Episode 1 The Housing Enforcers


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Episode 1

Consumer programme. Matt Allwright joins the ranks of Britain's housing officers. In this episode Matt tackles a landlord who may be putting his tenants' lives in danger.


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Transcript


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The law says everyone has the right to a safe place to live...

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-We want to get your problem sorted out.

-..but for thousands of people

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across Britain, the reality can be more hovel than home.

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-That gully pan was up to the top with

-BLEEP.

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This is not right, this.

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In the battle between tenants

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and landlords, it's local housing officers who are on the front line.

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This is a really dangerous place to be living.

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I'm Matt Allwright and I've been training hard,

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ready to join the ranks of the Housing Enforcers.

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-The fire's in here, you're in there...

-Yes.

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You can't get out.

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They are tackling problem properties...

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In the walls, I hear scratching.

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It's a bit of a death trap.

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..dealing with the consequences of nightmare neighbours...

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-Urine running down the wall.

-..and everything in between.

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The moment's passed and nothing gets done.

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-I'm so pleased for you.

-I feel like I've won the lottery.

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You're looking like a bad landlord.

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'Today, I'm straight in at the deep end with an upset landlord.'

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-Stop filming and leave my house.

-OK, we'll leave.

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Why is it you didn't want us in there to see it?

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Housing officer Glynn has got a mess to sort out.

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There's dog faeces, there's food waste.

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It's a rat B&B. Everything's en-suite.

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And one tenant needs to clean up his act.

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It's in a deplorable condition. The bathroom's filthy,

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the kitchen's filthy.

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After three years, I thought - "Forget it, what's the point?"

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-It would help me if you clean it up.

-BLEEP.

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It's said that an Englishman's home is his castle,

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but if that castle is rented, then it is the job of housing officers

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to make sure that it's a decent place to live.

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They keep an eye on private landlords, to make sure

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the properties are up to scratch AND provide somebody with a decent home.

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In Lincolnshire, that's the job

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of housing officer Chris Gallimore.

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We've come to Sleaford, to visit a property that Chris

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has serious concerns about.

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But to fix the problems, first, we've got to work out

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if we're dealing with a tenant or a lodger, as I'm about to find out.

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We're here because there's been a complaint, is that right?

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That's right, yeah. There's a young lady who's in a...

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..what seems to be

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a self-contained flat and she's basically saying

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there's no ventilation in there. Also, there's no proper sink,

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there's issues with the fire escape, and things like that.

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I have actually done an informal visit and checked a few things,

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but there's more I'd like to check.

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When we're going in there, we're checking not just for

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the stuff that we can see,

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but it's also the basis under which she's there. Is that right?

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That's correct, yeah. I think the owner's saying that it's part

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of his property and it's a lodger within his own property.

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And these distinctions are absolutely crucial

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when you're working out the rights of the occupant?

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Yep. As soon as you start charging rent and it's a person

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not related to yourself, then there's more issues.

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The big question here is - is she a tenant or is she a lodger?

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-And that's very important. Shall we go and have a look?

-It is. Yep, OK.

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We're here to meet Megan Davy,

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who is absolutely sick of her living conditions.

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And I haven't got a kitchen, I can't cook proper meals,

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I'm having to live on ready meals.

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For the past eight months,

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home for Megan has been on the first floor of this property.

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Things that are dangerous are the stairs. The doors aren't secure.

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Anyone can go straight through them.

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It is upsetting.

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I'm diabetic, as well, and that's where my health is getting worse.

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-Oh.

-Interesting.

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My family don't want me to be here.

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They don't feel that it's safe for a young girl to be here.

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-Hi, you all right?

-Yes, thank you.

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-Hello there, how you doing?

-I'm all right, thank you.

-Good, good.

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-So this is, this is your flat?

-It is, yeah.

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And you've got, sort of, well, it's a kitchenette, sort of, thing.

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So, you've got a fridge and a freezer, but there's no...

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You've got no running water there at all.

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Then, you've got a bathroom area.

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Is that where you...? That's where your running water is coming from?

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You've got...one window. That's the only window there?

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Yeah, and there's just no air coming through.

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-That's why I've opened the door.

-Those windows don't open there?

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They don't open, no.

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Why did you call in to Chris and the guys at the council?

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I've not been very well recently and I feel something needs

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to be done with the properties that my landlord is renting.

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-Can I ask you how much you're paying for this?

-£70 a week.

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Right.

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'Now, it's very early days on the job for me,

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'but this is a complex case.

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'Chris thinks Megan is a tenant.

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'If she is, the owner of this property is breaking the law,

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'because she should have some kind of ventilation in her bedroom

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'and a fire alarm to keep her safe.

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'A conversation with the man himself might help us

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'sort out Megan's problems.

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KNOCKS DOOR

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Hello?

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-Hi, there.

-Hello.

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-Hello, there.

-And, er, what's happening here?

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Can you stop filming and leave my house, please?

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-OK.

-OK, we've been asked to leave, we'll leave.

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I've still got to do my inspection today.

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-You are welcome to do your inspection.

-OK.

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Why didn't you want us in there to see it? I'm just interested.

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Cos I think it's...

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rather nice to actually be asked, before you wander in

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to someone's property. I thought that's only polite.

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OK, well, I see that as Megan's home.

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'And at the heart of this case

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'is whether Megan is, legally, a tenant or a lodger.

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'A lodger lives in the owner's home

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'and has shared use of the rest of the property.

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'But if you're a tenant, it's your home

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'and you can control who comes and goes.

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'You need to check your paperwork

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'and see that it matches your circumstances.

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'You should have signed either a lodger agreement

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or 'an Assured Shorthold Tenancy, or AST.

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'Megan's home makes me think she should be a tenant.

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'I want to find out more from John.'

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Has she got an Assured Shorthold Tenancy?

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-No, she's a lodger.

-She's a lodger?

-This is my house. This is my house.

