Landlord fined over potentially fatal fire in Leyton
A Waltham Forest landlord has been prosecuted and fined following a potentially fatal fire in one of his properties, which highlighted serious issues with overcrowding and inadequate fire precautions.
Officers from Waltham Forest Council were called in to investigate following a serious fire at a property in Ruckholt Road, Leyton, which was started by an electrical fault in a kitchen.
The owner, Mr Fai Lee, 48, of Palmerstone Road, Buckhurst Hill, had licensed the property as a two self-contained flats and stated that each was occupied by a single family. On inspection officers found that both flats were actually in multiple occupation with 14 people living there in total.
Officers also found the property had been poorly converted, with inadequate fire precautions in place. The building suffered severe fire damage due to this, as the inadequate fire precautions failed to contain it.
Taking into account the negligence shown by Mr Lee and his failure to adhere to the conditions of his property licence, the Council took the decision to prosecute him. His case was heard at Thames Magistrates Court on Friday 7 October.
Mr Lee, who owns around 30 addresses in Waltham Forest, pleaded guilty to the charge, and said that he had taken steps to install smoke alarms in all bedrooms within his properties that are rented as homes of multiple occupation (HMO), as well as emergency lighting. He also said that he was hoping to attend one of the Council’s accredited landlord training courses later this year.
The Judge said that Mr Lee had been extremely lucky in the circumstances as somebody could easily have died due to his negligence. He fined Mr Lee £5,000 in total (£2,500 for breach of licence conditions on each flat) and ordered him to pay prosecution costs of £2,092.34 – a total financial penalty of £7092.34.
All of Mr Lee’s properties in Waltham Forest have been subjected to audit checks following the fire. As a result of the conviction all of Mr Lee’s property licences will now also be reviewed.
Cllr Khevyn Limbajee, Cabinet Member for Housing said:
“This landlord showed a shocking lack of regard for the safety of his tenants, and as the Judge said he is lucky that nobody was killed due to his negligence. I am pleased that he has shown commitment to learning from his mistakes, but we will be reviewing all of his property licences to ensure he has the required safety procedures in place.
“We have had an excellent response from landlords to our selective licensing scheme, but it’s not enough to simply obtain the licence. Landlords must adhere to the conditions of their licences, otherwise they face reviews for all their properties or in some cases prosecution.“
London Fire Brigade Borough Commander for Waltham Forest, Jamie Jenkins said:
“Landlords have a responsibility to keep their tenants safe from fire and should never ignore their responsibilities by putting the people living in their properties at risk. The landlord in this case is extremely fortunate that this case did not lead to a loss of life.
“All landlords must make sure there are adequate escape routes in the property that’s being rented out. Depending on the size of the property, they may also have to fit smoke alarms and provide fire extinguishers.
“The sentence handed down to Mr Lee is a stark reminder to landlords that the courts take fire safety as seriously as we do and that the penalties for ignoring it are severe.“
The Council’s Private Rented Property Licensing scheme was introduced in March 2015 to drive up property standards and reduce anti-social behaviour across the borough.
The scheme allows the Council to identify all addresses owned by a single landlord, so they can all be inspected if issues are identified at one of their properties. The Council is also carrying out proactive enforcement of the scheme, including a programme of inspections and action days, in order to ensure compliance and improve standards for tenants.
Since February 2016 the Council has successfully prosecuted 40 private landlords operating in the borough for issues related to licensing.
All privately rented homes in the borough require a licence, unless an exemption applies. A licence costs £650 for a period of up to five years. For more information see www.walthamforest.gov.uk/PRPL. Information about property licensing in Waltham Forest can also be found at www.londonpropertylicensing.co.uk/waltham-forest.
Landlords can also find more information about making properties fire safe and well-maintained by visiting www.london-fire.gov.uk/RentingAndSharing.asp