A Northland fire investigator is encouraging landlords and tenants to review the new smoke alarm regulations saying they should reduce the high number of structure fires in rentals.

Craig Bain, a fire investigator, said the highest percentage of structure fires which caused damage occurred in rental properties and said the changes to the Residential Tenancy Act, which came into action yesterday, should improve those statistics.

"This is very positive, it should reduce the number of structure fires in rental properties," he said "It's a shared responsibility for landlords and tenants."

The changes will make landlords responsible for ensuring an operational smoke alarm is in place, and tenants responsible for replacing batteries if required.


It will require one working smoke alarm within 3m of each bedroom door and long-life photoelectric smoke alarms are now required where there are no existing alarms. When existing smoke alarms are replaced, the replacements must be long-life photoelectric smoke alarms.

Mr Bain said often when there were rental property fires tenants had disabled smoke alarms which was an unlawful act with a maximum fine of $3000.

"Another thing we see is we ask tenants 'why aren't your smoke alarms working?' and they say it is because the landlord hasn't replaced the batteries. These changes make tenants responsible."

Mr Bain said some landlords had been confused about the changes including some who thought it was the responsibility of the fire service to install the alarms, which it is not.

He urged landlords and tenants to visit the fire service website or the Ministry of Business and Innovation website where the changes are clearly bullet-pointed.

"They [smoke alarms] are especially effective when we're sleeping because the only sense that works 100 per cent when we are asleep is our hearing which is why they make loud noises. They can make a difference between life and death."

-For more information on the changes to the Residential Tenancy Act visit http://www.fire.org.nz/index.html