Owner of £ 1.25million luxury Airbnb admits fire safety failures put customers at risk
The owner of an Airbnb party house in Torquay has put dozens of guests at risk of fire after failing to install proper safety measures.
Adrian Knott continued to rent the large house with pool and spa to 23 visitors for around £ 4,000 a weekend, even though he knew it was dangerous.
He frustrated attempts by the fire department to conduct an inspection because he knew it would shut down the Lincombe Drive home and lose valuable reservations.
A report he commissioned from fire safety experts described the standard and precautions at Woodd Villa as “intolerable,” but he continued to allow large parties to hire it out.
Knott promised firefighters he would stop letting the house out until it was inspected, but when security officers carried out a spot check in July 2018, they found a group of 15 people.
They had an hour to pack and leave and had to continue their party weekend at a hastily booked hotel.
The house, valued at £ 1.25million, has since been secured with extensive work to install a locking alarm system and create escape routes and fire doors.
It’s in two parts that were often rented together for stag and hen parties and on one occasion up to 20 medical students who planned to spend a weekend celebrating their graduation.
Knott, 50, who lived in another part of the house, admitted four counts of failing to follow safety rules and will be sentenced in March.
Judge Peter Johnson told him he would receive a suspended prison sentence and a fine, but asked for more details on Knott’s finances before deciding on the level of the sentence.
He noted that Knott’s rental income for the year up to April 2018 from the house and other properties was £ 73,000 and the fee for a weekend-only booking was 3,966 £.
Mr David Sapiecha, prosecuting for the fire department, said Knott and his wife had owned the apartments in Woodend for some time, but did not start renting them on airbnb and other websites until August 2017.
The council told them that meant their fire safety was now overseen by the fire department, who asked them to commission a risk assessment and attempted to arrange an inspection.
Mr Sapiecha said Knott made excuses to delay the firefighters’ visit, telling officers he was overseas or having a family celebration.
It had its own assessment carried out in June 2018, which qualified the security provisions as intolerable and highlighted problems with doors and partitions for fire-retardant rooms, detectors, alarms and escape routes.
Firefighters told her not to rent the house until improvements were made, but on the weekend of July 13, 2018, they were told it was occupied by a group of 15 people.
Mr Sapiecha said: “In fact, there were 14 guests and a blackout notice was issued. The guests had an hour to leave before it went into effect.”
He said there were only three detectors or alarms and they were unrelated. There were no alarms loud enough to wake sleeping guests and no provision to slow down a fire to allow them to exit safely.
There were no proper escape routes, which posed the risk that those trying to escape a fire would get lost in dead ends and panic, especially if the fire broke out at night when people drank alcohol.
Knott declined to give firefighters his list of past and future bookings, saying it would be a violation of GDPR data regulations to do so.
Mr Sapiecha said: “This was clearly a building from which substantial income could be generated. It seems to have been a hive of activity and paying guests was a reason for keeping reservations.
“We say there was an intentional violation and blatant disregard of the law when he came into contact with the fire department.”
Mr David Morgan, defending, said he continued to rent the house because he didn’t want to disappoint customers rather than because he wanted to keep the money.
He said he refunded £ 1,000 to a group and fully reimbursed the group that had been pulled out by firefighters, showing that his main concern was not financial.
He said he did not try to delay the firefighters’ visit but was on vacation in Russia with his wife. There had never been a real fire and no one was injured at any time.
He had already planned to secure the property before the prohibition notice and assured that all work has been done since, at a cost of several tens of thousands of pounds.
Knott runs his own financial advisory business as well as property and reported taxable income of £ 45,000 last year.