Smoke alarms are compulsory in all rental homes. Working smoke alarms save lives.  

Landlords must have the right type of smoke alarms installed in the right places to meet new regulations which came into force on 1 July 2016.

All new or replacement smoke alarms must be long-life photoelectric smoke alarms with a battery life of at least eight years that meet the required product standards, or a hard-wired smoke alarm system

Both landlords and tenants now have responsibilities to keep smoke alarms working. Never damage, remove or disconnect a smoke alarm – that includes removing the batteries.

A landlord who fails to comply with smoke alarm obligations is committing an unlawful act and may be liable for a penalty of up to $4,000, while a tenant who fails to comply with their responsibilities may be liable for a penalty of up to $3,000.

These regulations apply to any residential rental covered by the Residential Tenancies Act including rental homes, boarding houses and rental caravans, sleep-outs and similar.

Where to place smoke alarms

There must be at least one working smoke alarm:

  • in each bedroom or within three metres of each bedroom’s door – this applies to any room a person might reasonably sleep in
  • on each storey or level, even if no-one sleeps there.
  • in any rental caravan, sleep-out or similar.

In a boarding house, there must be at least one working smoke alarm:

  • in each boarding room or within three metres of each boarding room’s door
  • on each storey or level even if there is no boarding room there.

(These placement regulations apply to both individual smoke alarms and the sensors in hard-wired smoke alarm systems.)

These are the minimum legal requirements – the New Zealand Fire Service recommends installing a smoke alarm in every bedroom, living area, and hallway.

Read the New Zealand Fire Service’s best practice recommendations. (external link)

What type of smoke alarm to use

All new or replacement smoke alarms must be long-life photoelectric smoke alarms with a battery life of at least eight years, or a hard-wired smoke alarm system.
Long-life photoelectric smoke alarms must meet the product standards required by the regulations, which are: 

AS 3786:1993 (Australia) or,

An equivalent such as: 

  • UL217 (USA)
  • ULCS531 (Canada)
  • BS5446: Part 1 (United Kingdom)
  • BS EN 14604 (United Kingdom)
  • ISO12239 (International).

The standard should be displayed prominently on the packaging and on the alarm. If in doubt, ask the hardware retailer.

Who keeps smoke alarms working

Both landlords and tenants have responsibilities to keep smoke alarms working.

Landlords must make sure the smoke alarms:

  • are always in good working order
  • are working at the start of each new tenancy, including having working batteries. 

Tenants must replace expired batteries during the tenancy, if there are older-style smoke alarms with replaceable batteries.

In boarding houses landlords must replace expired batteries in the common areas like hallways and kitchens and tenants must replace expired batteries in their rooms.

Tenants must not damage, remove or disconnect a smoke alarm and that includes removing the batteries, unless it is to immediately replace expired batteries. A tenant who does not comply is committing an unlawful act, and may be liable for a penalty of up to $3,000.

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

Landlords have the right to enter a rental home to comply with insulation requirements after 24 hours’ notice between the hours of 8 am and 7 pm.

When to replace smoke alarms and batteries

Smoke alarms must not have passed the manufacturer’s expiry or recommended replacement date. In many cases, the replacement date will appear on the smoke alarm or in the manufacturer’s instructions.

If there is no expiry or recommended replacement date, manufacturing date or other instructions, and the smoke alarm is more than eight years old or its age can’t be determined, it should be replaced to be sure it is compliant.

Existing smoke alarms do not need to be replaced immediately as long as they are working. But when they stop working or pass the manufacturer’s expiry or recommended replacement date, they must be replaced with long-life photoelectric alarms or a hard-wired smoke alarm system as above.

Older-style smoke alarms with replaceable batteries need new batteries immediately if a low battery warning sounds.

Long-life photoelectric smoke alarms do not usually have replaceable batteries, so the whole unit needs to be replaced if a warning sounds.

How to buy smoke alarms

Long-life photoelectric smoke alarms cost around $25 to $50 each.

They are safer and more cost-effective over time than older-style alarms because the batteries do not need to be replaced every 6 to 12 months. This also means the low battery warning will not sound every 6 to 12 months, often in the middle of the night!

The photoelectric smoke alarm must come with a battery that has a lifespan of at least eight years.

Long-life photoelectric smoke alarms are sold at hardware retailers. There are a number of different brands that meet the regulations.

Eventually, long-life photoelectric alarms and hard-wired smoke alarm systems will replace older-style alarms completely in rental homes.

Hard-wired smoke alarm systems are an acceptable alternative. They run off mains electricity with a battery backup.

How to install smoke alarms

All smoke alarms must be properly installed by the landlord or their agent in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions. The landlord should not hand smoke alarms to the tenant to install.

Read the New Zealand Fire Service’s best practice recommendations. (external link)

These illustrations from New Zealand Standard NZS 4514:2009 show best practice for placing smoke alarms in homes depending on their different construction styles.

Fig 5.1a Dead air spaces

NZS 4514:2009 Interconnected smoke alarms for houses © Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, administered by the New Zealand Standards Executive. Published with permission from the New Zealand Standards Executive under copyright licence LN001217 

Fig 5.1b Dead air spaces
Fig 5.1c Dead air spaces
Fig 5.1d Dead air spaces
Fig 5.1e Dead air spaces

If there is a problem

Tenants who have any concerns about smoke alarms should talk to their landlord as a first step. If the parties cannot resolve an issue themselves, there is a disputes resolution process.