False fire alarms in strata can be annoying and actually quite costly for the owners corporation. In NSW, each call-out for a false fire alarm is charged at $1,600.
As soon as a fire sensor is activated it triggers the automatic fire alarm system that alerts Fire and Rescue NSW. If a fire alarm is later deemed to be a false alarm, Fire and Rescue would normally charge the owners corporate a false fire alarm fee.
Rolling out onto the pavement, in your PJs, after a false fire alarm doesn’t need to happen too many times before the strata committee would act to change the behaviour of some residents.
If residents engage in a reckless or negligent manner, the owners corporation should consider enacting a false fire alarm strata by-law.
Putting the financial burden on residents for reckless behaviour might be the right answer for your building.
Read related: What is the charge for false fire alarms in strata
What can the owners corporation do?
Many owners corporations and their strata committees are not aware that the owners corporation has the power to make a by-law under Section 136, of the Strata Management Act 2015. Section 136 provides for the making of by-laws in relation to the management, administration, control, use or enjoyment of the lots or the common property and lots of a strata scheme.
A false fire alarm strata by-law would:
- Impose an obligation on the owners and occupiers of the lots in the building not to inappropriately activate a fire sensor or trigger a false fire alarm.
- Impose an obligation on the owners of the lots to take reasonable steps to ensure that the occupiers of their lots do not inappropriately activate the fire sensors or trigger false fire alarms in the lots.
- Permit the owners corporation to recover from any owner or occupier of a lot who breaches the by-law any loss it suffers because of that breach including the Fire and Rescue NSW false fire alarm fee.
A false fire alarm strata by-law could read something like this:
An Owner is responsible for the costs associated with damage caused by or attendance by the Fire Brigade, the setting off of a smoke alarm or an alert from any fire protection system on Scheme Land
Read related: Emergency Services Levy Explained
The main causes of false fire alarms in strata
- poor ventilation
- burnt toast
- cooking fumes
- aerosol sprays
- cigarettes and candles
- tradespeople and cleaners
- dirty smoke detectors
- damage to ‘break glass alarms’ or ‘manual call points’
- system malfunction
- poorly-maintained systems
- insufficient maintenance frequency in harsh environments
- insect infestation.
How to avoid false fire alarms in strata
- Be aware of where all alarm detectors are in your home and ensure all reasonable measures are taken to avoid false alarm activation.
- Some smoke detectors are extremely sensitive and steam from showers, smoke from burning food, even sprays from aerosol cans such as deodorant and hair-spray can set them off.
- Ventilate steam and fumes away from smoke detectors, particularly from bathrooms and kitchens.
- Ensure any fans, vents, and if possible windows, are open before cooking or showering.
- Do not leave cooking unattended.
- Do not walk away from a toaster that is in use.
- Do not smoke near smoke detectors.
- Do not use aerosol sprays near smoke detectors.
Fire & Rescue NSW estimate that 97% of automatic fire alarm call-outs are false alarms. This equates to over 45,000 false fire alarm call outs each year.
The owners corporation should consider legal advice to enact a false fire alarm strata by-law.