Landlords should be required to fit smoke alarms on all rental properties and make sure they work properly, Wellington coroner Ian Smith says.
Mr Smith made his recommendation in his report on the death of a two-year-old girl, Mautua Latu-Fagasoaia, who died in a house fire in Porirua in November 2008.
The cause of that fire remained a mystery for almost a year, until an older sister admitted she had been playing with matches in a bedroom on the day of the fire in Hereford St, Cannons Creek.
Mautua's mother, Christina Latu-Fagasoaia, and three other siblings escaped the fire but the toddler died of smoke inhalation. The rented house did not have any smoke alarms.
Mr Smith recommended to the Housing Ministry that the Residential Tenancies Act be changed to make it compulsory for landlords to fit smoke alarms in all rental properties in accordance with Fire Service requirements, and to regularly check that the alarms were in working order.
New Zealand Property Investors Federation president Martin Evans said his members would not object to such a requirement. The alarms cost very little.
The only problem was that some tenants took the batteries out of the alarms, which was illegal, because the law forbade tenants to interfere with the means of escape from a fire.
"Often it's the children who take the batteries, because they have all these battery-operated toys now," he said.
Landlords would be prepared to replace worn-out batteries but should not be expected to keep replacing ones that tenants had taken, Mr Evans said.
The house was demolished and owner John Cheung later built a new house on the site. Mr Cheung told the inquiry that the new house, and seven others he owned, all had smoke alarms.
On the day of the fire, Mr Smith said, some of the family had left the house in the morning. Mrs Latu-Fagasoaia and some of the remaining children went back to sleep.
Mrs Latu-Fagasoaia was woken by her 13-year-old daughter, who had seen smoke coming from the ceiling.
Fierce flames in the rest of the house prevented the occupants from leaving through the doors so they escaped through windows. However, they could not get Mautua out of the house.