Rising levels of “hidden housing” could lead to an increase in fire deaths unless urgent action is taken, the London Fire Brigade has warned.
The Brigade says there is evidence that the number of sheds, garages and other unsuitable buildings being used as accommodation is on the rise.
In the last three months the Brigade has issued eight prohibition notices on such properties, preventing them being used as housing.
Firefighters have already see deaths arising from the use of unsuitable properties as housing and in in November fire safety inspectors in Brent closed a number of commercial buildings in which around 150 people were living.
The Brigade was alerted to the problem following a fire in an office block where firefighters rescued six people. A subsequent inspection of the building revealed seventeen rooms with over 50 people living in them.
Fire safety officers found virtually no fire safety features inside and believe a more fire serious fire could easily have ripped through the entire building, leaving residents struggling to escape.
The Brigade has asked Mayor of London Boris Johnson to look at ways of preventing such use as part of his revised housing strategy.
Rita Dexter, Deputy Commissioner of the London Fire Brigade, says: “Beds in sheds, garages being used as housing, industrial units being used as sleeping accommodation – these are all potentially lethal fire traps.
“It’s inevitable that people living in these shoddy developments rely on far riskier ways of heating, cooking and lighting their home. They are also being exploited by unscrupulous landlords who are happy to take their money without any regard for their safety.
“The nature of the accommodation means that this is largely a hidden problem in our city and we would like the Mayor to look at ways of helping us get to grips with the extent of it before more people lose their lives or are injured in fires.”