18 November 2014
North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service has successfully prosecuted a business owner for breaching fire safety regulations at five properties which she ran as houses in multiple occupation (HMO) and guest houses.
Yoko Banks pleaded guilty to 15 breaches of articles contained in the Fire Safety Order. She was fined a total of £50,000 and also ordered to pay £12,000 prosecution costs.
Issues found at the properties included a lack of functioning fire alarms and detection systems, no suitable Fire Risk Assessments in place, inadequate fire separation and no records of alarm and emergency lightning tests being carried out. Fire doors were insufficient and poorly maintained, escape routes were blocked and combustible items were being stored at the properties.
Fire crews were called out to her properties four times in 2013 in response to 999 calls. On one occasion, a cannabis cultivation operation was discovered on the premises.
Despite having advised the Fire Authority in writing that she intended to comply with the fire safety requirements, inspections found that all five properties of Mrs Banks’ properties continued to have serious fire safety deficiencies. Mrs Banks was served with five Enforcement Notices and two Prohibition Notices.
North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service were forced to prosecute Mrs Banks because her continued poor management of fire safety meant that the premises were dangerous and her tenants were at risk of injury or death in the event of a fire.
In sentencing, the judge said that despite many visits to the premises by the fire service, Mrs Banks had failed to protect residents and that she had a duty of care to ensure the premises were safe. He also said there had been a marked reluctance to comply with the regulations probably because of financial reasons.
Commercial buildings, non-domestic and multi-occupancy premises in England and Wales are already forced to undertake a 'suitable and sufficient' fire risk assessment carried out under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005.
While the overwhelming majority of premises do this, if the assessment is thought to have been carried out to an insufficient extent, the Responsible Person can face an unlimited fine or up to two years in prison.