Author Topic: Smoke alarms, a legal perspective  (Read 775 times)

Leisured

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Smoke alarms, a legal perspective
« on: November 24, 2017, 04:44:02 AM »
For Your Information.

In Australia. My wife and I own two rental properties, and our estate agent has recommended a specialized smoke alarm maintenance company. The idea is that if the house burns, and the police can prove that the smoke alarm was defective, or had a flat battery, the owner could be liable for negligence. Our agent gave us the choice: sign up, or declare that we will look after our alarms ourselves. We live 450 km from our properties, (was not planned that way) so we signed up for the service. $99 a year, and the smoke alarm company will visit 2 or 3 times a year, replace batteries if needed, replace the alarm if needed, and change the location of the smoke alarms if needed.


GuitarStv

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Re: Smoke alarms, a legal perspective
« Reply #1 on: November 24, 2017, 10:00:45 AM »
Smoke alarms should be replaced every ten years.  Batteries should be changed every year.  I think that if you were to make the trip out to your rentals once a year to do this (very minimal maintenance) and keep a record of these trips and what was done it would be very hard to prove negligence in court.  99$ a year seems like an awful lot to pay for this service, and you probably go out to your rental properties once a year any way just to check up on things, right?

Dicey

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Re: Smoke alarms, a legal perspective
« Reply #2 on: November 25, 2017, 11:18:47 AM »
They also make ten year batteries now. Two or three times a year is ridiculous!

An even easier solution is to just write into the lease the tenants are responsible for replacing the batteries.
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YttriumNitrate

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Re: Smoke alarms, a legal perspective
« Reply #3 on: November 26, 2017, 07:39:13 AM »
Was the real estate agent getting a kickback from the smoke detector company? To minimize my liability, I just overload my rental property with smoke detectors. I think my 3-bedroom rental has 7 or 8 smoke detectors in it. My local home improvement store was offering smoke detectors for US$3.00 each this weekend, so having 8 smoke detectors costs less than 3 months of that monitoring service.

Leisured

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Re: Smoke alarms, a legal perspective
« Reply #4 on: November 26, 2017, 09:44:30 PM »
Specifying that the tenant is responsible for changing batteries will not work, because standard legal doctrine about 'duty of care' will override such a lease clause. I take GuitarSteve's point about keeping records of maintaining smoke alarms. Smoke alarms which are wired in to the house's lighting circuit only need batteries as a backup. i have heard horror stories about a tenant removing a battery from a smoke alarm to put into his radio.

Dicey

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Re: Smoke alarms, a legal perspective
« Reply #5 on: November 26, 2017, 09:54:37 PM »
Specifying that the tenant is responsible for changing batteries will not work, because standard legal doctrine about 'duty of care' will override such a lease clause. I take GuitarSteve's point about keeping records of maintaining smoke alarms. Smoke alarms which are wired in to the house's lighting circuit only need batteries as a backup. i have heard horror stories about a tenant removing a battery from a smoke alarm to put into his radio.
But the backup batteries in the hardwired smoke alarms still need to be replaced every year #askmehowiknow. Just buy the new 10-year batteries and be done with it.
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JLee

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Re: Smoke alarms, a legal perspective
« Reply #6 on: November 26, 2017, 10:01:47 PM »
Specifying that the tenant is responsible for changing batteries will not work, because standard legal doctrine about 'duty of care' will override such a lease clause. I take GuitarSteve's point about keeping records of maintaining smoke alarms. Smoke alarms which are wired in to the house's lighting circuit only need batteries as a backup. i have heard horror stories about a tenant removing a battery from a smoke alarm to put into his radio.

Is this according to the people selling you a smoke detector monitoring service?

https://www.inman.com/2011/11/17/must-landlord-maintain-smoke-detectors/
Quote
Once the tenant takes possession, the usual custom and practice in the rental housing industry is for the tenant to be responsible for replacing the batteries in both units.

