Motel owners are being asked to lift their game and use smoke alarms, after a Fair Go viewer complained about the lack of this basic safety feature in a unit she booked.
Rebecca Bangma was travelling for work and returned to her unit to find a smoky mess after a spatula melted in the dish washer.
There was no alarm sounding. No smoke alarms had been fitted in the unit.
Rebecca says she raised it with the motel manager.
"They said that it's a good idea to put smoke alarms in, but they don't have to."
Under the Building Act, anything signed off before 1991 must only meet the building code of its day.
If the building has undergone major renovations and needed a further building consent, that triggers a fire safety catch-up, but there is plenty of wriggle room too.
The building must meet code "… as near as reasonably practicable". It’s up to the local council to decide.
"I just thought it wasn't a good choice really not to have them. It's a safety issue, people are paying to stay there, they should really look after people," Rebecca told Fair Go.
The chair of Accommodation Advisory Council backs the call.
"Generally, I would like to think most accommodation providers are providing a smoke alarm in each room," says Nigel Humphries, who is also a motelier with 20 years in the business behind him.
He admits there is a bit of a loophole in the law, but after speaking to Fair Go he will be pressing for changes in the industry.
"You've got a responsibility. People are staying with you. You've got to look after them. You don’t want your place burning down with someone having an accident in one of your rooms," Mr Humphries says.
In his motel in Te Anau, Mr Humphries has fitted smoke alarms in every room.
At the motel which triggered this complaint, the local council has confirmed it has no power to insist on smoke alarms.
The building has a sprinkler system and manual alarm switches and a fire safety company checks regularly, but in the rooms, there’s nothing to sense smoke and raise the alarm if no one is awake inside.
"When we sleep we lose our sense of smell so you're unlikely to wake up by smelling the smoke and that's why the detector is so important," says Peter Gallagher, the National Risk Manager at Fire & Emergency.
That’s one reason smoke alarms are now required in any newly-built homes and landlords must fit smoke alarms in any rental property, regardless of the age of the building.
"It's about a 40 second advantage by having a smoke detector,” Peter Gallagher says. In a fire, that could be the difference between escaping safely or suffering injury, or death.
Rebecca Bangma says it seems like the law is inconsistent.
"We've got a rental ourselves, so we have to have smoke alarms within three metres of all the bedrooms."
She’d like the law to change, but so far nothing is planned.
Building Minister Jenny Salesa told Fair Go she encourages all building owners to use smoke alarms but would not comment on a law change.
If a business is legally not obliged to fit smoke alarms, that could make it hard to insist on a refund if you arrive at a motel and don’t feel safe because there isn’t a smoke alarm fitted in your room.
Morally, says Nigel Humphries, a motel would do well to let the customer out of a booking in that situation, or just avoid the problem arising.
"You can buy a smoke alarm for ten bucks. It involves a bit of time. I'd really think if they're that concerned about ten dollars every couple of years, there's other issues they’ve got to worry about."
With the industry providing 40 million guest-nights a year to New Zealanders and foreign visitors and with tourism now our biggest export earner, he’s hoping motels get that message and fit smoke alarms.