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Article on Stuff - "Removing a smoke alarm proves costly for tenant" - 2nd Aug 2016

The Tenancy Tribunal has fired a warning shot over any tenant who interferes with rental property smoke alarms.

Sixteen days after new rules were passed, the tribunal has ordered one Hamilton tenant, to pay over $3600 for rent arrears and various damage or cleaning costs.

Of the sum, $1850 was for "exemplary damages for tampering with a smoke alarm".

Under the new rules introduced on July 1, landlords must install adequate insulation and smoke alarms, and tenants are obliged to keep the alarms running, and replace the batteries.

Michael Ward, the adjudicator in the case, said the tenant had regularly removed batteries from the smoke alarm, despite repeated reminders and 14-day notices from the property manager.
 

Then, after leaving, the alarm was gone.

Ward said that under the Building Act, it was an offence to interfere or render inoperable any means of escape from a fire.

Fire safety was a major issue in the renting industry and tenants could be charged up to $3000 in exemplary damages if they breached the act.

"Based on the evidence provided, I can only conclude that the breach was deliberate, intentional, continuous and showed total disregard for the tenant's obligations," the adjudicator said.

The tenant did not appear at the hearing.

John Verstegen​, a technician with Smoke Alarm Testing NZ, said he was "flat out at the moment" thanks to the new rules.

The Hamilton case was one he had not encountered before, although he did come across many instances of tenants tampering with alarms.

"It seems like a huge amount of money for removing batteries from a smoke alarm or removing the whole thing.

"But do I think it's harsh? No. I think it's time the tenant starts taking responsibility of not only their own safety and the other people in the house but also the property that they're in."

He said all new alarms these days had to have a non-removable, battery which lasted for 10 years. The whole alarm was disposable.

"With some brands, with a bit of work, you can remove the battery. But a lot of alarms now you can't even remove the battery, which is great because it's going to mean less tampering and less moving of the alarms."

Jeremy Baker of Glasshouse Property Management, the firm involved in the case, said the tenant repeatedly reassured his company that the smoke alarm had been reinstalled, even sending a photo.

But come the final inspection, the alarm was gone, as was the mounting bracket and the holes were puttied over.

"I think it was further aggravated for us that there is evidence of smoking inside the property and hence a reason why they're pulling it down, which is quite a high fire risk in the first place.

"There's not many cases that have a blatant disregard for the rules from tenants. Generally, we'll give them a verbal warning and explain to them why it's important and we don't have further issues.

'It's not like we're going to take every tenant to who pulls a smoke alarm to court but in this situation it's pretty blatant and continual."

Baker said it seemed clear the Tenancy Tribunal was taking the new act more seriously.

"Part of our presentation to the court was statistics around rental fires and unfortunately rental properties are well represented in the fire statistics and they're hugely represented in the fatal fires so it's an important matter."

Scotney Williams, director of tenancy services firm Tenancy.co.nz, said feedback he'd received was that most property managers and renters had been quick to comply with the new insulation and smoke alarm rules.

"The Tenancy Tribunal has demonstrated that's it's going to come down hard on tenants who prejudice the safety of themselves and others by tampering with smoke alarms. Take notice tenants."

CATHERINE HARRIS - Stuff

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