Bury Property Manager Convicted of Fire Safety Breaches

The property manager of a house in Bury narrowly escaped jail and was ordered to pay almost £15,000 costs for breaching fire safety legislation and putting her tenants at risk.
Bolton Crown Court heard the house, in Rochdale Road, being used as a cannabis farm was a serious aggravating factor in the case – despite there being no evidence the property manager was connected to the cultivation of the drug.
31-year-old Ishrat Arra, of Ormrod Street, Bury, was given two suspended sentences and unpaid work for 12 breaches of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 on Friday, January 10, 2014.

Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service (GMFRS) specialist fire protection officers were asked to visit the three-storey terraced house in both October 2011 and March 2012, by Bury Council Housing Standards officers, who had initially identified it as an unlicensed house in multiple occupancy (HMO).
At an earlier hearing, Arra had admitted six fire safety offences committed in October 2011, but denied committing the same offences in March 2012, relying on the defence that she had taken all reasonable precautions and exercised due diligence – a claim the jury rejected.

An inspection of the house on Friday, October 7, 2011, revealed the property was being used as a HMO, with six separate letting units.
There was no fire alarm in the house and a GMFRS officer found large holes in the ground floor and basement ceilings, which would mean a fire would quickly spread through the upper floors.

None of the rooms had fire doors, so toxic smoke would spread through the house potentially trapping tenants inside.
There was no emergency lighting which is required to ensure people can safely escape in the event of a fire.
GMFRS prohibited the use of the property that day with the exception of one of the ground floor rooms occupied by an elderly tenant. To ensure his safety, fire officers fitted smoke alarms.
The Prohibition Notice was withdrawn when Arra contacted GMFRS to say the house was going to be let to just one family.
But five months later, when both fire and council officers returned, they found the house in the same state and Arra had not carried out any improvement work. There was a family with young children and at least one unrelated adult living in the house.

The house was being used as a cannabis farm where a bypassed electricity meter, high intensity lighting and overloading of sockets significantly increased the risk of fire.
Although Arra is not connected to the cultivation of drugs, officers found rent books that she had signed indicating she was managing the property at the time and visited on a monthly basis.
Arra denied the charges relating to March 2012, telling the court she had no reason to suspect there was anything wrong with the house. She said she had told the tenants they must not sublet and this was in their tenancy agreement, she did not produce a tenancy agreement in court.
But Arra accepted the house was in multiple occupancy and agreed the state of the property put people at risk of death or serious injury if a fire occurred.
Under cross examination by Nicholas Courtney, prosecuting for GMFRS, she admitted that she had not inspected the property and taken no steps to check who was living there.
The jury took less than an hour to find Arra guilty of the six fire safety offences.

Sentencing Arra, His Honour Judge Clayson, the Honoury Recorder of Bolton, told Arra that she had closely avoided a jail sentence. He said: “In October 2011, this property was wholly unsuited as a house of multiple occupancy, there were at least five bedrooms occupied, one by a vulnerable elderly man, this is an aggravating feature.
“In March, nothing had been done to bring the house up to standard, the fact is, you did almost nothing to inspect the property and find out who was living there.
“The property was being used as a cannabis farm – this was not connected to you, but there was various overloading of sockets and bypassing of the electricity meter.

“The illegal use and alterations increased the fire risk and this is a serious aggravating feature along with the fact you had made no inspection between December 2011 and March 2012.”
He sentenced Arra to two months in prison suspended for 18 months and 120 hours unpaid work for the October offences and four months in prison suspended for 18 months and 200 hours of unpaid work for the March offences, with all sentences to run concurrently.
She was ordered to pay GMFRS costs of £14,674.97, within six months.
Assistant County Fire Officer and Director of Prevention and Protection Peter O’Reilly said: “This case should send out a clear message to landlords and property managers that you cannot simply collect rental income and ignore what is going on in your property.
“Fire safety is important and landlords and property managers need to take their fire safety responsibilities seriously.
“On both dates when our officers attended, there were vulnerable members of the community living in the property. The failure to take even basic steps to make this property safe could easily have resulted in a fatality.”

Charges in full
1. That Ishrat Arra, on or before the 7th October 2011, having control of 379 Rochdale Road , Bury, BL9 7BD, failed to safeguard the safety of relevant persons in case of fire by failing to make a suitable and sufficient fire risk assessment pursuant to Article 9(1) of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, which failure placed one or more relevant persons at risk of death or serious injury in case of fire, contrary to Article 32(1)(a) of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005.

2. That Ishrat Arra, on or before the 7th October 2011, having control of 379 Rochdale Road , Bury, BL9 7BD, failed to safeguard the safety of relevant persons in case of fire by failing to take such general fire precautions as were reasonably required to ensure the premises were safe pursuant to Article 8(1)(b) of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, which failure placed one or more relevant persons at risk of death or serious injury in case of fire, contrary to Article 32(1)(a) of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005.

