A ST Andrews flat has been stripped of its HMO licence after a damning fire safety report.
Landlords Michael and Meg McQueen and letting agents Murray Donald Drummond Cook (MDDC) were found to be ‘no longer fit and proper persons’ to hold a licence for 7 Alexandra Place.
The scathing Fife Fire and Rescue Service report detailed a host of hazards in the 10-person student digs, including faulty fire doors, blocked escape routes and out-of-date fire extinguishers.
Councillor David MacDiarmid, who sits on Fife Council’s regulation and licensing committee, said he was “outraged” by the report’s findings — and he fears they are just the tip of the iceberg.
He told the Citizen: “I’ve been on the regulation and licensing committee for four years and, in that time, we’ve never seen a report like this.
“There was no option but to refuse the application for renewal of the licence.
“Fife Fire and Rescue Service deemed this property a fire hazard owing to cookers hanging with grease, combustible materials being strewn about and even automatic door closers being disconnected.”
Fourth-year student Ted Rosner, one of the flat’s seven current occupants, said the group had been warned by previous tenants about the state of the property.
But he added: “We took the flat in full knowledge of that and, to be honest, I wouldn’t suggest it’s any worse than anywhere else in St Andrews.
“I think that’s probably to do with the market and the demand from students for accommodation.
“This seems to have been a communication problem between MDDC and the McQueens.”
Councillor MacDiarmid went on: “It is up to the regulation and licensing committee to protect students from absentee landlords and letting agents that are not up to the mark.
“There must now be a regime set up by Fife Fire and Rescue Service to make sure that HMOs are a high priority for inspection — my great fear is that this inspection is merely the tip of the iceberg.
“No unsafe HMO should be able to slip through the net.”
His comments were echoed by St Andrews councillor and fellow committee member Bill Sangster, who said: “This is one of the worst cases we have had before us so far.
“We have to look at each application individually on its own merits, and taking all of those into consideration the objection to the renewal of this application was upheld.
“It was pointed out to the owner and the agent for this property that they had equal responsibility for the regulations on HMOs to be adhered to.
“I have great concerns that there may be other properties within Fife which may also require further inspection.”
Gordon Cook, a lawyer acting on behalf of the McQueens, said the Pitscottie couple’s position was that MDDC was solely responsible for the upkeep of the flat.
He added: “Mr and Mrs McQueen appointed agents to deal with the letting of this property.
“They consider the agents wholly responsible for the condition it is in.”
A spokesperson for MDDC pledged the company would do ‘everything in its power’ to ensure there was no repeat of the Alexandra Place report.
They said: “As long-standing and respected letting agents, managing more than 300 properties throughout Fife, we are naturally disappointed with this unfortunate outcome, which, having investigated fully, is largely the result of miscommunication.
“MDDC looks after, on behalf of owners, around 60 HMOs and this is the first time a renewal application has been refused.
“We will, therefore, be doing everything in our power to ensure this is the last, and we fully intend to maintain our good working relationships with Fife Council and the fire service.”
Councillor Sangster added that anyone concerned about the safety or licensing of their HMO rental property should contact Fife Council’s housing service on 08451 555555 ext. 442842.