A landlord has been fined more than £10,000 after turning a property he owned into what local newspaper the Coventry Telegraph called a ‘death trap’.
Fire crews had to attend a house in Westlea Road in Leamington Spa in January after reports of a blaze in the property containing seven individual bedsits.
On arrival, fire officers found that two doors that should have led out of the communal kitchen – the starting point of the fire – had been taken down by the landlord, named as Manjit Chima.
An outbuilding and a garage had also undergone conversion into bedsits and yet the landlord had failed to ensure that fire escape windows were fitted.
Investigators working on the case discovered that the building’s fire alarm did not sound and it was said that the landlord did not hand over servicing records or have any electric or gas reports when they were requested.
A prosecution was bought by Warwick District Council and the local fire service. Nuneaton Justice Centre magistrates ruled that Mr Chima had failed in his management responsibilities in relation to the property and ordered him to pay a total of £10,744.45 in costs and fines.
Before announcing the magnitude of the fine, Mr Chima was told by the magistrates that the very serious nature of the offences had been taken into account. He was told that his failures in neither providing nor maintaining adequate fire precautions had meant that the lives of his tenants had been put in danger.
The prosecution followed an investigation carried out by the Private Sector Housing Team at Warwick District Council and the Fire Service.
It was found that the previous removal of the kitchen doors by the landlord meant that any fire that started in the kitchen could easily spread to the hallway and stairs, as well as to the rear bedrooms on the ground floor.
Following the hearing, the local portfolio holder for housing and property services, Councillor Peter Phillips, said that most landlords in the area work effectively with the local authority and offer tenants ‘good quality accommodation’. He added, however, that the circumstances surrounding the property in Westlea Road could have ‘easily’ led to ‘a tragic outcome’.
Councillor Phillips said that local authority officers would not shy away from prosecutions if the health and safety of tenants is put in jeopardy as a result of a blatant disregard of the law by any given landlord.
The Westlea Road property was an HMO, a house in multiple occupation, since it was occupied by at least three people who formed at least two households. Properties of this kind typically share bathroom or cooking facilities.
If a property has just two levels, the landlord involved is not required to hold an HMO license but they must still comply with the regulations set out for HMOs.
Fortunately, the tenants in the Westlea Road property managed to get out before the blaze really took hold and suffered only from the effects of smoke inhalation.