Mizanur Rahman, a 41-year-old father of two, was killed in a fire at the two-bedroom flat housing 18 men in March.
The landlords of a dangerously overcrowded flat on Tarling West Estate in Shadwell pleaded guilty to nine criminal charges in a hearing at Thames Magistrates Court in Bow on Tuesday 28 November.
Husband and wife, Sofina Begum, 50, and Aminur Rahman, 53, of Solander Gardens in Wapping, had been renting out their two-bedroom property in Maddocks House to at least 18 occupants when an e-bike caught fire on 5 March 2023.
Forty-one-year-old father of two, Mizanur Rahman, died in the blaze due to heat and smoke inhalation injuries.
On the night of the fire, the flat was occupied by at least 18 residents who were mostly Bangladeshi students, delivery drivers, and restaurant and warehouse workers. They all shared a single toilet, bathroom and kitchen, and said the property was ridden with mould, dirt and bed bugs.
The prosecution was brought by Tower Hamlets Council which is seeking a confiscation of the couple’s assets which could mean the flat itself or the earnings they made from renting the flat.
According to Anthony Iles, the Tarling West Tenants and Residents Association chair, Begum and Aminur Rahman were making roughly £150,000 per year from the ex-council flat that they bought in 2005 for £107,000.
Former residents of the flat told The Guardian they paid roughly £90 per week or £25 per night to the married couple, who collected the money in cash.
Saskia Fischer, a resident of Tarling West Estate, said that she has mixed feelings about the outcome of Tuesday’s hearing.
‘I’m somewhat relieved and glad the landlords have admitted their guilt which is now on public record but this is only in relation to technicalities about the HMO [house in multiple occupancy] and not about the wider question of Mizanur Rahman’s death.
‘It is a small step in achieving justice but it comes too late and is not enough. The Council facilitated the overcrowding so they are also responsible and we would like to see them be brought to justice too.’
Since 2019, residents of Tarling West Estate reported multiple complaints to the Council about the property being overcrowded. Residents and campaigners have raised concerns about the Council granting an HMO licence to the landlords in August 2022 despite the complaints of overcrowding.
According to the Council, the property was issued an Overcrowding Notice following an inspection on 3 August 2021 which gives landlords 18 months to reduce the number of occupants to acceptable levels.
The following month, the Council received an application for an HMO license which was granted the following August 2022 after revisiting the property in October 2021 and chasing the landlord for the correct documentation.
A spokesperson for the Council said that by law, a complaint is not enough for it to refuse to issue a licence if the applicant is a ‘fit and proper person’ which is defined as having no previous criminal convictions.
According to the Council, Environmental Health received no further complaints of overcrowding after the licence was issued.
Census data from 2021 revealed that Tower Hamlets is the most densely populated borough in England, with population density more than 37 times higher than the mean average.
Alex Wakefield of the Tower Hamlets Renters Union said: ‘Overcrowding is a consequence of the rising cost of renting which is becoming unsuitable for more and more people leaving the most vulnerable members of society at the mercy of unscrupulous landlords who exploit their precarity for their own greed.
‘Sadly Maddocks House isn’t an exception. It has come to public attention due to the tragic death of Mizanur Rahman but the next Grenfell is in the post and the conditions are out there in Tower Hamlets that we can’t say for sure that it won’t happen again.’
Begum was charged with six offences including allowing unauthorised people to live at the property, failing to hold a valid gas safety certificate, and being unable to present key documents such as tenancy agreements and deposit arrangements. Aminur Rahman faced three charges for aiding and abetting his wife.
Wakefield said: ‘When Mayor Rahman was elected he made lots of commitments to being on the side of renters. I think it’s fair to say that the fire having happened on his watch throws these into serious doubt and we’d like to see some equally strong commitments from him to alleviate this doubt.’
Fischer added: ‘I hope it puts the spotlight on the struggles of working people and of migrants to access safe and affordable housing. This is one particularly tragic case but there are lots of groups campaigning for this in Tower Hamlets.’
Begum and Aminur Rahman will be sentenced at the Crown Court in Snaresbrook on 3 January.
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