Complying with the Fire and Emergency Services (domestic smoke alarms) Amendment Act 2016
In this article, we will review the Fire and Emergency Services (Domestic Smoke Alarms) Amendment Act 2016 (Qld) (the Act), which was passed by the State Government on 31 August 2016. The Act, which commences on 1 January 2017, amends the Fire and Emergency Services Act 1990 (Qld) and imposes additional obligations on property owners with regards to the installation and maintenance of smoke alarms at domestic dwellings, which all real estate agents need to be fully conversant with.
Further, we will refer to the Building Fire Safety (Domestic Smoke Alarms) Legislation Amendment Regulation (No.1) 2016 (Qld) (the Regulation) which also commences on 1 January 2017.
So why was the Fire and Emergency Services Act 1990 (Qld) amended?
There have been 150 house fire deaths in Queensland in the past 12 years. In 2011, the tragic death of eleven people, including eight children, in a Slacks Creek house fire was described by the Coroner, James McDougall, as “the greatest loss of life in a domestic house fire in Australian history”. In this instance, the Coronial Report noted “that smoke alarms were either not present in the dwelling or were not maintained”.
The State Government committed to fully implement the changes recommended by the inquest and with the introduction of the new legislation, Queensland will now have the most effective and comprehensive smoke alarm legislation in Australia. With the commencement of the Act, property owners will be subject to onerous legal obligations regarding the installation and maintenance of smoke alarms in domestic dwellings and will face increased penalties for non-compliance. Real estate agents therefore need to familiarise themselves with the new provisions.
So what are the changes?
The changes are many and significant:
- From 31 December 2016, smoke alarms must be replaced within ten years of their manufacture date or if they fail when routinely tested.
- From 1 January 2017, only photoelectric smoke alarms which comply with Australian Standard 3786-2014 can be installed whenever a smoke alarm is replaced or a new one installed.
- All smoke alarms must operate when tested and they must be interconnected to every other smoke alarm installed in the dwelling.
- In respect to existing dwellings, the Regulation amends the Building Fire Safety Regulation 2008 and requires each storey with at least one bedroom to have a smoke alarm installed on or near the ceiling in each bedroom. If one or more of the bedrooms are connected by a door to a hallway, a smoke alarm must also be installed in the hallway. In dwellings where a hallway does not connect by a door to the bedrooms, a smoke alarm is required in a location between the bedroom and the remainder of the dwelling.
- Additionally, for each storey of a dwelling which does not have bedrooms, a smoke alarm must be installed on or near the ceiling in the area of the stairway or otherwise inside the dwelling provided it is installed on a path of travel to an exit outside the dwelling.
- All smoke alarms must now be either hardwired to the dwelling’s electricity supply or powered by a non-removable battery with a 10 year battery life.
- In respect to dwellings where an application for a building approval is made after 31 December 2016 and the building work is a substantial renovation, the Regulation amends the Building Regulation 2006. For these dwellings, a smoke alarm must be installed on or near the ceiling in each bedroom of the dwelling or part of the dwelling and must be hardwired to the dwelling’s electricity supply.
So when do these changes take effect?
Notably, the Act imposes different time frames for compliance.
The Act will apply to domestic dwellings where an application for a building development approval is made after 31 December 2016 and the building work is a substantial renovation. The Act defines a substantial renovation as one undertaken pursuant to a building development approval for “alterations to an existing building or structure” and the alterations (or any structural alterations approved or completed in the previous three years) exceed more than half of the volume of the existing building or structure. Essentially, this type of dwelling is a new or substantially renovated property.
The Act will come into effect from 31 December 2021 for an existing dwelling in circumstances where a contract of sale is entered into or a new General Tenancy Agreement is entered into or an existing one renewed.
The final phase of the provisions will be applicable within 10 years, whereby all owner-occupied private dwellings must comply with the Act by 31 December 2026.
A failure to comply with the new legislation could result in a fine up to $609.50.
Best practice tips
- If a smoke alarm needs to be replaced or a new one installed, a photoelectric one which complies with Australian Standard 3786-2014 must be installed.
- All smoke alarms must be interconnected to every other smoke alarm installed in the dwelling.
- The Act applies to all dwellings where an application for a building development approval for a substantial renovation is made after 31 December 2016.
- For properties where a contract of sale has been entered into or a tenancy agreement is entered into or renewed, the Act will apply from 31 December 2021.
- All other dwellings must comply by 21 December 2026.
- The Regulation provides for the requisite number and location of fire alarms and permissible power sources.
- Agencies should develop appropriate policies and procedures to comply with the new legislation and all sales agents and property managers should familiarise themselves with these policies and procedures to ensure that that the new requirements are understood.
- Instructions should be obtained from lessor and seller clients to engage appropriate professionals to undertake the replacement or installation of non-compliant or faulty smoke alarms in compliance with the requirements of the Act.
The Act imposes new obligations on property owners, which will have a flow on effect to real estate agents. The gradual transition to the new legislation provides property owners with sufficient time to comply with their legal obligations and thereby avoid the imposition of any penalties.
Notwithstanding the staggered compliance time frames, we recommend that agents seek their clients’ instructions to upgrade their smoke alarm systems now to comply with the new legislative requirements in order to safeguard the occupiers and to ensure the best possible protection for their properties from fires.