News: Suspended prison sentence after HMO fire leaves landlord bankrupt

Tue, 23 Feb 21

A landlord in south west of England has been given a nine month prison sentence, suspended for 18 months, following a serious fire in her HMO.

Just a single smoke alarm was found by Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service officers in the property which housed up to seven people, owned by landlord Nicola Selwood.

The fire, in August 2018, came as a result of Selwood apparently not implementing safety measures the fire service and the local housing authority had informed her to do, back in 2008. 

As a result, the fire destroyed the house - formerly her family home - which is now uninhabitable and leaving her £100K in debt. A statement from the fire service says this leaves the landlord with no income, effectively bankrupting her.

Following the blaze, fire safety officers discovered that Selwood had failed to carry out a fire risk assessment, resulting in the failure to provide a suitable fire warning and detection system, a safe means of escape from the premises adequately protected by fire doors, and emergency escape lighting in case of mains electrical failure.

Due to the severity and extent of fire damage, access to the premises by investigating officers was limited to the ground floor. However, they were able to establish from what remained and the tenants that the only fire safety measure in the house was a single fire detector, located at the base of the stairs.  

As the investigation continued, officers discovered that as far back as 2008 Selwood had received several letters from Taunton Deane council regarding the property and its use as HMO. This included a schedule of the required fire safety work, at which point Selwood informed the council that she was no longer letting out rooms.

When questioned under caution after the 2018 blaze, Selwood confirmed that within a year she had started renting out rooms again for up to seven people at a time and did so up until the time of the fire. 

She confirmed that none of the fire safety works specified in 2008 had been carried out. 

The officers also discovered Selwood had recently spent money on converting the garage at the property to provide additional accommodation. 


Fire safety manager Pete Smith says: “Ms Selwood was fully aware of her responsibilities as a landlady but failed to ensure the safety of her tenants. There is clear evidence that she put profit before safety. 

“She knew that the fire safety measures in the premises were far below an acceptable standard but carried on renting it out for a number of years with no regard of the risks to the tenants.

“I cannot emphasise enough the importance of carrying out a suitable and sufficient fire risk assessment and having the appropriate fire safety measures in place. It is extremely fortunate that the fire occurred during the day when most of the occupants were out. Had the fire started at a time when people were asleep, the outcome could have been very different.”


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