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A renters’ advocacy group and a landlords’ association are united in backing a coroner’s recommendation to legally require landlords to regularly check smoke alarms in rental properties following a fatal house fire.
In February 2022, Simon Peter Scraff, 52, died trying to escape a fire in his rental property in Alfredton.
Coroner Paul Lawrie last week found the unit did not have a smoke alarm installed.
Victorian law requires smoke alarms to be installed in all residential dwellings.
But the law does not require landlords to ensure smoke alarms are correctly installed and tested regularly for tenancies entered before March 29, 2021, or for fixed-term agreements of more than five years that became periodic tenancies after that date.
Tenants Victoria director of client services Amy Frew supported the coroner’s recommendation to change the law and backdate the requirements to include all tenancies.
“[Simon Scraff’s death] is a tragic story and highlights the inequities in rental properties,” she said.
Mr Scraff was on a periodic lease from December 20, 2020.
Change ‘would not burden landlords’
The coroner recommended the Residential Tenancies Act be amended so that all rental providers had to ensure working smoking alarms were installed and regularly tested, including retrospectively to include leases that commenced before March 29, 2021.
According to Residential Tenancies Bond Authority data included in the coroner’s report, 43.5 per cent of rental property leases did not require the landlords to check smoke alarms.
“Almost half of renters are on existing rental agreements [that commenced before March 29, 2021]. This means that protection that’s put into the rental agreement doesn’t apply to those rentals, which is really concerning,” Ms Frew said.
Property Investment Professionals of Australia deputy chair Richard Crabb said a law change would be a proactive step towards better safety for renters.
Mr Crabb said a change would supplement other laws, including the requirement introduced in 1997 for all homes to have fire alarms, and the amendment made for tenancies begun after March 2021 to have a fire alarm.
He said it would bring uniformity across all tenancies.
The law change would not burden landlords and it would mean all landlords would be required to follow the same laws, Mr Crabb said.
“Yes, it’s an extra requirement, but most property landlords are already complying with that and doing the annual compliance checks which are required,” he said.
“It’s important to balance both sides, but those key safety recommendations are critical.”
Laws being monitored by state government
In a statement, a spokesperson for the Minister for Consumer Affairs and Government Services Gabrielle Williams said all residential dwellings, including rented properties, were required to have a working smoke alarm under the Building Regulations Act 2018.
The spokesperson said the current smoke alarm safety requirements for rental properties were being monitored to ensure they were fit for purpose.
Ms Frew said anyone without a fire alarm in their rental should contact their landlord and had the option to lodge an urgent repairs request with VCAT.
Originally Published: Jean Bell | ABC News | 14th November 2023
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