smoke alarms must be correctly installed and in working order
  • Smoke alarms must be tested at least every 12 months (according to manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Batteries to be replaced as required.
  • Once notified they are not working, smoke alarms must be repaired or replaced i.e. treated as an urgent repair once notified
  • Tenants must be provided written information on the day or before the day of occupation about how the smoke alarm works, how to test them, and to report any faults with them.
  • The tenant must write to the landlord informing them if a smoke alarm does not work in the rented property as soon as they become aware.

Victoria State Government’s proposed key rental forms

Reform 51. If a residential rental agreement includes a prescribed term setting out safety-related activities (such as testing smoke alarms) that must be completed during the tenancy, the RRP and renter will be required to undertake their respective safety-related activities and, where relevant, ensure the activity is carried out by a suitably qualified person.

Reform 53. Renters and rooming house residents will be required to not remove, deactivate or interfere with the operation of a prescribed safety device, unless it is reasonable in the circumstances to do so (for example, if the reason for removal was to repair or replace it). Examples of prescribed safety devices could include smoke alarms and pool fences.

Reform 54. The existing definition of urgent repairs will be expanded to include breakdown of a cooling appliance, non-compliance with minimum standards or the safety-related obligations (such as a functioning smoke alarm), pest infestation and mould caused by the building structure. This reform also applies to urgent repairs in rooming houses and caravans.

What must you do now?

As a landlord, there are 101 other things on your to-do list, but these legislation changes mean ensuring your smoke alarms are compliant must be the number one priority. Leaving everything to the last minute will only add to the stress and give you additional work. PSA provides quality products, such as the Lifesaver Smoke Alarm and HomeGuard smoke alarm, as well as expert advice and support to enable you to review your current smoke alarm system and ensure you comply with the updated legislation.

First of all, you must make sure your investment properties are fitted with the required number of smoke alarms, and they are each in working order. They have to be installed as per the BCA or Building Code of Australia and comply with the Australian Standard, which all of PSA Products’ smoke alarms do. Now is the time to replace any tired smoke alarms that are past or nearing the end of their 10-year product life.

Today’s range of smoke alarm systems can be used in ground floor apartments to multi occupancy units, with either wired or wireless capabilities, be stand alone or inter connectable and battery powered, or mains powered units. Simple to install and once the product is registered, organising annual servicing (which is part of the draft legislation) is quick and easy.

Review current tenancy agreements and written safety instructions

Next step is to prepare a set of instruction manuals for your tenants, including clear instructions on reporting of faults and not tampering or trying to repair smoke alarms themselves. PSA provides a number of free resources including digital product manuals that will help make this process a lot easier. Under the proposed reforms 51, 53 and 54 mentioned above, this means revisiting your current tenancy agreement as well. Check with your managing agent to see the current agreement already includes the requirement for the tenant to test the smoke alarms during their tenancy, then ensure it is updated to include reporting of faults promptly.

Reform 53 specifies that tenants should not interfere, remove or deactivate the smoke alarm unless it was to repair or replace it. Any such activity involving repair and servicing must be carried out by someone who is suitably qualified to do so. Any such fault or breakdown with a smoke alarm will be classed as an urgent repair if the draft legislation goes ahead in its current format. Again, tenancy agreements must be updated to set out these terms so make sure this is also in place.

Identifying a “suitably qualified person”

All the above activities relating to the strict additional compliance measures for smoke alarms refers to a ‘suitably qualified person’ to carry out smoke alarm related actions. Prior to these stricter measures coming into force, some landlords may have undertaken checks themselves but the risk now must be reassessed carefully. Repair or replacement of a hard-wired smoke alarm system has to be undertaken by an accredited electrician. It is the responsibility of the landlord to ensure they have used such appropriate person to undertake these works. Ensuring that you have checked out their experience and qualifications does fall under the landlords remit to ensure you keep your tenants and your property safe and compliant.

To find out more about PSA Products smoke alarms that are compliant with the new legislation in Victoria, contact us. For key tips to comply with the new smoke alarm laws, read this article. For more information about important smoke alarm checks for landlords, click here.