Landmark case as landlord jailed for leaving tenants in fire danger

Burning House

A landlord has been jailed for four months and landed with a £10,000 bill after leaving his tenants in danger of fire.

The sentence seems unusual in that it has not been imposed after any actual fire, and could be a sign that some courts are ready to take a significantly harder line over breaches where there has been no outcome. Previous cases have generally concerned inspections of properties only after blazes and, inevitably, tragedies where tenants have been unable to escape.

The sentence compares with the six-month suspended jail sentence handed out to a landlord where two men perished at a fire in the east London property. In that case, Muhammad Ashraf pleaded guilty to four fire safety offences and was also handed 200 hours of community service and ordered to pay over £22,000. Two tenants, Thomas McCann and Hamza Zulfiqar died in the property which London Fire Brigade subsequently found had no fire detectors, smoke alarms or firefighting equipment, while the only escape route was through the front door – which needed a key to be opened.

By contrast, Ishaq Hussein, a landlord of 30 years, was last week jailed for four months for a string of offences, including blocked escape routes.

Reading Borough Council instructed the Royal Berkshire Fire and Rescue Service to conduct a full investigation of a property owed by Hussein in November last year.

As well as blocked fire escapes, communal electrical items had not been certified and there were trip-hazardous carpets.

Hussein was served an enforcement notice which required all the breaches to be rectified within six months but he appeared at Reading Crown Court after admitting to 12 breaches of fire safety regulations.

Hussein, 58, admitted all of them. He was sentenced to four months imprisonment on each count, to run concurrently, and ordered to pay costs of £9,876.

Judge Alexia Durran said that Hussein’s experience as a landlord and his blatant disregard for the particular property had forced her to send him to prison.

She said: “The consequences to the occupants could have been devastating either because they did not have significant warning of a fire, or if they did they would be unable to escape.

“I am dealing with a case with a number of breaches and those breaches persisted for some significant period of time by a landlord of some considerable experience.

“It seems to me you were putting profit before safety.”

Housing lawyer Tessa Shepperson told EYE: “This case should be seen as a clear message to the landlord community that the courts will no longer tolerate breaches of health and safety legislation. Certainly not by experienced landlords such as the landlord in this case.

“In the past the courts have often been criticised for handing down what many consider to be inadequate sentences for this type of thing.

“It looks as if rogue landlords will no longer be able to count on this – which  is, in my view, a welcome development.”

David Walden, Royal Berkshire Fire Authority’s fire safety legal support manager, said: “As this case strongly illustrates, complying with fire safety legislation is not optional.  Failure to do so can put people’s lives at risk, particularly in premises where they sleep and are therefore potentially even more vulnerable to fire.

“I hope that this case shows that people who have responsibilities to meet fire safety obligations but fail to do so face severe penalties – not just financial but, as in this example, potentially custodial sentences as well.”

The local newspaper report of the Reading case is here