Campus Watch turns up heat on fire safety in flats

Landlords should be responsible for ensuring working smoke alarms in student flats says Deputy Proctor Andrew Ferguson. The comments come following last week’s flat fire in the 6/60 flat on Castle Street where a fire begun early in the morning and continued to spread unbeknownst to the tenants – who did not have a working fire alarm.

The Deputy Proctor says he thinks flats should be equipped with smoke alarms and it would be his “personal preference” for landlords to take responsibility in maintaining them. 

“My personal preference is if the landlord or someone else other than the students looked after it, but at the end of the day, if you’re living in the house it’s just something you need to be prompted to remember to do and actually do it,” says Mr Ferguson.

Since the tragic Six60 flat fire, Campus Watch has begun distributing fire safety pamphlets to densely populated flatting streets such as Castle Street and Leith Street, with the goal of educating students about the potential risks of not having a working smoke alarm.

“We’ve had Campus Watch staff out in the main flatting areas starting north of the campus around Castle Street, Leith, Howe and that sort of area.”

“[Campus Watch] are handing out the pamphlets that the Fire Service have provided to us, just basically advising them they need to have smoke alarms, they need to check they are working if they have them already and the message is they need to be up in areas that are suitable and they are not to be removed because it is a risk at night if you have a fire.”

The current law, under the Residential Tenancy Act, provides that landlords are responsible for installing one or more working smoke alarms at the beginning of the tenancy and continue to maintain them, including the replacement of batteries.

However, legislative changes arriving on July 1 will change the current requirements for landlords to maintain smoke alarms, placing the onus on the tenants of the property to replace batteries or notify the landlord for replacement. 

In addition, the new laws introduce penalties directed at tenants who interfere with the operation of fire alarms, or other means of escaping fire.

The section reads “It is an unlawful act for tenants to cause or permit any interference with, or to render inoperative, any means of escape from fire – which includes smoke alarms. The maximum fine for this offence is $3,000.”

This article first appeared in Issue 12, 2016.
Posted 10:18am Sunday 22nd May 2016 by Henry Napier.