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Firefighters had to rescue three people from a smoke-logged three-storey building owned by Haresh Rambhai Patel when a fire broke out.
Other tenants had to clamber out of the back of the building, comprising two properties, in Evington Street, Highfields, Leicester.
A court heard the building contained a total of 11 bedsits, but had no emergency lighting or working smoke alarms.
Emergency exits were blocked, fire doors were missing, left open or jammed and a fire extinguisher in the hall had not been inspected for 25 years.
Patel (57), who has 16 other rental properties in a £2.5 million property portfolio, pleaded guilty to seven offences under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, at Leicester Crown Court.
He will be sentenced next month.
Naomi Gilchrist, prosecuting for Leicestershire Fire and Rescue Service, said: “There was an abject failure on the part of the defendant to address the question of fire safety.
“There was no risk assessment, no evacuation strategy and the alarm system wasn’t working.
“He carried out no checks. He did not have licences to run multiple-occupation houses and because he had no licences he wasn’t on the fire safety register and received no official fire safety visits.”
The court was told Patel, formerly of Southernhay Road, Stoneygate, Leicester, was fined £38,000 by magistrates earlier this year following a separate city council prosecution, for failing to have the necessary licences to run his business.
Miss Gilchrist said at 3.40am on May 8 last year nine tenants were in the building when a fire – possibly caused by an electrical fault – broke out in the kitchen of an unoccupied ground-floor bedsit.
She said: “Firefighters saw fire and smoke coming from the first and second floor.”
One trapped occupant was rescued from the first floor.
Miss Gilchrist said: “The entrance lobby was heavily smoke-logged, with almost nil visibility, so breathing apparatus and thermal imaging equipment were used.
“A divan bed was against a wall blocking an exit.
“Communal doors were open or missing, allowing smoke to quickly spread to other floors.
“A couple had to be rescued from the ground floor, with a woman in bare feet having to be carried to avoid broken glass.
“Other occupants, unable to get out of the front, climbed out of the rear.
“No alarm sounded as the system wasn’t working.
“There were a number of obstructions, furniture and combustible items, in the corridors and exit routes.
“The basement stored car parts and tyres and had the fire spread there would have been significant danger from toxic fumes.
“There were holes in walls which would allow fire to spread and the walls between compartments were not up to the 60-minute standard.
“There was a complete failure of every aspect of fire safety, putting people at risk of serious injury or death.”
An enforcement notice forced Patel to shut down the property and tenants were relocated.
The court heard in interview Patel admitted failing to take any fire safety steps, but sought to blame the local authority for not having told him.
He blamed tenants for leaving clutter and breaking alarms.
Judge Robert Brown asked to see the defendant’s business accounts, but was told only 2010-11 figures were available – and that Patel had not filed his accounts with the Inland Revenue since then.
Alison Downs, mitigating, said the Evington Street bedsits were still unoccupied but the required work and checks were due for completion soon.
She said: “He’s spent £36,000 refurbishing his properties.
“He now carries out fire risk assessments weekly. He knows he has the lives of people to consider and he can’t take risks.”
Sentencing was adjourned and Patel was released on bail.
The charges he admits relate to failing to take general fire precautions to ensure the safety of the premises, which caused a risk of death or serious injury.
He also failed to make a suitable fire risk assessment; failed to make fire safety arrangements; failed to ensure that in the event of danger tenants were able to evacuate quickly and safely; failed to establish appropriate procedures for serious and imminent danger; failed to ensure the premises had safety equipment that was suitably maintained; and failed to ensure anyone was appointed to assist in undertaking preventative and protective measures.