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Damp, dangerous rental house was fire hazard

A husband-and-wife landlord team managing a house of multiple occupation (HMO) in Boston have been ordered to pay almost £27,000 after an appearance at Skegness Magistrates' Court on Friday.

Dr Kola Akindele and his wife Vanessa had denied all 26 charges put to each of them relating to a property at 17 Main Ridge West, Boston. There were found guilty of all charges.

They were both fined £3,250 on each of two charges of running an unlicensed HMO and each fined £500 for not having an adequate fire detection system installed at the house. There was no separate penalty for the other offences. They were also ordered to pay costs of £12,702.80 and £120 victim surcharge.

Dr Akindele chose not to give any evidence.

His wife told the court they divided their time between the Boston property and a house on North Brink, Wisbech, where Dr Akindele practised as a chiropractor. His wife was the office manager and nurse.

Mr Daniel Brayley, prosecuting, said management regulations had not been complied with and there were safety issues contributing to a dangerous household.

Mr Andrew Elcock, a housing enforcement officer from Boston Borough Council, talked the court through a large collection of photographs he had taken at the property. He said they showed water penetration, damp in various rooms through the roof and windows, including an attic room, dangerous electrical fittings including a double socket in a bathroom, exposed wiring and an unprotected old-style fuse board, and other hazards, such as a missing stairs handrail, missing spindle in a staircase balustrade and kitchen fittings kept in unsafe and unsanitary condition.

Mr Graham Almack, a Lincolnshire Fire and Rescue fire safety officer, said the property had no fire doors and no adequate fire detection system. He said the standard wooden doors fitted throughout the property would last just a few minutes in a fire. He rated the property at the higher end of risk. Mr Elcock said a fire door would give 30 minutes protection. 

Mr Almack said the main escape route from the property in the event of a fire was not protected and that combustible materials were stored in one room.

Mrs Akindele said the photographs shown to the magistrates made the property look much worse than it really was. 

She said the property was "a business" and added: "It is a lovely, old house. Very, very pretty. The doors are really thick. I didn't think there was anything wrong with them." 

She blamed the tidal flooding of December 5, 2013, for the damp problems, saying she had been told water ingress through a flat roof could not be cured until the better weather of spring or summer arrived. All the offences were committed on May 21, 2014.

She agreed there was no linked fire detection system. Mr Almack said there was just one smoke alarm at the house. Mrs Akindele disagreed, saying there were six. Mr Almack said he had an emergency pack of smoke detectors with him when he visited, and these were installed to save closing the property down immediately.

Mrs Akindele agreed the property had not been licensed as an HMO, saying she did not know it had to be. She said there were five tenants - one living in an attic room - and they shared facilities. 

She also agreed there were no fire doors with automatic closures and heatproof expanding fire strips, that combustible items stored in one room included mattresses. She said she had not seen some of the other hazards and had never seen anything plugged into the double socket in the shared bathroom.

Mr William Powell, defending, told the magistrates: "It's become a mess for a whole variety of reasons. Too many factors have gone wrong."

He said there was no serious defence to be advanced. He said the damp was a product of "the storm" and could only be attended to when there was better weather. He said there had also been a delay caused by an enforcement notice served by the council which the Akindeles had appealed against. He said cooperation ran into difficulties "otherwise a great deal of this might have been avoided".

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He said the Akindele's grade two star-listed property in Wisbech had been damaged by fire and they were under insured and they were likely to be insolvent in the future. He said they were saddled with significant debt.

Presiding magistrate Mr Kevin Moody told Mrs Akindele: "We do not accept your version of how the property came to be in this condition.

"The seriousness comes from not what did happen but what could have happened. People could have been seriously injured or even died."