A PROPERTY manager who risked the lives of vulnerable tenants faces a court bill of more than £10,000 for fire safety breaches.

Charles Thornton manages 26 rented houses in and around York including a property in Fulford where the fire alarm had no battery or fuses, had not been properly maintained and didn't work.

The 60-year-old had also not assessed the fire risk to tenants in the house's two flats, said Karen Galloway, prosecuting for North Yorkshire Fire Authority.

Tenants told fire officers the fire alarm had never worked since they moved in three and a half months earlier.

The fire extinguishers at a rented property off Fishergate had not been serviced or checked for 13 years, said Miss Galloway. Thornton had told officers fire engineers charged too much money.

"Mr Thornton had a very lackadaisical attitude to fire safety," said Miss Galloway. "There is a financial motivation there for Mr Thornton.

"Mr Thornton houses vulnerable tenants, these offences were easily avoidable and he places tenants at risk of death or serious injury."

Charles Thornton, of Knedlington Walk, Howden, pleaded guilty to three fire safety breaches in relation to the first property.

He was fined £7,000, plus £2,933 prosecution costs and a £170 statutory surcharge. He did not comment as he left court.

He earns about £53,000 a year from the letting company.

Defence solicitor Damien Morrison said the properties were owned by Thornton's 83-year-old father Derek or the family business, and said the fire alarm had worked when the most recent tenants moved into the Fulford house.

Since the inspection of the Fulford house, Charles Thornton had spent £20,000 carrying out fire risk assessments at all the family's 26 properties and had had the fire alarm at the Fulford house repaired, he added. He also had paperwork showing the checks he had made regularly in recent months.

"This is not a case of a gentleman who simply doesn't care and simply doesn't do anything at all for this properties," said Mr Morrison.

Miss Galloway said fire officers uncovered the lack of fire safety precautions after a 999 call to the Fulford house on September 4.

Tenants had smelt smoke in its hallway caused by two smouldering electric wires. There was no fire and firefighters from York and Acomb made the house safe.

She said the fire authority decided not to prosecute the father because of his ill health. Mr Morrison made allegations about the father and how he handled the business.

After the hearing, Station Manager, David Watson, of North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service, said: “North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service officers work closely with City of York Council when dealing with fire safety issues involving flats, houses in multiple occupation and shared houses.

“In this case, following the fire incident, it was found that the landlord was responsible for a number of flats across the city. Having good organisation, planning, control and monitoring of fire safety arrangements is essential for any responsible person. Within those fire safety arrangements fire risk assessments and adequate maintenance of fire alarm and detection systems are essential.

“North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service will in most cases give responsible persons chance to comply with the legislation before taking legal proceedings. However, where cases are found where there is risk to life of death or serious injury in the event of fire, prosecution will be considered and where appropriate taken.”

Tom Brittain, City of York Council's assistant director of housing and community safety, said: “We work hard with landlords and letting agents to ensure that they comply with legislation that exists to protect and keep their tenants safe – as well as their properties.

“Besides supporting the investigation and prosecution, we remind landlords to contact us or visit www.york.gov.uk/info/20097/private_landlords_and_tenants for details of their legal responsibilities.” 

North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service would like to remind business owners and landlords that it is important that they are aware of the legislative requirements they need to comply with including having an up to date fire risk assessment.

For other fire safety information call the Fire Safety Advice Line (01609) 788545 or visit our website www.northyorksfire.gov.uk where links to business guidance documents can be found.