By Frank Newman on 22nd June 2016
From 1 July, amendments to the Residential Tenancies Amendment Act will come into effect. The changes cover a number of areas but here’s the fine print regarding smoke alarms and insulation.
• From 1 July landlords will need to have working smoke alarms installed in all their residential rentals.
• All new and replacement smoke alarms must be installed in accordance with placement requirements provided in the manufacturer’s instructions but there must be a minimum of one working smoke alarm within 3 metres of each bedroom door. In a self-contained caravan, sleep out or similar there must be a minimum of one working smoke alarm.
• In multi-story units there must be one smoke alarm on each level within the household unit.
• Where there are no existing smoke alarms long life photoelectric alarms must be installed, and this type must be installed when existing alarms are replaced. Hardwired smoke alarms are also permitted.
• The landlord is responsible for making sure smoke alarms are in working order at the beginning of every new tenancy.
• Tenants will be responsible for replacing worn-out batteries in the smoke alarms and informing their landlords of any defects. It is unlawful for tenants to cause or permit any interference with, or to render inoperative, any “means of escape from fire” – which includes smoke alarms. The maximum fine for this offence is $3,000.
• If a landlord fails to comply with the requirement to install smoke alarms the tenant may seek an order to that effect from the Tenancy Tribunal, which may also impose a fine upon the landlord.
The requirement for smoke alarms also has implications for a landlord’s insurance cover. They should check with their broker or insurance company about the landlord and tenant obligations regarding smoke alarms and fires.
Where a tenant causes a fire through carelessness (negligence) which damages or destroys the property, they may be entitled to immunity from liability if the landlord has insurance coverage. However, immunity does not exist where the fire is caused intentionally by them or their guests, by a criminal act on the property (such as manufacturing P), or if the tenants have caused the landlord’s claim to insurance cover to be irrecoverable. The latter may include tampering with smoke alarms or not checking that they are working properly.
Nationwide mandatory insulation requirements were first introduced in 1978 and have always been expressed in R-values, which are a measure of thermal resistance (the higher the R-value the better the thermal performance).
• The new legislation requires all residential rental homes to have insulation. The time frame to meet that requirement varies. Social housing (where tenants pay an income related rent) must be insulated by 1 July 2016, and all other rental homes by July 2019 (within the next three years).
• The minimum standards have been set at a level that prevailed in 1978 so if a rental was built after that date, and the insulation is still in good condition, then no upgrade is likely. If there is no insulation, then it will need to be installed to meet today’s R-value requirements.
• Landlords will be required to provide a statement on the tenancy agreement about the location, type and condition of insulation in the rental home. If the existing insulation does not meet the minimum thermal requirements landlords will need to either replace it or install new insulation in the ceiling and underfloor to meet the current Building Code requirements.
• Ceiling insulation must cover all spaces used for daily activities (areas with habitable space above is exempt from requiring insulation). Where there is existing insulation, it must be in reasonable condition, complete, undamaged and dry.
• A suspended floor must have underfloor insulation for all habitable spaces. A concrete slab-on-ground floor, or floors with habitable space below, are exempt.
There are three situations where exemptions apply.
- When it’s not practical to retrofit insulation because of the physical design or construction of the property until access to these spaces is gained.
- When a landlord intends to demolish or substantially rebuild within 12 months of the commencement of a tenancy, and can provide evidence of having applied for the necessary resource consent and/or building consent for the redevelopment or building work.
- A time-limited exemption (12 months from the date of purchase) from the date of purchase, where a property is purchased and immediately rented back to the former owner-occupier.