THE property manager of a house in Bury avoided jail but was ordered to pay almost £15,000 in costs for breaching fire safety legislation and putting her tenants at risk.
Bolton Crown Court heard the Rochdale Road house being used as a cannabis farm, was a serious aggravating factor in the case — although there was no evidence that Ishrat Arra was connected to the cultivation of the drug.
The 31-year-old, of Ormrod Street, Bury, was given two suspended sentences and unpaid work for 12 breaches of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005.
Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service (GMFRS) specialist fire protection officers were asked to visit the three-storey terraced house in October, 2011, and March, 2012, by Bury Council officers who initially identified it as an unlicensed house in multiple occupancy (HMO).
At an earlier hearing, Arra admitted six fire safety offences committed in October, 2011, but denied committing the same offences in March, 2012, relying on the defence she had taken all reasonable precautions and exercised due diligence — a claim a jury rejected.
An inspection of the house in October, 2011, revealed the property was being used as an HMO, with six separate letting units.
There was no fire alarm in the house and a GMFRS officer found large holes in the ground floor and basement ceilings, which would mean a fire would quickly spread through the upper floors. There were no fire doors or emergency lighting.
The fire service prohibited the use of the property with the exception of one of the ground floor rooms occupied by an elderly tenant. To ensure his safety, fire officers fitted smoke alarms.
The prohibition notice was withdrawn when Arra said the house was going to be let to just one family.
Five months later, it was discovered the house was in the same state and Arra had not carried out any improvements. There was a family with young children and at least one unrelated adult living in the house.
The house was being used as a cannabis farm where a bypassed electricity meter, high-intensity lighting and overloading of sockets significantly increased the fire risk.
Although Arra was not connected to the cultivation of drugs, officers found rent books she had signed indicating she was managing the property at the time and visited on a monthly basis.
Arra denied the charges relating to March, 2012, telling the court she had no reason to suspect there was anything wrong with the house.
She said she had told the tenants they must not sub-let and this was in their tenancy agreement.
But she accepted the house was in multiple occupancy and agreed the state of the property put people at risk of death or serious injury if a fire occurred.
Arra was sentenced to two months in prison suspended for 18 months and 120 hours unpaid work for the October offences and four months in prison suspended for 18 months and 200 hours of unpaid work for the March offences, with all sentences to run concurrently.
Arra was ordered to pay the fire service costs of £14,674 within six months.
Assistant county fire officer Peter O’Reilly said, after the hearing: “This case should send out a clear message to landlords and property managers that you cannot simply collect rental income and ignore what is going on in your property.”