Landlord faces punishment over fire alarm failure

Landlord Expert
By Landlord Expert November 1, 2010 11:00

BAY MP Adrian Sanders' parliamentary battle to introduce laws forcing landlords to fit fire alarms to their properties has been praised by the county's fire chief.

Mr Sanders' Fire Safety (Protection of Tenants) Bill is a direct reaction to last October's Torbay fire tragedy which claimed the lives of young Stephanie Wojak and Ben McAuliffe in a rented home without a fire alarm.

The Bill, which it is estimated could save five lives a week, is due go for its second reading in the House of Commons on November 19.

Mr Sanders, who admitted that getting a private members bill through its second reading is notoriously difficult, said he is already negotiating alternative ways of getting the basis of his Bill turned into law –– or enforced in some other way.

"It's highly unlikely, worded as it is at this stage, that it will get on to the statute book but it is a first step towards tightening up regulations and getting something that will protect lives," he said.

"At the moment I am still discussing with ministers and department officials whether there is a way of making what we want happen."

Meanwhile, Devon & Somerset fire chief Lee Howell said the work by Mr Sanders would ensure something "positive" could be taken from the tragic Ellacombe Church Road fire.

It would also help ensure nationwide consistency, he said, and put in place measures ensuring safety in the home.

He said: "It's incredible to think legislation is not in place already."

The children who died lived in a Riviera Housing Trust home with Gill and Mike Wojak and big brother Ricky, who escaped the blaze but were left with just the clothes they were wearing.

It was later revealed 25 per cent of Riviera Housing Trust's homes — 690 properties — did not have fire alarms at the time.

The trust embarked on a review and installed hard-wired smoke detectors in its properties.

Mr Sanders' Bill calls for it to be a requirement on a public or private landlord to have a working mains alarm in place in each property at the point of a new tenancy. After that point, it would become the responsibility of the tenant to keep it maintained.

He wants the new law to sit alongside existing legal requirements for gas and electricity checks, and an energy performance certificate.

"It is important because we could save up to five lives a week on average which are deaths from fires in domestic properties," he said. "It could also save tens of millions of pound in property damage."

He laid down an Early Day Motion calling for change and it was signed by 56 MPs.

It gained its first reading in June and Mr Sanders will be given 30 minutes in the House of Commons before his Bill is put to the vote.

Mr Howell said: "We have been very supportive of Adrian's campaign. I have personally written to every fire service Chief Fire Officer seeking their support for what he is trying to do and I've urged them to contact their own MPs so they could sign his Early Day Motion.

"The chairman of the fire authority has raised the issue at national level within the Local Government Association and he has also spoken with officials advising fire minister Bob Neil.

"It's now got that professional and political support. In terms of trying to get something positive out of something so tragic, Mr Sanders is certainly on the road to achieving that."

Mr Howell hopes new laws will help create a level playing field — something which does not exist at the moment.

He said: "Legislation will provide a consistency across the country. I know that some housing associations are doing some sterling work already and that shows real leadership and a commitment to the safety of their tenants.

"It's quite incredible that there is no legislation in place already. It has been proved time and time again that working smoke alarms can save lives. It makes such a difference — in some cases a life and death difference.

"It's important to remember that the fire service wants all homes to fit alarms — not just properties rented by social housing providers.

"I also think it also makes good business sense in financial terms: smoke alarms not only reduce serious and fatal incidents but, because they alert people to fires early on, the amount of fire and smoke damage to a home is dramatically reduced.

"It means less money spent on repairing properties and cleaning them up in the aftermath of a fire.

"A legal framework would support the education work the fire service has been doing for many years in making people aware of the fire risks in their homes.

"We wish Mr Sanders luck with the second reading. It would be great for something positive to come from the Ellacombe Church Road tragedy."

Landlord Expert
By Landlord Expert November 1, 2010 11:00

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