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Risky renovations - Mandeville homeowners put tenants at risk with building expansions

Published:Thursday | November 3, 2016 | 12:00 AMTamara Bailey
Rohan Powell, acting deputy superintendent of the Jamaica Fire Brigade, Manchester division.

AS THE number of university students and young professionals moving into Manchester continues to rise, several homeowners have been renovating their houses to cash in on the influx of prospective tenants without thoughts of safety or the requisite approvals for building expansion.

This practice is cause for concern and first responders have described these buildings as extremely hazardous.

The Gleaner visited a number of these modified houses and sought to speak with the owners, but no one was interested in speaking directly on the issue.

Upon leaving one of the premises, off Caledonia Road, the landlord acknowledged that he was doing the tenants a favour.

"You nuh si people want place fi live? The least mi can do a fix up my place and charge dem cheap cheap."

He then drove off.

Several tenants acknowledged their compromised safety but cited affordability as the reason for staying.

"Where I live, the landlord has his quarters to the front and we have ours to the back of the building. There are approximately seven of us, and we are all expected to use one entrance and exit because of how the house was built. The other entrance would open up to the landlord's quarters, but he has closed it and blocked it off," said a female tenant.

She added: "I know if there was to be a fire of some sort, there would definitely be a problem. All the windows are barred, and that one entrance-exit couldn't work."

When asked if she had spoken with her landlord about her safety concerns, she said:

"Him know about it, but he is not going to spend them kind a money deh to open up a section of the wall for another entrance and exit. I'm really just here because the rent is affordable and I can't do better for now."

For others, their ignorance may work to their detriment.

"We have two gas cylinders in the kitchen, but I don't think our safety is at risk. We have ample entrances and exits to the building, and separate and apart from the mold, there's no problem," said a university student.

During a Gleaner Jobs and Growth Forum held at the Mandeville Hotel in the parish on Monday, Rohan Powell, acting deputy superintendent of the fire station, recounted an experience he had with what could be called a ticking time bomb at a renovated house.

"It houses 15 students. In the kitchen, there are five stoves and each stove has a 25-pound gas cylinder attached to it. A part of the fire code tells us that no more than 30 pounds of gasolene should be stored in a building. Now, that would be 125 pounds."

According to the secretary manager at the Manchester Parish Council, David Harris, the owners of these houses, who have not submitted new plans to the council, are liable for prosecution if they fail to comply.