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She's got her own front door. She's got her own facilities within the property?

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She's put in her own. I haven't supplied them.

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-But she's got a fridge there?

-She's put them in, yes.

-She's put those fridges in there

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-and there are two spaces there for fridges.

-That was a work space.

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-She's got toilet, she's got an en-suite.

-She's got an en-suite.

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-But that does feel like it should be a tenancy.

-Well, it's not.

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A tenancy needs a kitchen.

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'Yes, but if he's arguing that Megan IS a lodger, then surely

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'she should be able to cook a decent meal for herself, whenever she pleases?'

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-She's free to use your kitchen, as a shared kitchen?

-If she wants to, yes.

-Right.

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And she's got access through the property to get to that?

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No, she hasn't got access. No, she comes and sees us.

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Right, so she's got to go down the stairs,

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out the door and back around to your front door, to use the kitchen.

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-Correct.

-Not very convenient, is it?

-Nor is living in a car.

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She was living in a car, because the council couldn't house her.

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I offered her something better than a car, which she was happy to have.

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If we're working on the basis that all housing in the UK

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is acceptable if it's better than living in a car,

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that's not really a workable proposition, is it?

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-As you can see, work is in progress.

-But the point is, when you're taking money from people,

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you say as a lodger, and I would suggest it looks more

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like a tenancy to me, then, at that point, you have a responsibility...

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Well, you're already telling me you're not aware of the rules

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and regulations because you didn't even know

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I could have a room without a window.

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There's no fire alarms in that building. And there's no means of escape.

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-You don't need a fire alarm in a domestic property.

-There's no means of escape.

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I do not need... Do I need, by law, a fire alarm in a domestic property?

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Well, we'll assess it under... within The Housing Act.

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-Yeah, but that's true, but it's a domestic house.

-Yeah.

-Domestic.

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-You cannot enforce me to have...

-We've proved she's got no use of your facilities.

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-She has to go out and back in.

-You haven't proved it at all.

-You said it yourself.

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The fact that she has to come out of there to use it,

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-doesn't mean she hasn't got the use of it.

-Let him complete the inspection and then make a judgment.

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I will. I've said I'm happy for him to do his inspection, I've got no problems with that.

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Well, why don't we wait until he's done his inspection and then decides what the case is?

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Well, I'll go in with him and we'll do an inspection in there.

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OK, would you be all right for the cameras to come with you.

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-No, I don't want them in there.

-OK.

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That was intense.

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We came up against a landlord who really knew his stuff

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and it was a test, not just of me, actually, but of Chris, as well,

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of our knowledge of housing law.

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So, just to be clear, if Megan is a lodger, to use the kitchen

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she would have to leave her room, go down the stairs, out into

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the courtyard, knock on the door, and then use the kitchen, if he's in.

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He's saying that's the basis upon which it's a house share,

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NOT a tenancy.

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Actually arguing that with someone that quite clearly knows his way

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around housing law is tricky.

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And made me realise I need to hit the books a little bit more,

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if I am genuinely to call myself a housing officer.

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But this case isn't closed yet. We'll find out later

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if John manages to have the last word.

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Now, in Kent, Thanet Council has another way of dealing with

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problem landlords. It's called Selective Licensing.

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And it's a valuable weapon in the armoury

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of Housing Officer Mark Goldhawk.

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His patch is the old-school seaside town of Margate -

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a landlord's paradise,

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full of buildings converted into multiple flats and bedsits.

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In parts of this town, and many others across Britain,

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landlords are forced to purchase a compulsory licence,

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with strict regulations that they must stick to.

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It's an effective way for the council to keep standards up

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and landlords in line.

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Often, landlords do as much as they need to do to stop us

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taking further action.

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We're going to a Victorian property.

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It's a selectively-licensed property but it's not meeting

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the conditions of licence.

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When he first inspected the building nine months ago,

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Mark found it in a desperate state of repair.

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These are the photos from my first visit. In the common areas,

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there's no lighting, the stairs were in a dangerous condition,

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the balustrading was missing, the carpet was worn, there was

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no fire detection and there was penetrating dampness.

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Mark has been asking for work to begin for nine months

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and now the builders have finally started work.

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Damage to the building had begun to spiral out of control dangerously.

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One of the major problems they've had is a leak to the roof.

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The water is leaking through. It's caused a funnel here,

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it's come out, but it's also spread in to the flats at each level,

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so it's brought the ceilings down.

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It's not usual to find a funnel

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as big as that. No, it's quite like a waterfall coming through there.

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The work in the hall is, at least, a sign of progress,

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but managing the conditions inside the flats is a much bigger battle.

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-Hello, Mr Whitworth, can I come in?

-Yep.

-Thank you.

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Tenant Mark Whitworth's home is in a shocking state of decay -

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he says he's been waiting for work to be done for years.

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That window, I've been waiting for six years.

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The ceiling, I've waited for three years...

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Bathroom I've been waiting for

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two and a half years.

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I got a new hot water tank after about

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a two-year wait.

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CHUCKLES

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I'm beginning to realise that sometimes both parties

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let their responsibilities slide.

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It's clear that Mark's

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attitude to the flat hasn't helped the conditions he's living in.

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After three years I thought,

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"Forget it, what's the point?"

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I just want a decent place to live in.

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I can see that they've started doing work in the common area,

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has anything happened in here?

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-Yeah, I've got a new kitchen ceiling.

-Right.

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-They've put in a for a new bathroom suite.

-Great.

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So, hopefully, I'll have a new toilet, bath and sink soon.

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-Right, and anything about heating?

-Heating. No, not yet.

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Right, I'll have a quick look, then, just to see what they've done.

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There is still some disrepair here.

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It's a challenge to see

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beyond all the mess and, indeed, how anyone could live like this?

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A lot of it is actually down to the tenant.

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He's not cleaning, the bathroom's filthy,

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the kitchen's filthy, but there are maintenance issues there, as well.

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Ah, that's good, new ceiling.