NJ requires it on initial occupancy only:
http://www.430lawoffice.com/blog/the-responsibility-of-landlords-to-maintain-smoke-or-carbon-monoxide-detectors/
Quote
State law requires that the owner of residential rental property must obtain both a Certificate of Smoke Detector and Carbon Monoxide Detector Alarm Compliance from local fire officials prior to initial occupancy of rental property, or upon a change in occupancy. A landlord may obtain a certificate for up to 12 months that will cover all changes in tenancy during that period.

New Zealand:
https://www.tenancy.govt.nz/maintenance-and-inspections/smoke-alarms/
Quote
Landlords and tenants are responsible for maintaining smoke alarms
Landlords must ensure smoke alarms:

are in working order
are working at the start of each new tenancy.
Tenants must:

not damage, remove, or disconnect a smoke alarm
replace dead batteries during the tenancy if there are older-style smoke alarms with replaceable batteries

let the landlord know if there are any problems with the smoke alarms as soon as possible.

Enigma

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Re: Smoke alarms, a legal perspective
« Reply #7 on: November 26, 2017, 10:37:30 PM »
The smoke detector section of my lease requires a signature from the tenant.  It is one of two signatures (the other being the lease itself).

- LEASE Verbiage -
FIRE EXTINGUISHER AND SMOKE DETECTORS:  There will be a smoke detector above the kitchen door and above the bedroom doors.  There will also be a Fire Extinguisher in the Kitchen.  These items will be checked monthly, if found not working. They will be fixed or replaced immediately and the receipt will be deducted from the following months rent, failure to maintain this equipment is ground for evection. Tenantís signature__________________

Note that this has held up in the past.  I have had a couple of properties that had fires and have had no issues with collecting through the insurance company.
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Dicey

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Re: Smoke alarms, a legal perspective
« Reply #8 on: November 26, 2017, 11:48:11 PM »
Interesting. We never, ever allow tenants to deduct anything from the rent. We always cut them a separate check, as per our CPA's instructions. If someone provides a service at one of our properties, we pay them directly, We do not expect our tenants to front any money for routine services or repairs.
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adamcollin

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Re: Smoke alarms, a legal perspective
« Reply #9 on: November 27, 2017, 12:22:53 AM »
For Your Information.

In Australia. My wife and I own two rental properties, and our estate agent has recommended a specialized smoke alarm maintenance company. The idea is that if the house burns, and the police can prove that the smoke alarm was defective, or had a flat battery, the owner could be liable for negligence. Our agent gave us the choice: sign up, or declare that we will look after our alarms ourselves. We live 450 km from our properties, (was not planned that way) so we signed up for the service. $99 a year, and the smoke alarm company will visit 2 or 3 times a year, replace batteries if needed, replace the alarm if needed, and change the location of the smoke alarms if needed.

Whats your real estate agent's say on this? According to Australia's law, he will be able to guide you better here.
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JLee

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Re: Smoke alarms, a legal perspective
« Reply #10 on: November 27, 2017, 12:53:26 AM »
Interesting. We never, ever allow tenants to deduct anything from the rent. We always cut them a separate check, as per our CPA's instructions. If someone provides a service at one of our properties, we pay them directly, We do not expect our tenants to front any money for routine services or repairs.

Entirely unrelated, but I've seen some listings here (NJ) that say "Tenant responsible for first $XX in repairs" (usually $75 or $150). wtf...

Dicey

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Re: Smoke alarms, a legal perspective
« Reply #11 on: November 27, 2017, 04:36:56 AM »
Interesting. We never, ever allow tenants to deduct anything from the rent. We always cut them a separate check, as per our CPA's instructions. If someone provides a service at one of our properties, we pay them directly, We do not expect our tenants to front any money for routine services or repairs.

Entirely unrelated, but I've seen some listings here (NJ) that say "Tenant responsible for first $XX in repairs" (usually $75 or $150). wtf...
Reminds me of the expression, "For want of a nail, the horse was lost." Asking this of tenants just means the small stuff will get ignored and eventually become big stuff.
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Kakanui

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Re: Smoke alarms, a legal perspective
« Reply #12 on: November 27, 2017, 04:48:26 AM »
New Zealand:
https://www.tenancy.govt.nz/maintenance-and-inspections/smoke-alarms/

Landlords and tenants are responsible for maintaining smoke alarms
Landlords must ensure smoke alarms:

are in working order
are working at the start of each new tenancy.
Tenants must:

not damage, remove, or disconnect a smoke alarm
replace dead batteries during the tenancy if there are older-style smoke alarms with replaceable batteries
let the landlord know if there are any problems with the smoke alarms as soon as possible.


