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Smoke detectors in a New Zealand Independent Retirement Village setting

By: Kevin Thompson




A house fire can kill in less than three minutes. Since you can’t smell smoke when you’re asleep, smoke alarms are essential. Early warning is vital as smoke builds rapidly, making it hard to breathe and find your way out.


With the popularity of lithium batteries, in cell phones, laptops, vacuum cleaners and vehicles early detection of smoke is vital to the quick and safe exit from a home. Independent retirement dwellings:

These dwellings are managed by a village owner for a resident who wishes to retain independent living as opposed to a rest home.

They are typically a stand-alone house or an apartment. Occupants of an independent living opportunity vary in age and come with varying degrees of mobility or medical issues. They range from visually impaired, mobility compromised, or requiring outside home help, to fully fit and functional residents. Most are unable to climb a step ladder to test the alarm or fit a new battery, and some would not know how to.

Those apartments where there a multi storey, are equipped with a lift or have other features which attract the need for a building warrant of fitness, also require a NZ Fire Service approved fire and evacuation scheme, which includes, fire wardens, extinguishers and smoke detectors, but may also require depending on the building/s sprinklers. These are surveyed on an annual basis to maintain the registered scheme.

An independent living house does not require any such features.

Occupation agreement rights vary from one village to another. Some mention smoke detectors specifically and others do not. Traditionally village owners leave the responsibility for smoke detectors to the occupants to manage.

When a dwelling subject to an ORA (Occupancy Right Agreement), changes hands the village owner should check that any smoke detector fitted in the house is a photoelectric type and has a current long life battery. (The date of the battery installation should be recorded by the village owner)

With some villages independent living dwellings are up to 30 years old any may still be equipped with Ionisation alarms which are now banned.

Currently village owners are not bound by the provisions of the Residential Tenancies Act obligations around the supply and maintaining of smoke detectors. Although village owners have a general duty of care towards residents to ensure they are kept safe from things under the control of the village, they are reluctant to take on the ownership of this. This duty of care extends to the insurer of their dwellings to ensure that they are taking all reasonably practicable steps to ensure that the property is protected.

As the residents have only a right to occupy the dwelling the village owner has a responsibility to ensure that the dwelling remains fit for purpose, which includes taking all reasonable practicable steps to ensure that they discharge their duty to the insurer of the property by taking ownership of installing and checking smoke detectors.

Landlord and tenant responsibilities The Residential Tenancies Act requires landlords to replace expired smoke alarms with long-life battery photoelectric smoke alarms that comply with Australian Standard AS 3786 or one of these equivalent standards: UL217, ULCS531, BS5446 Part 1, BS EN 14604 or ISO12239; and be installed according to the manufacturer’s instructions with the replacement date on display.

Residential Tenancies Act 1986 Section 138A: Regulations in respect of smoke alarms (1) The Governor-General may, by Order in Council, make regulations imposing on landlords or tenants requirements in respect of smoke alarms for the purposes of sections 40(1)(ca), 45(1)(ba), 66I(1)(ba), or 66K(1)(ca). (3) The requirements that may be imposed by regulations under this section include the following (for example): (a) requirements that smoke alarms be installed at premises: (b) requirements about the inspection, maintenance, or replacement of smoke alarms that are installed at premises: (c) requirements about the numbers, locations, condition, types, or technical specifications of smoke alarms that are installed at premises and requirements about methods of installation.

Photoelectric smoke alarms are good at detecting both flaming and smouldering fires. They’re the type recommended by Fire and Emergency New Zealand. A few years ago, it was reported that ionisation smoke alarms were much slower at responding to smouldering fires than photoelectric ones. They’ve subsequently been removed from sale in New Zealand. Double-check you’re getting a photoelectric alarm when you buy,

Reported in the News media on Saturday 21 October 2023 was the following article.

One person has been found dead after a house fire at an Auckland retirement village this morning, police say. The fire occurred in a detached house at the St Andrew’s Retirement Village in Glendowie. Emergency responders were called to the home in the complex at 7.45am. One person was “found deceased at the address on Riddell Road,” police said. “Police and FENZ will undertake enquiries to determine the circumstances of the fire.” St Andrew’s Village chief executive Andrew Joyce said: “It is with great sadness that we report the death of a village resident in one of our independent living homes”. It is unknown if the dwelling was fitted with a smoke detector or if the resident had suffered a medical event. This incident has resulted in a fire Service specialist fire investigation and will be the subject of a coroners hearing. The incoming Government have indicated that they will be reviewing the Retirement Villages Act and submissions made on changes to align with the provisions of the Residential Tenancies Act 1986. It is hoped that a common sense approach is adopted and the elderly living in retirement villages are offered the same degree of protection as those living in other rented accommodation scenarios.

Kevin Thompson R’td C.E.O. & Life Member, N.Z.S.C. (New Zealand Safety Council)


Although village owners have a general duty of care towards residents to ensure they are kept safe from things under the control of the village, they are reluctant to take on the ownership of this.



One person has been found dead after a house fire at an Auckland retirement village this morning, police say.




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elocal Digital Edition – January 2024 (#273)

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January 2024 (#273)


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