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The most important thing is to get the fire detection sorted out.

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Obviously, we've got four flats here, four lots of cooking facilities.

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Tenant Mark has clearly given up on his home altogether,

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but for housing officers, the most pressing problem is safety.

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Fire can spread very quickly through this type of construction,

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so what we rely on is early detection of fire,

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so that's what we'll be pushing them to do.

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Occasionally, we hear of people dying in fires, particularly in multiple- occupied buildings.

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This is the type of premises where that happens.

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It's a shame that it's taken nine months for the work to start work.

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The builders are tackling the disrepair in the flat,

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but housing officer Mark still has to deal with the sensitive

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question of making sure the tenant does his bit.

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It would help me if you could tidy that and clean it up. A good clean.

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You know what it's like. I get depressed.

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I know, but we want to get your problems sorted out

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and the chap's just said to me on the phone that he's reluctant

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to send the electricians in to a couple of the flats and one of them

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is yours. I'm sure, so if you can get it tidied up it'll be good for you.

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What hits you

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when you go into that property is it's in a deplorable condition.

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I don't want to come back next week and find that an electrician

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or plumber has turned up and refused to do the work because of the state

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of the property, so I just need to give him a gentle push in the right direction,

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to make sure that we do get the work done that we want done.

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Very diplomatic, Mark.

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This job isn't just about landlords and tenants. If a house

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really hasn't been looked after, then it can pose problems not just

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for the owner or the occupants, but for an innocent next-door neighbour.

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To see for myself just how bad things can get,

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I'm with housing officers Grant Fenton-Jones and Rob Goswell.

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Putting this on.

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'We've come to a house in Harwich, Essex. It's clear

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'this won't be an ordinary house call.'

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We want to be able to see you and also we want you to wear a hard hat,

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just in case anything was to fall on you.

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-It's that bad?

-Potentially, yeah.

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This house first came on to Grant and Rob's radar

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after a desperate call from next-door neighbour Teresa Kemp.

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The property next door has been vacant, er, for a while

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but even before it was vacant, windows had been smashed,

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rainwater was obviously getting in and it's caused

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the wall between their property and my property to have damp problems.

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So, the plaster is coming off, there are big patches

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of mildewy areas, if you like.

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Some days, when I come down and I actually

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see it's worsened almost overnight. It is very upsetting.

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'Well, if there is that much damp

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'in TERESA'S house, how bad must this one be?'

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Careful, careful with your steps.

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-Oh, my God...

-I don't know if you can feel the damp on the floor?

-You can see the damp on the floor,

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-Can you feel it under your feet?

-It's like...

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-It's like treading on...

-The walls are actually wet, still.

-You've got your...

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-Oh, my God.

-It's not breakfast.

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-This is unbelievable.

-Yeah.

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'Believe it or not, until recently, this house was

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'occupied by an elderly widow, but the place has fallen into such

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'disrepair that the council had no choice but to rehouse her.'

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This is the only form of heat in the whole property.

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There was one socket that was working.

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-So, this is someone's home that they own?

-Yes.

-At some point,

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you've got the power, then to say to someone,

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"You can't live here any more, even though it's your own home."

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-Yeah.

-I mean, that is a very difficult job to pull off, isn't it?

0:16:320:16:36

-That person doesn't want to leave their own home. Clearly.

-Exactly.

0:16:360:16:40

I mean, in this instance, we've been lucky.

0:16:400:16:42

We've been able to rehouse the individual.

0:16:420:16:44

There's category-one hazards everywhere,

0:16:440:16:46

and significant category-one hazards.

0:16:460:16:48

I don't even know... What is that?

0:16:480:16:50

It's coming through from two floors above.

0:16:500:16:52

That's coming through from two floors above?

0:16:520:16:55

-So, actually, this is the habitable room.

-Yeah.

0:16:550:16:58

-There's worse than this?

-Yes, without a shadow of a doubt.

0:16:580:17:01

'I can't believe an elderly person was living in these conditions.

0:17:010:17:05

'Walking around, it makes me wonder how anybody could manage

0:17:050:17:08

'with one room and one chair?

0:17:080:17:10

'But we have to be professional.

0:17:110:17:13

'The house is now empty, so Grant

0:17:130:17:15

'and Rob can get to work, fully assessing the damage, and seeing

0:17:150:17:18

'how much of a risk this property poses to the neighbouring buildings.

0:17:180:17:22

'Then...it gets even worse...'

0:17:240:17:26

-Oh, my God...

-Yeah.

0:17:270:17:30

I think this area here, we've had a burst

0:17:300:17:32

water pipe, so I'm a little bit concerned with you

0:17:320:17:34

-I'm worried about you going through.

-You could go straight through.

0:17:340:17:38

You are starting to get into the realm of a hazard, even coming around to look at this stuff.

0:17:380:17:42

You've got houses on either side of this that rely on this being

0:17:420:17:45

-here and being structurally sound.

-Sound. Exactly.

0:17:450:17:49

Join us later, when we find out the effect these

0:17:490:17:52

problems are having on the life of the next-door neighbour.

0:17:520:17:55

It actually brings tears to my eyes when I think about it,

0:17:550:17:58

-because this was supposed to be my last move.

-Yeah.

-Yeah.

0:17:580:18:01

In Lincolnshire, Chris Gallimore is back on the road

0:18:070:18:10

and I'm about to learn just how much the decisions that

0:18:100:18:14

Housing Officers make can really change lives.

0:18:140:18:17

He's on his way to decide the fate of a bungalow in the village

0:18:170:18:20

of South Hykeham that's seen better days.

0:18:200:18:23

But it's far more than bricks and mortar that are on the line.

0:18:230:18:26

I've lived here now about eight and half years, it's really nice but, the trouble is it's so cold.

0:18:280:18:34

SHE CHUCKLES

0:18:340:18:35

Long-term tenant Elizabeth Greenfield put in an SOS-call

0:18:350:18:38

to the council, after struggling to stay warm.

