Companies fined over fatal HMO fire

Companies fined over fatal HMO fire

THE LANDLORD, management agency and agents for an unlicensed house in multiple occupation (HMO) in Southall were prosecuted after a 17 year old girl died from injuries suffered in a fire.

Inside Housing reported on the prosecution of agents Narinder and Joginder Singh, as well as their company Homeseekers and the property’s landlord. All were prosecuted by Ealing Council after the property was not licensed as an HMO, and ‘serious safety failings’ at the property led to the 17 year old girl’s death from injuries sustained in a fire at the property in January 2019.

The building was constructed as a three bedroom semi detached house, but had been illegally converted into a five bedroom HMO, and at the time of the fire it was home to 10 people - including a family five all sleeping in one room. After the fire, council officers assessed the building and found that it lacked ‘even basic fire safety measures’, including no fire alarm or fire doors, no smoke seals on doors and no emergency lighting.

As a consequence, smoke from the fire ‘spread rapidly’ throughout the house and did not trigger any warning for occupants, who suffered smoke inhalation – with the girl’s mother also remaining in hospital to this date having been seriously injured. Two other children were seriously injured as well, but ‘have since recovered’, and the news outlet noted that had the owners and agents applied for an HMO licence the council ‘would have required them to immediately install basic fire safety measures’.

Ealing Council added that this would have included smoke alarms, and had the house been licenced, the council and London Fire Brigade would have consulted and served the agents and landlord with an enforcement notice, which would have required them to ‘install an automatic fire detection system’. It found all three parties responsible for the building ‘culpable and negligent’, and fined all three £120,000 – both of the Singhs, their company and the landlord fined £30,000 respectively.

The landlord paid the fine  - which the council said it was the ‘maximum possible financial penalty under its civil powers’ – and having done so, the landlord ‘now cannot be named’, but the Singhs and Homeseekers ‘initially appealed’. A residential property tribunal in December 2019 found that ‘as has been demonstrated here, neglect can be every bit as harmful as actively bad management, upholding all three maximum penalties – with the deadline for appealing this now passed.

Joanna Camadoo-Rothwell, Ealing Council’s lead member for community safety and inclusion, stated: ‘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.’