ALMOST 50 "rogue landlords" in Worcestershire have been threatened with court action by firefighters for having unsafe properties during a snap investigation.
It includes obstructed exits, blocked gangways, bust fire detection systems and unsafe stairs, leaving the people inside at perilous risk.
The sudden crackdown by Worcestershire's fire service had led to 47 property owners being handed enforcement notices.
It means they must take urgent action to make it safe or face prosecution and the risk of jail.
The move follows years of concern that many HMO properties (Houses of Multiple Occupation), rented by either students or young professionals, are in a shabby state.
Councillors on the fire authority decided to raid £60,000 from reserves last year to launch a crackdown, with the project running until this July.
So far 234 homes have been identified as being 'at risk' of fire, including 157 flats above retail units or other businesses.
But 51 properties had failings so serious, landlords were given enforcement notices demanding urgent action to keep tenants safe.
Although fire bosses will not reveal which exact properties are in trouble, 12 of them were in St John's, a student stronghold, while 33 were in Evesham and two in Droitwich.
The overall number of notices rises to 51 if four in Herefordshire are included.
More than 100 potential deaths will be avoided if the intervention ends up being successful.
The clampdown started in August last year, with councillors severely criticising landlords for having "little regard" for tenants.
Fire authority chairman Councillor Derek Prodger said: "I support anything that saves people's lives and makes properties safer, clearly it was a good idea to invest this money.
"Our firefighters do such a rigorous job in fire prevention, but we've got to keep on top of it."
Councillor Richard Udall, who leads the Labour group on the authority, came up with the budget amendment to spend the money.
He said: "Clearly this project may have saved lives - it may have prevented fires and helped us avoid serious risks and injuries.
"Worcester has a lot of HMO properties, many haven't been licensed and a few absentee landlords have little regard for tenants' safety.
"We simply want to protect lives and prevent a disaster.
"Too frequently the fire service has found inadequate fire detection systems and blocked or obstructed fire exists."
He added that he was lobbying for the scheme to be extended past July.
The crackdown comes two years after Worcester City Council revealed how 14,000 private homes are believed to be in a poor condition, up 58 per cent in a decade.