0:18:380:18:42

It costs about £60 a week to heat it to a reasonable level

0:18:420:18:47

and that doesn't even always bring it up to what it should be.

0:18:470:18:51

Landlady Beverly Hammerton inherited the 1920s property from her parents

0:18:520:18:58

and, along with virtually no insulation,

0:18:580:19:00

came a string of other unwelcome problems.

0:19:000:19:04

It's in a poor state, really. Everything possible needs

0:19:040:19:09

doing to it, I think now, and it used to look really pretty.

0:19:090:19:13

Elizabeth is a widow. She loves the bungalow and wants to stay,

0:19:130:19:16

but knows the future of her home is out of her hands.

0:19:160:19:20

I asked Beverley about doing some repairs to the windows

0:19:200:19:23

and the doors and she came and had a look

0:19:230:19:26

and said she really didn't want to spend money on the property.

0:19:260:19:30

Neither landlord nor tenant knows what to do next. It will be down

0:19:300:19:34

to Chris to assess the bungalow, and determine Elizabeth's fate.

0:19:340:19:38

-Hello.

-Hello, Chris Gallimore from the council.

-That's lovely, come in.

0:19:400:19:44

Chris will be on the lookout for category-one hazards

0:19:440:19:47

those that pose a direct danger to a tenant's health and safety.

0:19:470:19:51

So, that looks at things ranging from excess cold, damp and mould,

0:19:510:19:55

falls on stairs, structural collapse,

0:19:550:19:57

any hazards you can think of - burns, electric shocks.

0:19:570:20:00

This visit could see Chris decide to effectively condemn

0:20:020:20:05

the building, meaning Elizabeth would be forced to move.

0:20:050:20:08

I think, as you get older, you do get more anxious about things.

0:20:100:20:14

You take things, when you're younger, in your stride, very much

0:20:140:20:16

more easily. So, yes, I am a little anxious about it.

0:20:160:20:20

OK, so we've got the issues with the electrics here. Obviously, there's

0:20:230:20:26

a lack of sockets and the trailing leads, which are trip hazards,

0:20:260:20:30

and also the lack of heating. She's using plug-in heaters, as well.

0:20:300:20:34

So, you can see from the condition of the windows, there's a lot

0:20:340:20:38

of issues there, in relation to excess cold, damp and mould.

0:20:380:20:41

To actually replace these would be quite difficult,

0:20:410:20:44

because of the construction of this property.

0:20:440:20:47

Primarily, it's likely to have a lot of asbestos in it.

0:20:470:20:51

It doesn't take long for Chris to uncover a whole host of category- one hazards

0:20:510:20:55

putting tenant Elizabeth at serious risk of harm.

0:20:550:20:59

How do you feel about moving somewhere else?

0:20:590:21:02

Well...I love this cottage, you can

0:21:020:21:05

see the countryside is beautiful around here. I've thoroughly

0:21:050:21:09

-loved it.

-Yeah.

-But she can't afford to do all the work that's

0:21:090:21:14

necessary on it. I think it's more beneficial for her to get rid of it.

0:21:140:21:19

Yeah, well, I've had a discussion with our Housing Needs department

0:21:190:21:22

and they're, kind of, saying that, as it is at the moment,

0:21:220:21:25

you wouldn't get any more priority on your housing allocation.

0:21:250:21:30

But if I were to serve a prohibition order on the property, under the

0:21:300:21:33

Housing Act, then you would get a lot more priority on your housing.

0:21:330:21:37

A prohibition order is a formal notice that deems a property

0:21:370:21:40

unfit for habitation.

0:21:400:21:42

In this case it will allow the landlady to demolish

0:21:420:21:45

and replace the building and give Elizabeth the right to be re-housed.

0:21:450:21:50

-Hopefully, that'll, kind of, help everybody in the situation.

-Yes.

0:21:500:21:53

Because the council can then offer her some accommodation as well, OK.

0:21:530:21:57

-OK, thanks a lot.

-Thank you.

-Cheers. Bye.

-Thank you.

0:21:580:22:01

Goodbye. Bye-bye.

0:22:010:22:03

It's unfortunate that it's going to have to come down,

0:22:050:22:07

but it needs that much work doing to it.

0:22:070:22:10

Yeah, it's going to be sad. It's going to be sad to see it go,

0:22:110:22:14

definitely.

0:22:140:22:16

I shall be sorry to move, because I have loved the bungalow

0:22:170:22:20

and it's been lovely down here,

0:22:200:22:22

but I'm sure it will all work out for the best, in the end.

0:22:220:22:26

Erm... it would be nice to get a property that's warmer

0:22:260:22:30

and perhaps a little more modern.

0:22:300:22:33

I've been in contact with Housing Needs department

0:22:350:22:38

and they have said it will help her case for the prohibition order

0:22:380:22:41

to be on the property, so, obviously, once that's there, she will

0:22:410:22:45

have a wider range of properties to bid on in her preferred location.

0:22:450:22:48

This should be a good solution for everybody, really.

0:22:480:22:51

It's the job of housing officers up and down the UK

0:22:550:22:58

to defend your right to a decent place to live.

0:22:580:23:01

-You're not sleeping here, are you?

-Oh, no, no.

0:23:010:23:04

I'm going to be working alongside the men and women who do just that.

0:23:040:23:08

-It's just room after room of devastation.

-Just everything will need done.

0:23:080:23:11

'I'm hitting the streets -

0:23:110:23:13

'I'm learning on the job...'

0:23:130:23:16

That's just soaking up all the water and bringing it straight in to the house.

0:23:160:23:19

'..to find out what it takes

0:23:190:23:20

to make sure your house is fit to be called a home.'

0:23:200:23:23

-People here are at risk.

-I'm not happy about this property.

0:23:230:23:26

Your tenant's still in here and she's still paying her rent.

