Landlords 'blatantly refusing' to comply with smoke alarm laws


the story so far

  • 1 NEWS has obtained coronial photos from inside the 100-year-old villa.
  • Landlords now compelled by law to install smoke alarms.
  • Fire Service says a number of landlords "deliberately" refuse to.
  • Fire victim's brother now campaigning to save lives.

Two and a half years after a deadly house fire in Hamilton, one of the victim's brothers is determined to turn the tragedy into a force for good.

It's been three years since a fatal Hamilton fire prompted a change to the law regarding installation of fire alarms in rental homes.
Source: 1 NEWS

Toni Maree Johnston was just 23-years-old when she was killed in a house fire on the night of November 15, 2014.

Forty-five firefighters battled the blaze at 192 Collingwood St for two hours, an inferno that claimed the lives of two others; Connor Swetman, 17, and Jake Hayes, 19.

1 NEWS reporter Chris Chang talks about a fatal house fire in Hamilton and why some property owners are not complying with the life-saving requirement.
Source: Breakfast

At a coronial inquest in February this year, witnesses described hearing screams and seeing "a wall of orange" as the fire raged inside the villa.

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Source: 1 NEWS

But the inquest failed to pinpoint what sparked the couch fire in the downstairs lounge.

Investigators said it was either caused by a discarded cigarette butt, or it was deliberately lit.

The Coroner has released never-before-seen photos to 1 NEWS showing the damage inside the property.

The tragic fire was a catalyst for change, with landlords now required to install smoke alarms in their properties.
Source: 1 NEWS

The images show utter devastation, including a collapsed floor from an upstairs bedroom, caused in part by burning furniture in the downstairs lounge.

Fire investigator Peter Hallett said the incident was the "catalyst" for requiring landlords, by law, to install smoke alarms in rental properties.

But there's frustration that almost one year one from the new legislation, landlords continue to flout the rules.

"We have our operational crews telling us regularly that there's non-compliance of smoke alarms in residential properties," he said.

"MBIE do have an enforcement team, and they are trying to do their best to get their head around that... but there are landlords out there who just blatantly refuse to cooperate or obey the law.

"You have to question their moral compass really. Are they just out there to make money or do they really care about their tenants?"


Since 1 July 2016, the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment has investigated 148 allegations of smoke alarms "not being installed in accordance with the requirements."

"Of these 148 cases, 57 are still ongoing; 82 cases resulted in the required smoke alarms being installed; and in 9 cases the allegation was not substantiated," said Steve Watson, Manager of the Tenancy Compliance & Investigation team.

The 148 cases ranged from landlords who own just one or two properties, to property management firms that manage over 100 properties.

MBIE says it has not yet had to take a landlord to the Tenancy Tribunal for not having smoke alarms installed.

"So far, compliance has been achieved simply by reminding the landlord of the requirements and the consequences of non-compliance."

But the Fire Service isn't satisfied.

"[Landlords] shouldn't need any prompting, but they need prompting time and time again. It just boils down to them making money versus wanting to save lives in many occasions," Hallett said.

MBIE does not have the ability to impose a fine; instead the Tenancy Tribunal can impose exemplary damages of up to $4000 for a landlord failing to meet their requirements.

Greg Johnston, Toni's brother, is desperate for some good to come from the tragedy.

"For landlords, it's more than just a duty of care for the people who are living in the house. It's also a measure that helps the people living in the house to detect fires early," he said.

"There's every real chance that a working smoke alarm could have saved [Toni's] life and it's gut-wrenching, really, to think a $30 smoke alarm could have allowed her that extra time [to get out of the house].

"For other families it's just not worth having that risk in your house. It's not worth going to sleep without working smoke alarms."

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