Yep, until recently I still had issues with tenants removing smoke alarms and/or batteries- and often has been the case here in house fires in rentals that the alarms had been tampered with/removed. 

All new or replacement alarms must be the 10 year battery photoelectric ones so hopefully issues decrease.

Craig

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Re: Smoke alarms, a legal perspective
« Reply #13 on: November 27, 2017, 01:02:17 PM »
Interesting. We never, ever allow tenants to deduct anything from the rent. We always cut them a separate check, as per our CPA's instructions. If someone provides a service at one of our properties, we pay them directly, We do not expect our tenants to front any money for routine services or repairs.

Entirely unrelated, but I've seen some listings here (NJ) that say "Tenant responsible for first $XX in repairs" (usually $75 or $150). wtf...

In my experience, this is a clause used by landlords that use home warranty companies and the amount is equal to the service call fee they charge. That said, I agree with the above poster. Pennywise and pound foolish.

Leisured

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Re: Smoke alarms, a legal perspective
« Reply #14 on: November 28, 2017, 04:37:31 PM »
'Duty of care' is a long standing legal principle, and can override any specific clauses put into a tenancy agreement. 'Duty of care' is not specific to property management. I had not realized the implications for smoke alarms until my estate agent drew it to my attention. The risk of my rental property experiencing a fire, and the subsequent risk of any court action, is very low, but the consequences of an adverse finding by the court are severe.

The same applies to any structural defects which could injure tenants. Again, I stress that 'duty of care' is a general legal principle, and is not restricted to property rental.

Some of you need to become more familiar with law.


JLee

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Re: Smoke alarms, a legal perspective
« Reply #15 on: November 28, 2017, 04:56:49 PM »
'Duty of care' is a long standing legal principle, and can override any specific clauses put into a tenancy agreement. 'Duty of care' is not specific to property management. I had not realized the implications for smoke alarms until my estate agent drew it to my attention. The risk of my rental property experiencing a fire, and the subsequent risk of any court action, is very low, but the consequences of an adverse finding by the court are severe.

The same applies to any structural defects which could injure tenants. Again, I stress that 'duty of care' is a general legal principle, and is not restricted to property rental.

Some of you need to become more familiar with law.

To be clear, this was the real estate agent who was trying to sell you a service?

Let's pull from an Australian source:
After the tenancy begins, the tenant is responsible for replacing the battery if needed in battery-operated smoke alarms. Hard-wired smoke alarm back-up batteries are to be replaced by the landlord.

I suppose it's possible that the law varies per jurisdiction, but there is clearly a law that stipulates that it's the tenants' responsibility to replace smoke detector batteries if required. "Duty of care" is on the tenant.
« Last Edit: November 28, 2017, 05:10:59 PM by JLee »

Mr. Green

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Re: Smoke alarms, a legal perspective
« Reply #16 on: November 30, 2017, 04:01:39 PM »
In the US, they make smoke detectors that have lithium ion batteries that last the full 10 years, sealed into the tray so a tenant cannot disable them, and the units have to be replaced every 10 years. My state (Maryland) now requires them for rentals. I just had to change all mine out because they were 18 years old, original with the house.
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Enigma

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Re: Smoke alarms, a legal perspective
« Reply #17 on: November 30, 2017, 10:18:57 PM »
I just bought a lithium ion battery smoke detector on Amazon for $15.  Going to see what my property manager thinks about it.
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Leisured

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Re: Smoke alarms, a legal perspective
« Reply #18 on: December 01, 2017, 02:16:59 AM »
In the US, they make smoke detectors that have lithium ion batteries that last the full 10 years, sealed into the tray so a tenant cannot disable them, and the units have to be replaced every 10 years. My state (Maryland) now requires them for rentals. I just had to change all mine out because they were 18 years old, original with the house.

Thank you, Mr Green, for the tip.