An investigation is underway into a suspicious fire at an apartment complex in central Auckland on Sunday where the fire alarms had been disabled.
The Fire Service says some building owners are switching off malfunctioning alarms, rather than repairing or replacing them.
Auckland Council's building control manager Ian McCormick says tampering with fire alarms is rare, but council officers act immediately in such cases.
"We've certainly had situations where we've had security officers stationed on every floor for the period of hours until they get those fire safety systems up and running.
"Probably in the last three months we had that type of situation at one commercial property."
Mr McCormick says the council monitors 17,000 commercial buildings whose owners are required to maintain life safety systems including fire alarms.
Police figures show there have been 44 prosecutions nationally for tampering with fire alarms over the past five years.
Landlords with more than two false alarm calls in a year have to pay a $1000 callout fee.
A Fire Service spokesperson says this is to encourage them to get faulty systems fixed before occupants get complacent and don't evacuate buildings quickly.
Tenants could be sued
The Insurance Council says it is the responsibility of landlords to ensure that fire alarms are in working order, but building owners could sue tenants who are negligent.
Chief executive Tim Grafton says failure to ensure fire alarms are in working order could affect insurance cover.
"Negligent tenants may be pursued by their landlord for damage. The onus is on the owner of the building, not on the insurance company, to ensure that the conditions of the policy are complied with."
Mr Grafton says most tenancy agreements include a provision for tenants to pay for damage caused and tenants without their own insurance are taking a risk.
Property Investors Association president Andrew King says owners are obliged to provide and test fire alarms, but it is difficult to stop tenants from tampering with them.