History of a private Norwich landlord
David BaleToday is not the first time Michael Billings has been featured in the Evening News.In 1989 the Evening News carried out an in-depth investigation into Norwich's bedsit land, talking to Billings among others.David Bale
Today is not the first time Michael Billings has been featured in the Evening News.
In 1989 the Evening News carried out an in-depth investigation into Norwich's bedsit land, talking to Billings among others. Billings had already made a fortune supplying accommodation to those who have to live in the twilight world of the city.
Then aged 34, Billings was the biggest rooms-for-rent landlord in Norwich, owning more than 100 properties that hauled in rents estimated at �1m annually.
In an interview with the Evening News, he said that his career started in 1978, when he was a young high-earning electrical engineer on the North Sea rigs.
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He bought a property on Cromer Road, three self-contained flats, which he paid �10,000 for. He then put an advert in the paper to let the flats and had about 300 phone calls straightaway, he said.
His business empire multiplied from there.
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But in 1992 the empire was in trouble. Billings, who had debts of nearly �6m, had to continue his business with supervision from an insolvency expert after his rooms-for-rent empire ran into cash problems. We revealed that up to half his 100 flats, houses and hotels could be sold.
Billings' creditors agreed a financial rescue package aimed at putting the business back on its feet in three years.
In 1993 Billings won his fight to keep a controversial bed-and-breakfast business open. Norwich City Council had tried to close down Billing's three-storey block of flats at Chapelfield Court on the north side of the Grapes Hill roundabout. The council had served an enforcement order on Billings because it objected to the loss of housing in the middle of the city and to the increased traffic it thought customers would create. But a Department of the Environment planning inspector over-ruled the council and granted permission for five flats to be converted into bed-and-breakfast accommodation.
In 1994 The Evening News revealed that he was fined �3,350 for putting lives at risk because fire doors in one of his hotels were wedged open. City magistrates fined Billings after hearing that a fire safety officer found five fire doors open during a routine inspection. The court heard that a fire in the basement or first floor of the Riverview Hotel, Yarmouth Road, would have spread rapidly up the main staircase, preventing an escape. Hotel staff had received no training on what to do if a fire broke out.
In 1997 Billings was fined �400 by Norwich magistrates for not servicing a gas water heater.
In 1998 Billings was ordered to pay �6000 for flouting gas appliance guidelines. A court heard Health and Safety Executive inspectors found flues, pipes, fires, cookers and boilers in a serious state of disrepair, putting tenants' lives at risk.
In 2002 a man returned to his flat to find the contents of his home piled up outside and being given away. It happened after a mix-up with his landlord, Billings, which led to the contents being emptied in the front garden and a sign placed on top, which read 'Everything Free'. When contacted by the Evening News Billings said he had nothing to say.