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Smoke Alarm Compliance – Time to Act

The Queensland State Governments introduced new Smoke Alarm laws which came into effect on 1 January 2017. The new laws were developed following the recommendations made after the 2011 fatal house fire at Slacks Creek in Brisbane’s south, which tragically claimed 11 lives including 8 children. The full coroners report can be read Here.

Almost 3 years into the new legislation and there has been little action taken to plan ahead for the significant smoke alarm upgrades by the deadline, despite many strata schemes likely requiring a special levy to be raised if upgrade costs are not planned.

To learn about the specific requirements to achieve smoke alarm compliance (ensuring the safety of all occupants) by the looming deadline and how to plan for group works in a strata building with potential to gain cost savings, read on.

The legislation specifies that all homes in Queensland must be fitted with photoelectric, interconnected smoke alarms in all bedrooms and hallways. Photoelectric smoke alarms are more advanced at detecting smoke from smouldering fires, compared to ionisation smoke alarms. The interconnectivity function ensures that if one smoke alarm is triggered, all smoke alarms in the premises will sound, quickly alerting all occupants to the danger.

Below we have provided the answer to a number of common questions surrounding the new smoke alarm legislation.

 

 Is my smoke alarm photoelectric? 

To ascertain if you have a photoelectric smoke alarm, look on the front, back or inside of your alarm for the words ‘photoelectric’, ‘optical’, ‘photo optical’, or the letter ‘P’. If your smoke alarm does not contain any of these, it should be replaced with a photoelectric smoke alarm.

 

What types of photoelectric smoke alarms are there? 

You can either have your smoke alarm hardwired into your home’s electrical wiring, or have it powered by a tamper proof, 10-year lithium battery. All smoke alarm systems must be interconnected to comply with the new legislation and will need to be fitted and tested by a qualified electrician.

 

Can I have both hardwired and wireless smoke alarms? 

The legislation allows for a combination of hardwired and wireless smoke alarms systems, as long as they meet the criteria of interconnectivity. Hardwired smoke alarms are interconnected by the household wiring, while battery-powered smoke alarms can be interconnected by wiring, or wireless radio technology. Check with your smoke alarm manufacturer, distributer, or electrical contractor to see if your smoke alarm is compatible with interconnection.

 

Where will smoke alarms need to be installed? 

The legislation specifies that photoelectric, interconnected smoke alarms must be installed on each storey, each bedroom, and hallways that connect bedrooms to the rest of the dwelling. If there are no hallways, they must be installed between the bedroom and other parts of the storey, and if there are no bedrooms on a storey, at least one smoke alarm must be installed in the most likely path of travel to exit the dwelling.

 

When do I need to have the new smoke alarms installed by? 

All domestic properties leased and sold are to comply with the new legislation within five years (2022), while homeowners have up to 10 years (2027) to install the new alarms. All properties built or undergoing major renovations must comply with the new legislation after January 1, 2017 (this also applies to building applications).

 

What about new or replacing existing smoke alarms?

Any smoke alarm being installed or existing smoke alarm being replaced from 1 January 2017, must also be a photoelectric smoke alarm, which complies with Australian Standard 3786.

 

Who is responsible for compliance? 

There are already concerns from suppliers and the Queensland Fire and Emergency Service (QFES), about a lack of awareness of the 2022 deadline that will apply to approximately 550,000 rental properties in QLD. In the case of strata buildings, there is ever greater concerns that compliance will be left to the individual owners who may ignore the legislation, putting the entire building at risk.

 

The QFES does not differentiate between separate owners in strata buildings when enforcing fire safety laws and therefore it is the Body Corporate who is responsible for ensuring its unit owners comply by the deadline, despite who is responsible for the cost. The fine will be issued to the Body Corporate who will then need to pursue any non-compliant owners direct.

 

How can my Body Corporate achieve compliance?

Being proactive will reduce the added cost that will inevitably occur when demand for compliant smoke alarms outstrips the available supply and qualified installers. There is also the potential for special levies if the Body Corporate is required to supply the service to owners who decide not to act, jeopardising compliance for the entire building. Recovery of costs from any individual owners will then need to be pursued by the Body Corporate after paying up-front to gain compliance.

 

Replacement can be completed by individual owners (or their service provider) at their own cost, who should then be requested to provide written confirmation and evidence that they have made the changes needed. The alternative (recommended) option is for the Body Corporate to offer to complete the smoke alarm changes for all owners and recover the associated costs by agreement.

 

Supply of service has the likely outcome of 100% compliance and cost recovery relative to owners specific smoke alarm requirements, group savings due to volume and coordinated installation reducing inconvenience. To learn more about supply of service to owners, please read the previously published article detailing the process Here.

 

A word of caution, a project of this type will require substantially planning and a general meeting of the Body Corporate due to the likely cost of supplying all units with new smoke alarms exceeding Committee spending limits. Therefore, act now and don’t leave it until its too late to plan or negotiate with suppliers of smoke alarms and unit owners who need to be informed about the compliance requirements of the entire building.

 

This article was contributed by Grant Mifsud, PartnerArchers the Strata Professionals

Leave a Reply

  1. Brian

    Very useful information to allow planning of action required

  2. Peter Hayes

    To Grant Mifsud. Grant, where some units in a complex are rented out and others are owner-occupied, does this mean that the rented units must be compliant by 1/1/22 and the owner-occupied by 1/1/27?

    1. Grant Mifsud

      Hi Peter, You are correct. There are 2 separate deadlines for tenanted and owner occupied properties. Early compliance for the owner occupied properties to align with the tenanted properties is voluntary.

