A residential landlord has been found guilty of fire breaches, despite telling his tenant that they would be responsible for ‘all legal issues’ during the course of their lease.
Dr Mohammed Jahangir Khan Bhatti was found guilty of 4 breaches of the Fire Safety Order following a trial at Burnley Magistrates Court last Friday. The tenant, Embrace Cooperation Ltd also pleaded guilty to 6 offences under the Fire Safety Order after 14 French nationals had been placed in dangerous living accommodation, in Manchester Road, Burnley, in October 2014.
Prosecuting solicitor, Warren Spencer told the Court that the landlord, Dr Bhatti, had been warned by Council representatives, in July 2014, that the premises would require a ‘change of use’ planning application, to be used as shared living accommodation, and that the premises would have to be licensed as an HMO. Dr Bhatti had been told that he would not be able to fulfil the role as licensee as he had previously had his licence revoked in relation to another property.
Nevertheless, Dr Bhatti entered into an assured Shorthold tenancy agreement with a company (Embrace Cooperation Ltd) who placed foreign students in living accommodation when carrying out work placements. During a course of emails, Dr Bhatti had stated that the ‘tenant will be responsible for all legal issues related to the people staying in the property and any matters that need to be dealt with (the) council. Landlord will not be responsible for any issues during the lease.’
Mr Spencer argued that the landlord could not disclaim his legal responsibilities under the Fire Safety Order in that way. He argued that the question for the court was whether or not Dr Bhatti had retained control of the premises to any extent.
Austin Welch, defending Dr Bhatti, stated that the offences had been committed once the students had been placed in the premises, and that Dr Bhatti had had no control over their placement. Mr Welch argued that as Embrace Corporation Ltd had placed the students, aged between 16 and 18, in the premises, they alone were guilty of the offences.
District Judge Clark found that Dr Bhatti had retained control of various aspects of the premises as he had known that the premises were to be used for student accommodation. Accordingly, he had control of the premises, as defined by articles 5 (3) and 5 (4) of the FSO. Dr Bhatti’s employee had retained the key for the fire alarm system and he had retained responsibility for the lack of fire separation, lack of fire doors throughout the premises and the inappropriate final exit doors, all of which required a key. As a person responsible for fire safety Dr Bhatti could not simply divest himself of his fire safety responsibilities by a disclaimer in an email. The Judge found that the four offences were proved against Dr Bhatti, and accepted the basis of the 6 guilty pleas entered on behalf of the Tenant, Embrace.
Sentence was adjourned until 10 February, 2017.

Press Report of this case