3. That Ishrat Arra, on or before the 7th October 2011, having control of 379 Rochdale Road , Bury, BL9 7BD, failed to safeguard the safety of relevant persons in case of fire by failing to provide an adequate fire warning system pursuant to Article 13(1)(a) of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, which failure placed one or more relevant persons at risk of death or serious injury in case of fire, contrary to Article 32(1)(a) of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005.

4. That Ishrat Arra, on or before the 7th October 2011, having control of 379 Rochdale Road , Bury, BL9 7BD, failed to safeguard the safety of relevant persons in case of fire by failing to ensure that escape routes were kept clear at all times, pursuant to Article 14(1) of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, which failure placed one or more relevant persons at risk of death or serious injury in case of fire, contrary to Article 32(1)(a) of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005.

5. That Ishrat Arra, on or before the 7th October 2011, having control of 379 Rochdale Road , Bury, BL9 7BD, failed to safeguard the safety of relevant persons in case of fire by failing to provide a protected escape route to ensure occupants could evacuate as quickly and safely as possible, pursuant to Article 14(2)(b) of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, which failure placed one or more relevant persons at risk of death or serious injury in case of fire, contrary to Article 32(1)(a) of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005.

6. That Ishrat Arra, on or before the 7th October 2011, having control of 379 Rochdale Road , Bury, BL9 7BD, failed to safeguard the safety of relevant persons in case of fire by failing to failing to provide emergency routes and exits with emergency lighting of adequate intensity in case of failure of normal lighting pursuant to Article 14(2)(h) of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, which failure placed one or more relevant persons at risk of death or serious injury in case of fire, contrary to Article 32(1)(a) of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005.

7. That Ishrat Arra, on or before the 1st March 2012, having control of 379 Rochdale Road , Bury, BL9 7BD, failed to safeguard the safety of relevant persons in case of fire by failing to make a suitable and sufficient fire risk assessment pursuant to Article 9(1) of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, which failure placed one or more relevant persons at risk of death or serious injury in case of fire, contrary to Article 32(1)(a) of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005.

8. That Ishrat Arra, on or before the 1st March 2012, having control of 379 Rochdale Road , Bury, BL9 7BD, failed to safeguard the safety of relevant persons in case of fire by failing to take such general fire precautions as were reasonably required to ensure the premises were safe pursuant to Article 8(1)(b) of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, which failure placed one or more relevant persons at risk of death or serious injury in case of fire, contrary to Article 32(1)(a) of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005.

9. That Ishrat Arra, on or before the 1st March 2012, having control of 379 Rochdale Road , Bury, BL9 7BD, failed to safeguard the safety of relevant persons in case of fire by failing to provide an adequate fire warning system pursuant to Article 13(1)(a) of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, which failure placed one or more relevant persons at risk of death or serious injury in case of fire, contrary to Article 32(1)(a) of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005.

10. That Ishrat Arra, on or before the 1st March 2012, having control of 379 Rochdale Road , Bury, BL9 7BD, failed to safeguard the safety of relevant persons in case of fire by failing to ensure that escape routes were kept clear at all times, pursuant to Article 14(1) of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, which failure placed one or more relevant persons at risk of death or serious injury in case of fire, contrary to Article 32(1)(a) of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005.

11. That Ishrat Arra, on or before the 1st March 2012, having control of 379 Rochdale Road , Bury, BL9 7BD, failed to safeguard the safety of relevant persons in case of fire by failing to provide a protected escape route to ensure occupants could evacuate as quickly and safely as possible, pursuant to Article 14(2)(b) of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, which failure placed one or more relevant persons at risk of death or serious injury in case of fire, contrary to Article 32(1)(a) of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005.

12. That Ishrat Arra, on or before the 1st March 2012, having control of 379 Rochdale Road , Bury, BL9 7BD, failed to safeguard the safety of relevant persons in case of fire by failing to failing to provide emergency routes and exits with emergency lighting of adequate intensity in case of failure of normal lighting pursuant to Article 14(2)(h) of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, which failure placed one or more relevant persons at risk of death or serious injury in case of fire, contrary to Article 32(1)(a) of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005.

Defence – The statutory defence Arra relied on is set out below. This defence creates a reverse burden so the burden of proof lies on the Defendant to prove on the balance of probabilities that they took all reasonable precautions and exercised all due diligence
Defence
“33. Subject to article 32(11), in any proceedings for an offence under this Order, except for a failure to comply with articles 8(1)(a) or 12, it is a defence for the person charged to prove that he took all reasonable precautions and exercised all due diligence to avoid the commission of such an offence. ”