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Crackdown on Norwich landlords aims to prevent fire deaths

Norwich city landlord Michael Billings; Photo: Bill Smith; Copy: Peter Walsh / Court Reporter; For: Archant; Archant é 2010; 01603 772434

Norwich city landlord Michael Billings; Photo: Bill Smith; Copy: Peter Walsh / Court Reporter; For: Archant; Archant é 2010; 01603 772434

Archant é 2010

A major crackdown has been launched to target landlords in two Norwich streets and prevent the repeat of an horrific fire which left a young woman on the brink of death.

Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service and Norwich City Council have joined forces to drive home the message to landlords that the safety of families living in their homes is paramount.

Firefighters and council officers are planning to carry out inspections at rented properties above shops and other businesses in Prince of Wales Road and Magdalen Street.

They want to ensure the flats are not flouting fire and health and safety regulations, which could turn them into death traps.

They have warned landlords they will be prosecuted if inspections in the next couple of months reveal they are not taking safety seriously.

Council bosses have penned letters, in a variety of languages, to people living in flats in those streets urging them to call if they have concerns about the quality of safety standards in their homes.

The crackdown was launched after firefighters on Norwich’s Green Watch rescued 19-year-old Layla Skalli from a burning flat in Magdalen Street in April last year.

Catering student Miss Skalli suffered 80pc burns in the fire and was only given a 1pc chance of survival by doctors at Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital.

Her landlord, Michael Billings, 55, of Barsham, near Beccles, Suffolk, was jailed for 30 months on May 7 at Norwich Crown Court, when he admitted 14 breaches of health and fire safety laws. It was later cut to 21 months after he agreed to pay Miss Skalli £20,000 in compensation.

The safety drive aims to prevent a repeat of that near tragedy and an event was held in Rocco’s in Prince of Wales Road on Thursday to make landlords and business owners aware of their obligations, so they can avoid enforcement action.

Private sector housing and fire officers, as well as representatives from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), were on hand to give advice and, where it was identified that properties are in need of improvement, a programme of work will be drawn up and agreed.

City councillor Brenda Arthur, cabinet member for housing, said: “By working with the fire service, our aim is to make sure that tenants are living in suitable accommodation. We would like to thank the landlords who have come forward and agreed to work with us.

“While enforcement action is something we will not hesitate taking when necessary, we would always want to look at offering to work with people before resorting to this.“

Tim Allison, fire safety advisor at Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service, said: “We hope that by working with landlords in a constructive way, offering advice and guidance, we can make tenants safer.

“This is always our preferred way of working, but if we do need to take enforcement action to ensure people’s safety we will. We are pleased to be working closely with our colleagues at Norwich City Council on this initiative.”

Julian Foster, chairman of the Central Norwich Citizens’ Forum, welcomed the move. He said: “I think the council has gone about this the right way, in giving the landlords the chance to find out about what needs to be done.

“They can then get it done before the inspections and improve safety for the tenants.”
Fourteen landlords attended to find out more about their duties and responsibilities and a further five signed up for the programme of support.

A second appeal has gone out to those who were written to and have not yet made contact with the authorities. They can take advantage of the offer of support and avoid enforcement action by contacting the fire service by Friday, December 10 on 01603 229001.

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