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Ipswich landlord and company director hit with £35,000 worth of fines for condition of London Road flats that 'put residents at risk'



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A landlord and a company director have been fined more than £35,000 over a range of safety concerns at flats that 'put residents at risk' in Ipswich.

Francis Investments (East Anglia) Ltd - based in Ipswich's St Helens Street - and the company's sole director and owner of the property, Ralph Bernard, were both convicted of 10 charges related to a house in multiple occupation (HMO).

The trial at Ipswich Magistrates Court on Monday and Tuesday came after Ipswich Borough Council started investigating the London Road property in June 2019 - where they found electrical faults, water damage and an illegal basement flat.

An illegal, basement flat that relied on a poorly positioned skylight into the rear yard for natural light and ventilation was discovered during the investigation. Picture: Ipswich Borough Council
An illegal, basement flat that relied on a poorly positioned skylight into the rear yard for natural light and ventilation was discovered during the investigation. Picture: Ipswich Borough Council

Officers from Suffolk Fire and Rescue Service alerted the council of the building's condition, having attended an incident there and found a range of fire safety concerns, which included people sleeping in an illegal and unsafe basement flat.

An employment agency had also raised concerns 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.

An investigation by Ipswich Borough Council found that there were electrical defects throughout the building. Picture: Ipswich Borough Council
An investigation by Ipswich Borough Council found that there were electrical defects throughout the building. Picture: Ipswich Borough Council

Officers also found the conversion works had not been signed off under Building Regulations and that a range of defects compromised safety in the building.

The borough council's investigation found:

  • An illegal, basement flat that relied on a poorly positioned skylight into the rear yard for natural light and ventilation
  • Electrical defects throughout the building and records of maintenance and testing not provided
  • A fire alarm system and communal lighting not working correctly because it was running on a pre-payment meter
There were also leaks and water damage throughout the building. Picture: Ipswich Borough Council
There were also leaks and water damage throughout the building. Picture: Ipswich Borough Council
  • Ventilation ducts, doors and walls not properly designed to protect the fire escape route from fire and smoke
  • Leaks and water damage throughout the building

Ipswich Magistrates returned guilty verdicts on 10 of 11 charges for both defendants.

Bernard was fined a total of £29,000 for the 10 convictions, and Francis Investments (East Anglia) Ltd was fined £7,250.

They have also been ordered to pay total costs of £16,836.20 and a victim surcharge of £181.

Ian Blofield, head of housing and community services at Ipswich Borough Council, said: “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."

To get the latest updates in ongoing cases, police appeals and criminals put behind bars, click here

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