Fatal fire in unlicensed HMO leads to £120,000 penalty for the landlord and managing agent

Sunday, February 9th, 2020 - Ealing Council

A tragic house fire that caused the death of a 17-year old girl could have so easily been avoided.

The three-bedroom semi-detached house in Saxon Road, Southall had been converted into a five-bedroom House in Multiple Occupation (HMO). At the time of the fire in January 2019, the property was occupied by ten people including a family of five people who were all sleeping in one room.

An investigation after the fire found the property lacked even basic fire safety measures. There was no fire alarm system to provide early warning when the fire started and no fire doors to provide the occupants with a safe means of escape. As a result, smoke from the fire spread rapidly through the house, leading to the death of the 17-year old girl and seriously injuring her mother who remains in hospital. Two other children who were seriously injured have since recovered.

At the time of the fire, the property was being occupied as a licensable HMO but no licence application had been submitted. If the landlord had applied for a licence, the council would have required basic fire safety measures to be installed immediately. This would have been followed up by a formal enforcement notice requiring a mains wired automatic fire detection system to be installed.

Satisfied that the owner and their managing agent were all culpable and negligent, Ealing Council imposed the maximum penalty allowed.

The landlord was issued with a civil financial penalty of £30,000.

The managing agents, Homeseekers Ltd of Sussex Road, Southall, were issued with a civil financial penalty of £30,000. In addition, the two company directors, Narinder and Joginder Singh, were each issued with a civil financial penalty of £30,000.

Whilst the landlord accepted and paid his penalty, an appeal was lodged by the managing agents and the two company directors.

In a decision made on 11 December 2019, the Tribunal found that “as has been demonstrated here, neglect can be every bit as harmful as actively bad management” and they upheld all three maximum penalties. The deadline for appealing against the Tribunal decision has now passed.

Councillor Joanna Camadoo-Rothwell, Ealing Council’s lead member for community safety and inclusion said:

The suffering this family has endured is unimaginable and our thoughts are with them at what remains a deeply distressing time in their lives. The safety of our residents is our number one priority, and this shocking case demonstrates the importance of the role councils play in ensuring homes are safe. Our rental property licensing process would have immediately identified that this building was ill-equipped to house people.

A family has been torn apart due to the negligence of this landlord and his agents; the fire would have been contained and minimised if proper procedures had been followed. The harm that arose stemmed directly from the owner and agent’s failure to licence the property, which they deliberately avoided doing because they knew the house was unfit.

The overwhelming majority of landlords and agents in our borough are decent, law-abiding people who play a vital role in the housing market. In this case, however, the landlord and agents showed callous disregard for the safety of their tenants. We will continue to pursue rogue landlords and agents to the fullest extent of the law.

It is understood the family have since bene rehoused in temporary accommodation by the council.

A copy of the appeal decision by the First-tier Tribunal can be found here.

A free guide containing more detailed information about property licensing in the London Borough of Ealing is available here.

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