0:23:260:23:29

We wanted the stuff to be fixed, so we could carry on living here.

0:23:290:23:32

Back in Sleaford with Chris Gallimore, I've been

0:23:370:23:40

untangling the crucial differences between a tenant and a lodger.

0:23:400:23:44

If the tenant is a member of your household,

0:23:440:23:46

whether it's a relative, et cetera, that makes a difference if you're sharing a house with them,

0:23:460:23:51

because there's a lot less regulations on that.

0:23:510:23:53

Megan Davy has made a complaint about her living conditions here

0:23:530:23:57

and the property owner's reluctance to improve things.

0:23:570:24:00

My family don't want me to be here. They don't feel it's safe

0:24:000:24:03

for a young girl to be here. It's upsetting.

0:24:030:24:07

Megan has no opening windows or a fire alarm and owner

0:24:090:24:13

John knows he doesn't have to provide these, if she's a lodger.

0:24:130:24:15

And that's exactly the same scenario.

0:24:150:24:17

But you're talking different rules and regulations. You're talking

0:24:170:24:20

planning and building control and then you're talking the Housing Act.

0:24:200:24:24

'It's our job to work out where Megan stands in this situation, but if it

0:24:240:24:27

'can be proved she's effectively living as a tenant,

0:24:270:24:30

'then John will have some serious work to do, to bring standards up to scratch.

0:24:300:24:34

'He wouldn't let the camera crew in, but eventually he agreed to me

0:24:360:24:39

'having a look.'

0:24:390:24:41

-Thanks for showing me around.

-Yeah, no problem at all. Like I say, I haven't got any problem with that.

0:24:410:24:45

When going up there, I didn't assume for a moment that it was

0:24:450:24:48

-anything other than Megan's home.

-Uh-hm.

0:24:480:24:50

And, you know, we've got a doorway that's open there.

0:24:500:24:53

You go in there and because it is separate from your home there...

0:24:530:24:57

Yes, if you look at this in an isolated incident, yes, it's very easy to think that, yeah?

0:24:570:25:01

-Yeah.

-But it's not, that's why I wanted to try

0:25:010:25:03

and make it perfectly clear, it is my home. I live here.

0:25:030:25:06

This is the thing, as I'm learning this job and going through

0:25:060:25:09

and finding out bits... if there's a fire in this bit

0:25:090:25:12

and Megan's stuck there, you wouldn't be able to help her at all.

0:25:120:25:16

You would be in your bit, she would be in her bit

0:25:160:25:19

and she would be stuck, without a window to get out of or...

0:25:190:25:21

But that's exactly the same, as I stated, that the law requires no opening windows.

0:25:210:25:25

-But there's the law and then there's...

-I'm just saying...

0:25:250:25:28

..and you as a human being knowing there's another human being in the end of your house.

0:25:280:25:32

I can't have Nanny in the granny annexe, you're telling me?

0:25:320:25:34

-I don't know...

-Same scenario.

-I'm looking at this scenario. I don't know about the granny annexe.

0:25:340:25:39

It's the same scenario, the same thing.

0:25:390:25:40

You can't look at every incident in its own right. We don't do. We have to abide by the rules.

0:25:400:25:44

When it comes to something like fire safety, that's really fundamental,

0:25:440:25:48

and you're taking money off somebody. At that point, it's not about rules

0:25:480:25:52

any more, is it? It's about knowing what's right and how to protect that

0:25:520:25:55

person in case of the worst-case scenario, you know, in case of fire.

0:25:550:26:00

Well, I don't allow them to smoke in their room.

0:26:000:26:02

They've got ventilation. There's ventilation, in there, it's in the toilet.

0:26:020:26:05

-How much ventilation do you have?

-It's more about being able to escape if there's a fire and Megan's

0:26:050:26:10

at the top of these steps, she'd be stuffed. She'd be, you know... She'd be in trouble.

0:26:100:26:14

Well, then it's clear she needs to leave. Everyone needs to leave, simple.

0:26:140:26:17

The property's obviously not to your standards and, therefore, people

0:26:170:26:20

leave. And if that's what Chris decides, that's what'll happen.

0:26:200:26:23

OK, John, thank you for showing me around. And thanks for talking.

0:26:230:26:27

OK, no problem at all, thank you very much.

0:26:270:26:29

Chris, he was claiming that Megan is a lodger and, I've got to say,

0:26:290:26:32

that from everything I've learned so far about housing law,

0:26:320:26:36

-she looked like a tenant to me. What did you make of it?

-Yep.

0:26:360:26:38

Well, certainly we'll have to make more investigations on that matter,

0:26:380:26:41

I'll be speaking to the legal team to see exactly what that situation is.

0:26:410:26:45

And it may be that there isn't any further action that we can

0:26:450:26:47

take against this person, but as I explained to him,

0:26:470:26:50

the reason for this visit, under section 239 of the Housing Act, today

0:26:500:26:54

is for us to gather more information and evidence towards the case.

0:26:540:26:57

A big part of his argument was, "Well, it's certainly better than

0:26:570:27:01

"where she was before." Um, but that doesn't really wash, does it?

0:27:010:27:05

Because you've got to have basic standards for every single bit

0:27:050:27:08

of property where you're taking rent from people and putting them up.

0:27:080:27:11

Yep, I mean, I think, the thing is, you need to take

0:27:110:27:13

responsibility for your tenants and that's it.

0:27:130:27:16

And if there was a fatality or something similar within that

0:27:160:27:19

property, then how would that person feel, you know?

0:27:190:27:21

He's got to be responsible for the tenants that are in there

0:27:210:27:24

and, probably, for the sake of a few hundred pounds,

0:27:240:27:26

he could improve that property quite reasonably, so...

0:27:260:27:29

Yeah, yeah, he didn't quite seem to get that, really.

0:27:290:27:33

Maybe we got the message through, who knows? Thanks, Chris.

