Sunday, 15 November 2009

RCT secures first of its kind prosecution

Owners who allowed tenants to continue living in their building after it was effectively “closed” by health and fire experts because of the danger it posed, have been prosecuted.

Rhondda Cynon Taff Council’s Environmental Health Officers (EHOs) had no choice but to serve an Emergency Prohibition Order on Washington Buildings, Porth in September last year, because of the genuine risk posed to tenants by a lack of fire escapes and fire precautions. It is believed this is the first prosecution for non compliance in Wales.

They served the order after being called to the property, which was being converted to self-contained flats on the two floors above the furniture showroom, by concerned South Wales Fire and Rescue Service staff, who were undertaking a routine inspection.

The order, issued to owners Topaz Property Management Ltd in Cardiff and tenants, made it clear the building was to be vacated immediately and not used for any purpose until experts deemed it safe to do so.

The following day, officers returned to the property to assess the changes and work needed to ensure Washington Buildings met the high fire safety standards expected of a House in Multiple Occupation.

They were concerned to find a female still living in one of the flats and reminded her, the other tenants and the owners of the order and the legal consequences of it not being followed.

As they continued their work to bring the building back to standard, they were shocked to be called back to the address in December 2008 by fire officers who had dealt with a fire in one of the flats and were treating the female occupant for smoke inhalation.

This incident, and the fact EHOs had also been called to the building between September to December to respond to complaints about household waste left in the garden, left officers with no choice but to charge and prosecute Topaz Property Company Ltd for breach of the Emergency Prohibition Order.

Representatives from the firm attended Pontypridd Magistrates’ Court at the end of last month, where they admitted breaching the order and were fined £1500 and ordered to pay £470 costs.

Andrew Young, Head of Environmental Protection at Rhondda Cynon Taff Council, said: “This is an important case and highlights the responsibility landlords of Houses in Multiple Occupation have, and the standards we expect from them and their properties.

“We are committed to offering the support and advice needed to prevent landlords and owners from ending up in this situation and that free service remains on offer. We would also recommend landlords join the Landlord Accreditation Wales Scheme.

“In this case, we had no choice but to immediately close the premises due to the genuine threat presented to its tenants by the insufficient fire detection and precaution measures.

“We expected that legal order to be followed and were committed to working with the owners to ensure the necessary measures were put in place to allow the building to be ready for safe use.

“However, the order was not followed and tenants were allowed to remain in the building, so we had no choice but to prosecute. I hope this warns landlords and owners we are serious about this and urge them to make contact with us so we can work with them and ensure their properties are the best they can be.”

Because the property comprises self contained flats it is not subject to the Housing Act requirement to be licensed but nevertheless needs to maintain high standards.

The lack of fire detection and precautions that led to the Prohibition Order were:
  • No fire alarm or emergency lighting
  • The staircase from the upper floors to the ground floor shop area presents a hazard as an inadequate means of escape in the event of fire.
  • The existing final door out of the building from the ground floor shop requires a key to exit and there is no other alternative means of escape.
  • The staircase is not a protected staircase
  • No hot and cold smoke seals or self-closers were fitted to the flat doors.
  • Building work was ongoing while the property was occupied, leading to the main staircase being used as a makeshift canteen with facilities to make hot drinks. Tools were also left lying around, which could impede escape in an emergency.


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