The landlords of a dangerously overcrowded Shadwell house where a man died in a fire have pleaded guilty to criminal charges.
Mizanur Rahman, a 41-year-old father of two, died when the flat he lived at in Maddocks House, on the Tarling West Estate, caught fire in March. There were 18 men living in the two-bedroom flat at the time.
The landlords, husband and wife Aminur Rahman, 53 and Sofina Begum, 50, pleaded guilty to nine criminal charges at Thames Magistrates Court on Tuesday. They will be sentenced at Snaresbrook Crown Court on 3 January.
The admitted offences include knowingly overcrowding a property and failure to supply a valid gas safety certificate.
The case was brought by Tower Hamlets Council which is seeking a confiscation of the couple’s assets.
It is thought the fire was started by a faulty lithium-ion e-bike battery that was charging.
One survivor, who had been sleeping on a top bunk in the flat on the night of the fire, described how “it started exploding like a rocket, with white smoke and black smoke”. He said: “And then I just shouted because everyone was asleep”.
The survivors say the flat housed up to 22 people at once in a hostel-style arrangement, with bunkbeds filling the two bedrooms and sitting room.
Hussain Ismail, spokesperson for Maddocks House Support Group said: “There was no heating, they couldn’t use the fridge I think, [there were] heaters they couldn’t use.”
Mizanur Rahman, another resident, was rescued by firefighters, but later died in hospital as a result of heat and smoke inhalation, an inquest found in August.
Anthony Iles, chair of the Tarling West Tenants and Residents Association, said Begum and Aminur Rahman were making roughly £150,000 per year off the crowded flat bought for £107,000 in 2005. Residents were charged between £80 and £100 per week.
The 18 residents, mostly of Bangladeshi origin, shared a single toilet, bathroom and kitchen. They reported that the property was dirty, and ridden with mould and bed bugs.
In the lead-up to the fire, residents of Tarling West Estate made multiple complaints of overcrowding at the property to the Council. The property was issued an Overcrowding Notice following an inspection in August 2021 but then granted an HMO [house of multiple occupancy] licence in August 2022.
Saskia Fischer, a Tarling West Estate resident, said she is “somewhat relieved” at the guilty plea, but that it only addresses the “technicalities about the HMO” and not “the wider question of Mizanur Rahman’s death.”
She said: “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.”