0:27:330:27:36

The good news is she's now moved out, She's living with her

0:27:400:27:44

boyfriend and his mum and I'm pleased to say she's very happy.

0:27:440:27:48

Young love. Fantastic.

0:27:480:27:49

The housing law that I've been getting to grips with is there

0:27:550:27:58

to make sure that everyone has the right to live in a safe home.

0:27:580:28:01

And in Kent, Mark has been using it in the case of a run-down

0:28:010:28:05

rental property in Margate that's anything but.

0:28:050:28:08

When I first came in this ceiling was down, the carpet was worn,

0:28:080:28:13

very likely to cause trips, very insecure. There's holes in the walls.

0:28:130:28:17

This building is in an area of town where there's a high concentration

0:28:170:28:21

of rental housing.

0:28:210:28:23

Because of this, the council operates a selective

0:28:230:28:25

licensing scheme, to try and pull up standards.

0:28:250:28:28

But over the last nine months, the four flats have fallen

0:28:280:28:32

into such disrepair and the tenants are fed up.

0:28:320:28:35

He kept saying, "I'll do something", but I've not had anything done,

0:28:350:28:41

I'm waiting for a new carpet, that's been about four years!

0:28:410:28:45

Just three weeks' later,

0:28:470:28:48

Mark is going back to the flats, to make sure that work is under way.

0:28:480:28:52

He's inspecting the building flat-by-flat and the first happy

0:28:520:28:56

tenant Kelly, can't wait to show off the improvements to her home.

0:28:560:28:59

Come in.

0:28:590:29:00

-So...

-It's all being decorated at the moment, so...!

0:29:000:29:04

-It's looking a lot better, isn't it?

-Yes, very much better.

0:29:040:29:07

There's no more water coming through?

0:29:070:29:09

No more water coming through, at the moment, touch wood, because we've had no weather at the moment.

0:29:090:29:15

-Yeah, I'm pleased with that.

-Yes, very good.

-Thank you.

-Good luck, thank you.

0:29:150:29:18

SHE CHUCKLES

0:29:180:29:20

But Mark knows there's one tenant whose problems run a lot deeper

0:29:200:29:23

than a lick of paint.

0:29:230:29:24

Hello Mr Whitworth, Mark Goldhawk.

0:29:240:29:27

Mark Whitworth has to clean up this place before any work can be done.

0:29:270:29:32

-It's a lot cleaner than the last time you were here.

-I think it is, actually.

0:29:320:29:36

-I started cleaning the cooker, but ran out of cleaning stuff.

-Yeah.

0:29:360:29:41

I can see that he's made an attempt, but, unfortunately, if you are

0:29:410:29:44

depressed, I suppose, and it sounds like he is very, very despondent,

0:29:440:29:48

then the last thing he's thinking about is doing the cleaning.

0:29:480:29:52

I'm not here to be his social worker,

0:29:520:29:54

I'm here to deal with the conditions in the property.

0:29:540:29:57

Hopefully, in a couple of weeks' time, it'll be a lot better.

0:29:570:30:00

At least a plan is in place that will allow Mark's flat to be sorted out.

0:30:000:30:05

He's going to be temporarily rehoused once work begins.

0:30:050:30:08

-Once they've finished flat three, I'm moving up to flat three.

-You're moving up to flat three?

0:30:080:30:13

While they're doing my place, because mine is the biggest problem.

0:30:130:30:17

There's light at the end of the tunnel now, they've started the work,

0:30:170:30:22

so just try and keep your chin up and, hopefully, in the next...

0:30:220:30:25

-Hopefully, yeah.

-..two to three weeks your living conditions will be significantly better.

0:30:250:30:31

Hopefully, yeah.

0:30:310:30:33

Things are moving, but I am discovering that Mark, like all

0:30:330:30:35

housing officers, can't sort out everybody's problems all at once.

0:30:350:30:40

With a vulnerable tenant like Mr Whitworth, it is very much

0:30:400:30:42

a work in progress.

0:30:420:30:45

I am working with other agencies to support Mr Whitworth.

0:30:450:30:47

I mean, there

0:30:470:30:49

are other professionals that will go in there and help him.

0:30:490:30:52

But, I think, this is one that I'll be keeping an eye on.

0:30:520:30:55

At housing HQ, in St Helens, Merseyside, Glynn Griffiths

0:31:030:31:07

has discovered a real dump.

0:31:070:31:09

Councils have little sympathy for fly-tippers,

0:31:110:31:14

and if you're caught persistently dumping,

0:31:140:31:16

you can land yourself with a £2,500 fine.

0:31:160:31:19

But there are some real wasters out there, whose rubbish doesn't

0:31:190:31:23

even make it to the street and it's a real problem

0:31:230:31:26

for their neighbours.

0:31:260:31:28

When this happens, it becomes a matter for the housing enforcers.

0:31:280:31:33

Glynn's one, so he is going to pop off and have look in his car,

0:31:330:31:36

but what I am wondering is, how often do they pick up the bins here?

0:31:360:31:40

There's a fortnightly bin collection for domestic waste that's

0:31:400:31:44

provided by the council, so there's no excuse for it that I know of.

0:31:440:31:49

Glynn's found three filthy backyards that need to transform pronto.

0:31:500:31:55

Can you empty the bins for me, please? So they've got a clean start.

0:31:570:32:00

Tenants are given three weeks to get rid of the rubbish themselves,

0:32:000:32:03

but if they take no notice, the council cavalry are called in.

0:32:030:32:07

-Bringing with them the men in white suits.

-Contractors invoice us,

0:32:070:32:10

which we then charge back to the occupier of the property.

0:32:100:32:13

Now, around here,

0:32:130:32:15

neighbours have become sick of the stench from this garden.

0:32:150:32:18

There's an open sewer there, We'll write to the owner

0:32:180:32:21

of the property and give him 14 days to get that put right.

0:32:210:32:25

But the drain issue is just the tip of this tip(!) Hm(!)

