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NEWSFLASH: Property manager fined £60,000 for serious fire safety

4 February 2020

Property managers should take note of a case heard at Leeds Crown Court that highlights the vital importance of ensuring all necessary fire safety precautions are in place in the buildings they manage. Niche Homes Ltd has been heavily fined for breaches of fire safety legislation at Trinity Halls, a student accommodation block in Leeds.

The property manager was among three firms, including building owner Trinity Developments Ltd and contractor APP Construction Ltd, which were ordered to pay fines totalling £670,000. All three pleaded guilty to failure to comply with fire regulation orders.

Students were occupying the ground floor of the building while construction was still in progress on the upper floors. Cassie Williams prosecuting told the court the lack of safety measures on the upper floors could have resulted in the early collapse of the building in the event of fire.

Niche Homes Ltd, which was contracted to manage and let the property, admitted four fire safety breaches:

  • Failure to undertake a suitable and sufficient fire risk assessment.
  • Failure to take precautions to make sure the premises did not present a fire risk.
  • Failure to ensure an appropriate fire detection and alarm system was in place.
  • Failure to ensure there were an appropriate number of fire escape routes and exits.

Leeds Crown Court heard that despite being partially occupied, the building only had one useable fire escape which was being used to store combustible materials, putting the 27 students in residence at risk.

The fire safety issues were raised by a concerned father who was helping his daughter move into her student accommodation. He was so worried by the state of the building that he reported the building to West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service which temporarily closed down the block.

Inspectors found:

  • One of two fire escapes was locked.
  • There was no fire escape signage.
  • Fire doors were without self-closing devices which could have led to fire spreading through the building.
  • The upper floors of the building were still under construction with exposed timbers posing a potential fire risk.

Judge Mairs, hearing the case, described the situation as having the “potential for catastrophe”, drawing attention to the fact that the fire safety breaches were so blatant, even someone with no technical fire safety background could identify them.

During the hearing Niche Property was described as “…a comparative minnow in terms of not only financial worth but also its role in this incident." However, the court judged they were jointly responsible for putting residents at risk of death or serious injury and fined the company £60,000.

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