A tenant had been cooking in the kitchen and after he had finished cooking and cleaning he retired with his wife for the night. Some hours later, a fire ensued originating from the gas cook top, making its way up to the range hood above. Unfortunately, the tenants had not cleaned the range hood since they had moved in and due to a lack of preventative maintenance and checks on the property, the range hood was full of fats and oils. Of course, fats & oils are accelerants and a terrible new blaze flared up, uncontrollable and life threatening. (Usually on a lease this is stipulated & listed as a responsibility of the tenant to clean the range hood filters.)
The tenants evacuated, calling the fire brigade. The damage was extensive & resulted in the tenants having to move out & the landlord losing 6 months of rent on the property due to the inspection taking time before it was assessed & the actual insurance process, from claim to payout.
I was called first thing in the morning as an emergency call out, attending site with my electrician. We immediately disconnected all power to the light in the kitchen which was full of water from the burst pipes in the ceiling cavity and then disconnected and isolated all power in the unit so no one could get electrocuted.
I cut an access panel in the kitchen ceiling to assess the damage. The fire had spread in the ceiling cavity so extensively that the intensity of the heat melted the hot and cold PVC water pipes. I contacted my plumber to attend the site once I assessed the ceiling cavity and the damage. My plumber attended shortly afterwards and installed a temporary valve for the hot & cold pipes so the water would not continue to leak if the main water valve was turned back on by anyone.
My job was to make the property safe for the insurers to assess and for the property manager and owner to have access. We comprehensively checked everything to ensure there was zero risk on site to anyone.
It was an incredibly unfortunate event that did not have to be such a serious one.
Why a Preventative Maintenance Program is Crucial & Essential
This highlights the crucial need for a Preventative Maintenance Schedule for each property so events like this can not only be minimised but also completely prevented. Perhaps this is something that needs to be paid particular attention as the Property Manager conducts the Ingoing and Outgoing Condition Report as a tenant enters a lease contract and takes up residence at a rental property or vacates the property. Not only was this a serious event, but, of course, there was a massive impact on the landlords bank account and a serious loss of income over half a year recovered quite late in the insurance process by the Landlord. Fortunately, the landlord had a clause in the Insurance Contract for loss of rental income due to fire, etc.
Preventative Maintenance Schedules and Checklists
If, in their maintenance checklist, they had a task of range hood cleaning as part of the checking cycle the extent of the fire damage would have been minimised as there would not have been such a dangerous accelerant present. The tenant would have been able to control the blaze far more readily as it would not have spread so fast and so far.
So, the moral to this story for landlords and property managers?
Top 6 Preventative Maintenance Tips for Property Managers
- Add a field in your Preventative Maintenance Checklist to inspect the filters of the range hood for fat & oil build up when conducting the Ingoing and Outgoing Condition Report and have any maintenance contractors check these things while onsite to maximise their visit if they do have to attend for other reasons. (Legally in Australia there can be up to 4 inspections per year on a property as we understand the law.)
- All flexi hoses in the toilet, sinks, basins, vanity, kitchen and laundry must be replaced every 5 (five) years and it is necessary that each hot and cold flexi hose have a cock valve installed because in the time of an emergency most people, if they have not been shown where the main water valve for the property is located by the property manager during site induction, will not be able to act in time to stop a significant flood event. The cock valve is a physical valve that needs to be manually turned off and turned on and allows you to shut off the water supply without shutting of the main water. It acts like a water flow valve, you can adjust the amount of water flow coming through the cock valve.
- If you are buying a cock valve at Bunnings or any plumbing supplier, it would be called a Mini Cistern Cock. This 1/2 inch chrome valve is interchangeable with toilets, sinks, basins & vanities, kitchens and laundries.
- IMPORTANT: In some cases warranty is voided on flexi hoses if a mini cock valve was not installed at the time of the flexi hose being installed (note, this depends entirely on the flexi hose supply company/flip mixer tap company – if there has been Preventative Maintenance performed as a flexi hose can be replaced at any time, this does not mean the tap is the same age as the flexi hose.)
- Hoses cannot be kinked during installation because the expansion and contraction for the water pressure will reduce the life of the flexi hose and would cause the flexi hose to crack, resulting in water leaking and spraying; that is, water leaks.
- A cock valve looks like this:
- Cheap is not always best and safe – trying not to spend money on what you may believe is not necessary (preventative maintenance checks) is a false economy in the long run.
- Don’t cut corners on repairs and preventative maintenance inspections & their works & have the preventative maintenance checks managed & done for you regularly by a Preventative Maintenance Company.
- Always review your property maintenance insurance to ensure it is up to date and covers you extensively and for the most important things – fire, flood, theft, vandalism, loss of rent.
- Also note, when a smoke alarm is beeping, the backup battery may be flat. The majority of smoke alarms are hard-wired to an electrical circuit. The battery is a safety backup precaution. Smoke alarms must be checked by law every 6 months.