0:32:250:32:29

Lucky, it's raining, so there's not too much of an odour,

0:32:290:32:32

but you can imagine, on a hot sunny day, it's going to be pretty nasty

0:32:320:32:35

and if you're living next door to it with your kitchen window open,

0:32:350:32:38

there's going to be a fly problem and it's just going to be pretty stinky.

0:32:380:32:42

Glynn knows bins and he feels that each one tells its own story.

0:32:430:32:49

Someone's getting married.

0:32:490:32:51

It's a filthy job, but someone's got to do it, that's what they say.

0:32:510:32:54

All 19 barrowloads.

0:32:540:32:57

Doesn't really bother me, the smell any more.

0:32:570:32:59

When you first start it bothers you, then you just become immune to it.

0:32:590:33:03

I wouldn't, but that's just the start of it...

0:33:030:33:06

This is the second property I've got a warrant for.

0:33:070:33:10

I have spoken with the occupier. She's made some effort

0:33:100:33:13

to clear it, but there's still quite a significant amount left in there.

0:33:130:33:16

And the funny thing is,

0:33:160:33:19

it's bin day today.

0:33:190:33:20

It's about £100 to clear away that

0:33:210:33:24

quantity, but the crazy thing is, the bin men are out on site now.

0:33:240:33:29

If the bin was made available, the binmen would take it away for nothing.

0:33:290:33:33

So, put your bin out or get a fine from the council.

0:33:330:33:37

They're chucking money away, much to the dismay of the street's

0:33:370:33:40

more house-proud inhabitants. They've had it up to here.

0:33:400:33:44

There's no need for it. They clean it every two weeks

0:33:450:33:48

and then someone else puts a load of rubbish back out again.

0:33:480:33:51

I mean, that's clothes. You could take them to the charity shop.

0:33:510:33:54

I feel very sorry for the council, people coming out doing that.

0:33:540:33:58

Yeah, well, do you know what? The worst is still to come,

0:34:000:34:03

because Glyn, it appears, has drawn the short straw.

0:34:030:34:06

There's dog faeces, there's nappies, there's food waste.

0:34:090:34:12

Under the shed is the perfect spot for vermin.

0:34:140:34:17

There is some clear signs, there's some shredded-up rubbish,

0:34:210:34:24

gnawing, so you can see that there have been rats in there.

0:34:240:34:28

It's a rat B&B, everything's there that they need, food, water,

0:34:320:34:36

shelter, everything's en-suite.

0:34:360:34:39

If only it was just rats who lived here.

0:34:390:34:42

There's a family in this house with young children.

0:34:420:34:44

It's not a healthy environment.

0:34:460:34:48

My dog's got a better life than what's going on here.

0:34:480:34:52

It's just... It's heart breaking.

0:34:520:34:54

As far as I can I detach myself, my home life, from what I see at work.

0:34:560:35:02

I look at how my kids, and how my step kids have been brought up and...

0:35:020:35:06

..I don't think, sometimes, they realise how good they've got it.

0:35:080:35:12

There's kids out there that are living in squalor,

0:35:120:35:14

living in filth and no matter how much money you throw at it,

0:35:140:35:17

it's not going to be put right. You can educate and educate

0:35:170:35:20

and educate but, you know, it's...

0:35:200:35:23

I shudder to think what it's like inside.

0:35:240:35:26

At least the backyard is now finally beginning to resemble

0:35:260:35:30

a garden again.

0:35:300:35:32

The work they've done today,

0:35:320:35:33

given the fact it's all been strewn around the garden, it's been quite

0:35:330:35:36

a labour-intensive clear-up, it's going to be at least

0:35:360:35:40

£200 maybe £300.

0:35:400:35:41

As we've said for all the jobs today - put your bin out,

0:35:420:35:46

on bin days.

0:35:460:35:48

You'll save money and get along much better with your neighbours.

0:35:500:35:54

Back in Harwich, in Essex, we're visiting a property

0:36:040:36:07

that's become a real worry for the housing team.

0:36:070:36:10

Not to mention, anyone nearby.

0:36:100:36:13

You've got houses on either side of this,

0:36:130:36:15

that rely on this being here and being structurally sound.

0:36:150:36:18

Sound. Exactly.

0:36:180:36:20

Teresa Kemp got more than she bargained for

0:36:200:36:22

when she moved into the house next door.

0:36:220:36:25

It's caused the party wall, the wall between their property

0:36:250:36:28

and my property to have damp problems.

0:36:280:36:31

When housing officers Grant and Rob visited to assess the damage,

0:36:310:36:35

Teresa had just about had enough.

0:36:350:36:38

It actually brings tears to my eyes when I think about it,

0:36:380:36:40

-because this was supposed to be my last move.

-Yeah.

0:36:400:36:43

We've got a good idea of what's going on now.

0:36:430:36:46

Don't worry too much, we've got a variety of different options

0:36:460:36:49

-we're looking at.

-OK.

0:36:490:36:51

It is very upsetting.

0:36:510:36:53

Having established that the house is putting the adjoining

0:36:540:36:57

buildings at risk, Grant and Rob

0:36:570:37:00

must find a solution, to stop the rot from spreading.

0:37:000:37:03

It's coming through from two floors above.

0:37:030:37:05

-You can see that.

-So, there's worse than this?

-Yes.

0:37:050:37:08

'One option would be for the council

0:37:080:37:10

'to carry out the works in default, forcing the owner to pay

0:37:100:37:14

'once the house has been repaired. And it's a big job.'

0:37:140:37:18

This has just got to be completely gutted, hasn't it?

0:37:180:37:20

Oh, it's a major refurb, top to bottom.

0:37:200:37:22

'But before they can make a decision it's our job to calculate

0:37:230:37:26

'the full extent of the damage.'

0:37:260:37:28

I feel I need to see all of this.

0:37:300:37:32

This particular area really shows the full extent of the problem that we've got.

