HMO Condemned as Death Trap

Officers from Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) and Highland Council found life-threatening electrical, hygiene and fire safety concerns at the unlicensed house in multiple occupation (HMO) in Inverness.  The Inverness Courier has reported that nine tenants were given four days to pack up and leave their home after it was condemned as a death-trap and their landlord could not be traced.

The premises, Drumdevan House, comprised of an eight-bedroomed listed building, neighbouring summer house and two caravans. The building appears to have fallen into considerable disrepair.

Complaints cited by residents and enforcing authorities included:

  • Exposed bare electrical wires and sockets too close to water sources
  • A defective drainage system which caused sewage to accumulate beneath the caravans
  • No fire detection
  • Inadequate means of escape

The SFRS issued a prohibition notice on 4 February 2016 requiring the tenants to leave Drumdevan House and its outbuildings by the 8 February due to the imminent risk of serious personal injury. Council officers assisted residents in finding alternative temporary accommodation.

Speaking to the Inverness Courier one resident said:

“Wires for the lights in the kitchen were just hanging out and some of the other people staying there complained of plug sockets being far too close to water, although I don’t know where that was myself. The sewage under the caravan was also a big problem.

There can be up to 12 people staying there at a time and some of them are single fathers who had their kids visiting. It’s worrying to think there were children in that environment now that I know how dangerous it was.

The fire service told tenants it was the worst place they have ever seen in Inverness.”

Highland Council also issued an enforcement notice requiring work to be carried out to repair the drainage system. A spokesperson said that the authorities had been unsuccessful in contacting the owner.


HMO risk

Houses in Multiple Occupation are a top priority for enforcing authorities due to the above average fire risk to residents. Government statistics have shown that residents are six times more likely to die in a house fire if they live in an HMO than if they lived in a single family home.

The risk increases the more persons are resident. Some of the factors which make the risk higher are extra cookers and heaters, high fire load, vulnerable occupants, obstructed escape routes and poorly maintained buildings.

An HMO is a building occupied by three or more occupants in more than one household and who share some amenities such as a bathroom, toilet or cooking facilities.

Due to the higher risk and the tendency for standards to be low, landlords of HMOs are required to comply with specific legislation. This requires proper management, prevention of overcrowding, fire safety precautions and more.

Some HMOs need to be licenced and the trigger point for this varies across different local authorities. In Scotland, where Drumdevan House is located, licensing is obligatory for all HMOs. In England and Wales, unless “additional licensing” byelaws apply, licencing is restricted to larger HMOs (those of over three storeys and housing five or more persons from two or more families).

It is a criminal offence to operate an HMO without a licence where one is required. In Scotland the maximum fine is £50,000.