19 Apr 2021
A property company and its sole director landlord have been convicted and ordered to pay more than £50,000 in fines and legal costs.
Francis Investments (East Anglia) Limited, based in Ipswich, and the company’s sole director and owner of the property, Ralph Bernard, were both convicted on 10 charges.
An investigation was started into the property by Ipswich council in June 2019 after being alerted to the condition of the building by Suffolk Fire and Rescue Service who had attended an incident there and found a range of fire safety concerns including people sleeping in an illegal and unsafe basement flat. An employment agency was also concerned about the number of workers registered at the address.
It was revealed that although planning permission had been granted for the building to be converted to four flats in 1996, the building was actually converted into five flats including a flat in the basement that was specifically prohibited by the council.
Officers also found that the conversion works had not been signed off under Building Regulations and that a range of defects compromised safety in the building.
These included an illegal basement flat that relied on a poorly positioned skylight into the rear yard for natural light and ventilation, electrical defe its throughout, a fire alarm system and communal lighting not working correctl, ventilation and doors not not properly designed to protect the fire escape route from fire and smoke, and leaks and water damage throughout the building
Ipswich Magistrates returned guilty verdicts on 10 of 11 charges for both defendants.
Ralph Bernard was fined a total of £29,000 for 10 convictions. Francis Investments (East Anglia) Limited was fined £7,250. Total costs of £16,836.20 and a victim surcharge of £181 are also payable.
A council spokesman says: “Flats and HMOs play an important role in meeting the housing needs of Ipswich residents. However, they can pose additional risks to the health, safety and wellbeing of residents if they are not properly designed and managed. This case demonstrates that the council will hold to account those who disregard the law and put residents at risk”.