0:37:340:37:38

I don't know if you notice the floors are sheeted, the bed's sheeted.

0:37:380:37:44

Is that the occupant who's done that?

0:37:440:37:46

To prevent water from going in to the downstairs.

0:37:460:37:48

-So, the roof's completely gone, then?

-Yeah.

0:37:480:37:50

So, you've got water coming down and the only way they could do anything about it is by putting...

0:37:500:37:54

-If you look to the...

-There's a dustbin full of water.

-Dustbin...

0:37:540:37:58

-refuse bin, full of water.

-No sleep was taking place in here.

0:37:580:38:00

None at all, no. No-one's been in here for many, many years.

0:38:000:38:03

That's almost frozen in time, that bed, isn't it?

0:38:040:38:08

1990.

0:38:080:38:09

You can see again...

0:38:100:38:12

Obviously, we've got a real problem with the roof here.

0:38:120:38:15

You can see the mould growth on the floor, here, look. Fungus.

0:38:150:38:19

-Fully-fledged...?

-Fungus.

0:38:190:38:21

Tree-stump fungus.

0:38:210:38:23

Look here, you've got the wallpaper, and the plaster has come in sheets.

0:38:250:38:29

-It's actually come straight off.

-It's come off in sheet, yeah.

0:38:290:38:33

Let's look at the rest of the first floor.

0:38:330:38:36

'The more we explore, the more it clear to all of us

0:38:360:38:39

'just how much work needs to be done.'

0:38:390:38:41

I don't know how we're even going to get in because, I think, the floor's

0:38:420:38:45

-so badly shot.

-Oh, God.

0:38:450:38:48

-It's... it's just devastation in here.

-Absolutely.

0:38:480:38:52

The ceiling's gone completely and underneath it, is just a single

0:38:520:38:57

bed and just piles of newspapers.

0:38:570:39:00

It looks like a warzone.

0:39:030:39:05

Oh, my God, so you've got water coming in from the roof.

0:39:050:39:08

You've got damp. I take it that's what that is?

0:39:080:39:11

-That's rising damp, yeah.

-And rising damp from the ground which has

0:39:110:39:14

-made it all the way to the ceiling.

-Can I just take you out here?

0:39:140:39:17

Is there more? Oh, man!

0:39:170:39:19

-It's the bathroom.

-Yeah.

0:39:190:39:21

I mean, it's just room after room of devastation,

0:39:250:39:27

every room you go in.

0:39:270:39:30

'Our inspection has put the estimated cost of just making the

0:39:300:39:33

'property safe for the neighbours at well over £40,000.'

0:39:330:39:38

If it was a detached house, you'd almost say, "Knock it down

0:39:380:39:41

and start again." But because it's in between two you've got to do

0:39:410:39:45

-something, haven't you?

-We've got major, major issue.

0:39:450:39:47

'With the cost of repair so high,

0:39:470:39:49

'a works-in-default order could leave the council left to foot the bill.

0:39:490:39:54

'Grant and Rob must find an alternative solution.'

0:39:540:39:57

So, what's the next step here, then?

0:39:590:40:02

The next step is, it may be that we have to look

0:40:020:40:04

at a compulsory purchase order to buy it ourselves and then deal with it.

0:40:040:40:08

We're looking at the roof structure. Get it watertight,

0:40:080:40:11

sort the party wall agreements out and then deal with the rising damp.

0:40:110:40:15

-A watertight shell...

-Yeah.

-..that's not going to effect the other properties.

0:40:150:40:18

Remove the nuisance.

0:40:180:40:20

The only other option would be to find a private developer

0:40:200:40:23

who would buy the house, but either way, it seems extreme measures

0:40:230:40:27

are going to be needed, to save this building and to help the neighbours.

0:40:270:40:31

I thought you were over-egging it, by giving me

0:40:320:40:35

-personal-protection equipment, but you weren't, were you?

-Not at all.

0:40:350:40:38

Is that a one-off. Do you come across, have you come across, other places like that?

0:40:380:40:42

Regularly. It's a regular occurrence now.

0:40:420:40:44

'The housing officers that I'm working with are desperately

0:40:440:40:47

'trying to get the best result for EVERYBODY involved.

0:40:470:40:51

'Um, but trying to do that requires a great

0:40:510:40:54

'deal of skill on their part and a huge amount

0:40:540:40:57

'of human understanding.'

0:40:570:40:59

So, bravo, I'm not worthy... yet.

0:40:590:41:02

'Someone else who thought my skills weren't really up to scratch

0:41:080:41:11

'was Megan's landlord John Price.

0:41:110:41:14

'Without me, though, obviously, the legal team have come to a decision.'

0:41:140:41:18

It turns out that Chris, and I, were absolutely right.

0:41:180:41:22

Megan was never a lodger,

0:41:220:41:24

she couldn't access her landlord's home and the facilities in there

0:41:240:41:28

without going downstairs from her bedsit and going outside.

0:41:280:41:32

As a result, she was never a lodger, she was a tenant,

0:41:320:41:37

and should have received all the rights that go with that name.

0:41:370:41:40

Landlord John Price is appealing that decision.

0:41:400:41:43

That's it for today's show. Join me next time, on the front line,

0:41:470:41:51

with Britain's housing officers.

0:41:510:41:53

More and more of us are renting our homes. Now consumer champion Matt Allwright has laid down his microphone to join the ranks of Britain's housing officers. These men and women are the front line in the battle between landlords and tenants.

Matt Allwright doesn't just present the show - he's hit the books to become a trainee housing officer. Working shoulder-to-shoulder with his colleagues he learns on the job to search out bad landlords, tackle problem properties, deal with the consequences of nightmare neighbours and come to the rescue of tenants in need.

In this episode Matt tackles a landlord who may be putting his tenants' lives in danger and he inspects a ruined home, untouched since 1984. We meet a man who lost hope of his home being brought up to standard and stopped cleaning it and we find out what happens when people never take their bins out.