The landlords of a dangerously overcrowded east London flat that suffered a deadly fire in March have pleaded guilty to a total of nine criminal charges.
Sofina Begum, 50, and Aminur Rahman, 53, entered their pleas during a short hearing at Thames magistrates court in east London.
Mizanur Rahman, a 41-year-old father of two, was killed in a fire at the flat, 18 Maddocks House in Shadwell, on 5 March after an e-bike battery started a ferocious blaze in the early hours of the morning.
The flat was occupied by at least 18 men on the night of the blaze, who shared beds and slept on the floor in the two-bedroom ex-council flat.
The flat residents, mostly Bangladeshi men who worked locally, had to share a single toilet and have said the property was ridden with bedbugs, mould and dirt. One said it was “like a prison”. The case was sent to the crown court for sentencing, which will allow Tower Hamlets council – which brought the prosecution – to seek a confiscation order under the Proceeds of Crime Act.
Former residents of the flat have said they paid about £90 a week or £25 a night in rent to the married couple, much of it in cash, meaning they could have taken over £100,000 a year in rent.
Residents on the Tarling West Estate in Shadwell, where the flat is located, previously warned the council that the house was severely overcrowded but no action was taken before the fire.
The property was registered as a house in multiple occupancy (HMO) in August 2022.
Begum – whose name was on the licence – 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 when asked.
Her husband, Rahman, faced three charges, with prosecutor Jonathan Melnick explaining that he was being accused of aiding and abetting his wife.
Land Registry records show the lease to the ex-council flat was bought for £107,000 in 2005 by Begum.
Anthony Iles, chair of the Tarling West Tenants and Residents Association, told the Guardian: “Today, relatively rare in so many cases of housing injustice, some small trickle of justice has been served. Two ruthless landlords operating for a number of years on a housing estate have admitted their guilt. This at least serves as a warning to other landlords in the borough.
“This case, however, does not begin to approach the loss of life of Mizanur Rahman, nor the damage caused to the survivors of the blaze. Nor does this legal action begin to address the years of neglect, lack of prior inspection and haphazard repairs by the council on the estate and others like it in the borough.”
A coroner’s inquest into Mizanur Rahman’s death in September found he died of heat and smoke inhalation injuries. The coroner called on the government to introduce tougher regulations on e-bike batteries and chargers, which are not currently regulated and have been linked to a series of deadly fires.
The couple, both of Solander Gardens in Wapping, will be sentenced on 3 January at Snaresbrook crown court.