Mandeville homeowners put tenants at risk with building expansions
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 25pound 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.
THE BUSINESS environment in Mandeville, Manchester, is tough, according to Christopher Samuels, manager, personal banking at Scotiabank, Caledonia Road branch. But things are looking up, with a lot riding on the reopening of the Alpart bauxite plant at Nain in neighbouring St Elizabeth.
Scotiabank is seeing an uptick in applications for personal and commercial loans, with most of the latter related to the purchase or completion of town houses and apartments outside of the Manchester capital.
“You have a number of persons who had incomplete construction, which they are seeking to complete now – apartments that they want to have ready just in case persons want to rent. So persons are looking beyond Mandeville, expanding their businesses in preparation for the spin-off of what the Chinese will do with the bauxite industry. Some persons are positioning themselves,” he told a Gleaner Jobs and Growth Forum at the Mandeville Hotel on Monday.
Following the purchase of the plant by Chinese company Jiuguan Iron and Steel (JISCO) from the Russian firm UC Rusal, residents of neighbouring communities have been buoyed by the promise of thousands of jobs from the establishment of an industrial zone. Upon completion, it will comprise bauxite mines, an alumina refinery, a coal-fired power plant, a local electricity network, rolling wire mills, and a range of aluminium products, among other enterprises.
In July, the Government promised that at least 700 jobs would be created by this month, with at least another 3,000 over the next four years as a direct result of the US$2 billion investment. In addition to this direct employment, Manchester residents are looking to cash in on the anticipated windfall from the 200 Chinese workers from overseas, as well as designers and contractors.
CREDIT BUREAU REPORTS
However, many persons are facing a challenge from an unexpected quarter: information from the credit bureau reporting system.
“The advent of credit-bureau reporting is affecting persons so negatively,” Samuels disclosed. With credit history now open to scrutiny by financial institutions from which persons seek loans, some old bad debts are coming back to haunt potential borrowers.”
The Scotiabank executive explained that many loan applicants are only now finding out just how badly those long-past delinquent accounts with institutions such as the Government’s student loan facility or competing banks can really hurt them.
“Some persons believe that they can just forget about a debt, but it doesn’t work that way anymore. Before, banks had to be following a customer, calling about their bad history, and coming to a compromise settlement. But we find now that persons are becoming better aware that the credit report is following them. Persons are more inclined to seek to settle them, even though it may be 10, five years ago.”
Rohan Powell, acting deputy superintendent of the Jamaica Fire Brigade, Manchester Division.