Hidden bedsits danger warning

PEOPLE in Felixstowe's bedsit-land were today told to shop their landlords as they could be living in danger if fire safety measures are not up to scratch.

PEOPLE in Felixstowe's bedsit-land were today told to shop their landlords as they could be living in danger if fire safety measures are not up to scratch.

Residents of flats, bedsits and student accommodation were urged to check their homes are registered – and that they have been inspected by housing experts.

Councillors are worried there is no system to identify which houses have been converted illegally, and it could mean dozens are living in properties which have not had sprinklers, alarms, fire doors and walls, or escapes installed.

Eighteen months ago teenagers Will Stokes and Rob Giles died when fire swept through the top-floor flat they were staying in, at a property in Holland Road, which had been converted without permission.

The government is now bringing in new housing laws which will insist all high-risk multiple occupation houses, and many smaller properties, too, will have to be licensed and equipped with high standard fire cover.

But Mayor of Felixstowe Malcolm Minns has voiced concern that the new law will only apply and be effective if the converted houses can be identified.

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"I am very concerned – how do you identify which properties have been converted if they have not applied for permission?" said Mr Minns.

"There is no foolproof system to identify them to see whether they meet the regulations. It is a great worry."

Deputy mayor Doreen Savage said: "Unless we can identify these properties it will not help people's safety.

"There could be numerous properties being used in this way – converted to flats or bedsits – but they cannot be inspected because they are not registered.

"They are running a great risk by not registering and if there is a fire which causes loss of life or injury they will face enormous trouble."

A spokesman for Suffolk Coastal said the council could not identify properties converted without consent but urged residents worried about their standard of accommodation to contact the council to check registration.

The council would then be able to inspect and insist upon fire precautions.

"We would say to people, 'Help us to help you'. If there are landlords wanting to convert their properties and who might be unaware of the regulations, we could also provide advice and information," he added.

Will Stokes, 19, and Rob Giles, 18, never woke up as the blaze – caused by either a candle or a faulty TV set – took hold and smoke engulfed their room.

Even though the landlord was told when he bought the property that it could not be bedsits, he still went ahead and converted it and rented out rooms.

But he failed to put in proper fire escapes to the upper floors or to put in place a number of other safety measures.

Because of loopholes in the planning and housing laws, there are no grounds on which the landlord could be prosecuted.

n What do you think – what safety measures are needed? Write to Evening Star Letters, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN, or e-mail EveningStarLetters@eveningstar.co.uk

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