The property manager of a house in Bury has been fined for breaching fire safety regulation and putting her tenants at risk.
Ishrat Arra, of Ormrod Street in Bury, avoided jail but was fined nearly £15,000, given two suspended sentences and unpaid work for 12 breaches of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005.
Bolton Crown Court heard on January 10th that the three-storey house of multiple occupancy, on Rochdale Road, was being used as a cannabis farm. However, there is no indication Ms Arra was connected to the cultivation of the drug.
Bury Council Housing Standards officers requested Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service (GMFRS) specialist fire protection officers visited the premises, who discovered a lack of a smoke alarm, fire doors and emergency lighting.
In addition, large holes were discovered in the ground floor and basement ceilings, which meant a blaze would have been able to spread rapidly throughout the building should one have occurred. The lack of fire doors would have also permitted smoke to travel through the house quickly.
After the inspection in October 2011, GMFRS prohibited the use of the property by anyone except one elderly resident, who had smoke alarms fitted in his ground floor flat by fire officers to ensure his safety. This notice was later withdrawn when the landlady told GMFRS that the building was going to be rented to only one family.
However, the premises were found to be in the same condition five months later in March 2012 – and no improvement work had been carried out. Furthermore, there was a family and at least one other adult living there, who was not related to the family.
It was discovered that the property was being used as a cannabis farm. A bypassed electricity meter, high intensity lighting and overloaded plug sockets heightened the risk of a blaze considerably.
Officers found rent books that had been signed by Ms Arra, which suggest she had been visiting the premises on a monthly basis while this had been occurring – although she is not connected to the production of the drug.
Ms Arra admitted the house was in multiple occupancy and put her tenants’ lives and safety at risk, particularly if a blaze occurred. However, she denied the charges from March 2012 and informed the court she had no cause to suspect anything was wrong with the residency. She insisted she had told the tenants that subletting was not allowed.
It took an hour for Bolton Crown Court to declare Ms Arra guilty. She was ordered to pay GMFRS costs of £14,674.97 within six months and told she had narrowly avoided a jail term.
Assistant county fire officer and director of prevention and protection Peter O’Reilly said: “This case should send out a clear message to landlords and property managers that you cannot simply collect rental income and ignore what is going on in your property.
“Fire safety is important, and landlords and property managers need to take their fire safety responsibilities seriously. On both dates when our officers attended, there were vulnerable members of the community living in the property.”
He added that the failure to take “even basic steps” to ensure the house’s safety could easily have caused a fatality.
Commercial buildings, non-domestic and multi-occupancy premises in England and Wales are already forced to undertake a ‘suitable and sufficient’ fire risk assessment carried out under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005.
While the overwhelming majority of premises do this, if the assessment is thought to have been carried out to an insufficient extent, the Responsible Person can face an unlimited fine or up to two years in prison.