Sunday, November 30, 2014
Mike Butler: Landlords and smoke sensors
The Fire Service’s investigation manager Peter Wilding demanded compulsory smoke alarms in rental properties after three young people died in a house fire in Hamilton -- even though it was not known whether there were smoke detectors in that dwelling and what caused that fire.
Wilding’s call brought further demands from the crack-down-on-landlords brigade that not only should landlords install smoke sensors, they should ensure that sensors continue to function and be responsible for replacing batteries.
One extreme sentiment aired was that if there was a house fire death in a rental property and if there was no smoke sensor, the property owner should be charged with murder.
To bring some basic facts into the smoke alarm furore, a check with fire service and housing statistics reveals:
1. A total of 16 fire deaths in 2013.
2. 3205 structure fires in residential houses, flats, home units and apartments during 2013.
3. 1219 of those fires were to do with carelessness with a heat source.
4. Smoke alarms were present at 1220 of those fires.
5. Of those with smoke alarms fitted, 338 alarms failed to operate.
6. The trend is towards fewer fires, with 4287 house fires in 2002 and 28 deaths.
7. New Zealand has 1.7-million occupied dwellings.
8. New Zealand has 1713 professional career firefighters.
These are statistics for all dwellings, not just rental properties. Only 28 percent of dwellings in New Zealand are rental properties.
In other words, fires occurred in 0.002 percent of occupied dwellings, fires are mainly caused by the carelessness of the occupants, 38 percent of those burned dwellings had smoke sensors, and 27 percent of those smoke sensors failed to function.
The main target of fire-safety campaigns should be to urge occupants of all dwellings to take care with the use of heat sources. The Fire Service has produced a number of effective television adverts with that message.
And, with 61 fires a week throughout New Zealand, the 1713 fire fighters throughout the country are not very busy with house fires, so have a lot of time to educate on fire safety.
The hyperbole award in the recent debate would go to Otago University's Housing and Health Research Programme co-director Michael Baker, who breathlessly told Radio New Zealand that: "Poor housing is killing and hospitalising New Zealanders on a grand scale. We have around 250 preventable deaths a year from unintentional injuries around the home with 17,000 hospitalisations and social costs of around $13-billion a year".
To be fair, Baker, a crusading academic who apparently believes regulation and cracking down on landlords would cure all social ills, was talking about all injuries at home, not just those related to fires.
Andrew King, who is the executive officer of the Property Investors Federation, pointed out that even if the landlord is made responsible for installing and maintaining smoke sensors, and even if the battery is replaced during a six-month inspection, there is no way to tell whether that battery will remain in that smoke sensor from the day after the inspection until the next inspection.
at 10:25 AM