  3. glen wesala

    what is the source of the statement “The QFES does not differentiate between separate owners in strata buildings when enforcing fire safety laws and therefore it is the Body Corporate who is responsible for ensuring its unit owners comply by the deadline”

  4. Grant Mifsud

    Hi Glen, A contact I have at the QFES advised of this stance when I was researching the content for this article. This is the same basis for false alarm charges which are issued to the building despite most originating from an individual unit.

    1. Anne

      So in a strata owner occupiers it is 2027 and rentals 2022. Just clarifying what I am reading.

  5. Grant Mifsud

    Today Strata Community Association QLD has issued the below alert following consultation with the QFES whcih I hope clarifies any questions generated from this article:

    “A Q&A with the Queensland Fire and Emergency Services

    Three years ago, on 1 January 2017, Queensland’s new smoke alarm legislation came into effect.

    The legislation specified that all Queensland dwellings are required to have interconnected photoelectric smoke alarms in all bedrooms, in hallways that connect bedrooms with the rest of the dwelling and on every level.

    As more and more questions arise from the insufficient legislation, SCA (Qld) reached out to the Commissioner of the Queensland Fire and Emergency Services (QFES) to clarify responsibilities and obligations. Further issues are being addressed in a meeting with the Manager of the Compliance and Prosecution Unit of QFES in 2 weeks time. Email us your concerns and questions.

    Overview

    The 10-year phased rollout of interconnected photoelectric smoke alarms in Queensland will happen over three specific periods.

    To comply with legislation, interconnected photoelectric smoke alarms are required:
    • From 1 January 2017: in all new dwellings and substantially renovated dwellings (this applies to building applications submitted from 1 January 2017).
    • From 1 January 2022: in all domestic dwellings leased and sold.
    • From 1 January 2027: in all other domestic dwellings.

    Q & A with QFES

    1. Bodies corporate are not mentioned in the Fire and Emergency Services Act. In which way does the Act lay any responsibility onto schemes i.e. bodies corporate?

    Responsibility for complying with domestic smoke alarm legislation is the responsibility of the owner of a dwelling, not a body corporate.

    2. ‘Dwellings’ in the Act are houses, townhouses (Class 1A) and units (Class 2)?

    This is correct. The new smoke alarm legislation refers to all private homes, including Class 1A (houses) and Class 2 (units).

    3. The Act refers to ‘owner’ or ‘landlord’ as the person who is responsible for meeting the smoke alarm obligations. Is this correct?

    This is correct. The owner or landlord of a dwelling is the responsible identity.

    4. The interconnection requirement in the Act means that each of the smoke alarms have to be interconnected within the same house/unit. This would place the responsibility on the owner of the individual dwelling/unit. Is this correct?

    This is correct. The owner or landlord of a dwelling is the responsible identity.

    5. Are the lots intended to be interconnected given there are multiple owners in a strata scheme?

    Smoke alarms are only required to be interconnected within individual dwellings.

    6. If the body corporate designs a system where all of the smoke alarms were interconnected through common property and the body corporate exercised control over that system, then it is likely that the body corporate would be responsible for maintenance of the smoke alarms in the individual lots. Is that the intention of the Act?

    There is no provision in the act regarding a body corporate electing to design a system. As such the body corporate would be making that decision outside of the requirement of the smoke alarm legislation.

    7.There are two basic types of early warning fire systems available.

    a. “Stand-alone detectors” – are confined to warning the occupants of the residential unit only. These do not alert other units of report to a central building monitoring board or alert QFES. Does the Act place responsibility on the unit owner for the installation/upgrading of these?

    The owner of a sole occupancy unit is responsible for the installation of smoke alarms, not smoke detectors as part of an addressable smoke detection system.

    QFES may have advised to some bodies corporate that the body corporate should manage the installation, collecting the funds etc. to achieve a consistent complaint result at the best possible cost. This has not been publicly advised, hence there is some confusion in the sector.

    A body corporate may elect to manage the upgrading of smoke alarms within a strata complex to achieve consistency, however, this would be achieved via the bodies corporate normal business processes.

    b. “Hard-wired addressable detectors” – in certain buildings these are installed throughout the common property and may also be installed within the residential unit and report to a central monitoring board and in most cases to QFES. Provided these comply with the applicable standard they do not require additional works but are required to be correctly maintained. These systems are the responsibility of the body corporate to maintain correctly and in entirety. Part of this maintenance is the periodic testing and possible replacement of detectors within the residential units. Issues often arise where the contractor cannot gain access to some units in order to conduct this maintenance.Who is the party responsible to gain access? Is it the fire contractor, the lot owner or the body corporate?

    The body corporate is responsible for the maintenance of fire detection systems required by the Building Codes Australia (BCA). There should be no change to the current arrangements that a body corporate has in place to gain entry.

    If this testing does not occur, is the body corporate or the lot owner in breach of the Act?

    The body corporate is the responsible identity and would be in breach.

    8. On that topic, the same issue has been found with the requirements for sprinklers and even more so for servicing of fire-rated entry doors where the requirement is 100% of fire doors every year in residential buildingsWho is the party responsible to gain access to service the sprinklers? Is it the fire contractor, the lot owner or the body corporate? If the sprinklers are not serviced as required is the body corporate or the lot owner in breach of the Act?

    The body corporate as the managing agent would be responsible for the maintenance and testing of a prescribed fire safety system such as a sprinkler system.

    Are the fire doors, if within an individually owned lot, and where the lot owner does not give access, the liability of the body corporate or the lot owner?

    The body corporate as the managing agent would be responsible for the maintenance and testing of a prescribed fire safety system such as a fire door. The body corporate is given regulatory powers to manage and maintain the common property. Fire doors to sole occupancy units are considered to be part of the common property and as such the body corporate is responsible for their maintenance and testing.”