Episode 10 The Housing Enforcers


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Episode 10

Consumer programme. Matt Allwright joins the ranks of Britain's housing officers. Matt visits some dangerous bedsits where the landlord and the tenants are not on good terms.


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Transcript


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

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This isn't about you, this is to do with the building.

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But for thousands of people across Britain,

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the reality can be more hovel than home.

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The landlord has got concerns. He would be worried about fire risks.

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In the battle between tenants and landlords,

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

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You can't start blaming the ills of society on landlords,

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do you know what I mean?

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

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ready to join the ranks of these housing enforcers.

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Show me your rat holes.

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Oh, my God! Look!

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Tackling problem properties...

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They had to go through the whole winter with it like that.

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There's fresh rat droppings down here.

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

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-What was it that happened?

-Catapult job.

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..and everything in between.

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I can get a warrant from court and that would be the next step.

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-Do you like the big house?

-Yeah.

-Do you?

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Stop filming and leave my house.

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

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Coming up...

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I'm on the trail of a very elusive landlord whose tenants

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have had enough.

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It's freezing cold, you get frustrated and you're angry,

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and it's just...it's not easy.

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I would be absolutely bricking it, you know, if this was my property.

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I'd be thinking, "Oh, my God, "the council are coming round."

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Housing Officer Grant is fighting a losing battle

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with problem properties.

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We're trying to do our best to sort of improve the house

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and conditions down there,

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but it's trying to put sticking plaster over a dam, really.

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And I introduce a sofa-surfing couple to their very first home.

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Compare this to where you've been sleeping over the last few months.

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A million times better.

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This will be our first proper bed in a long while.

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An Englishman's home is his castle,

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but if that home is owned by somebody else, well,

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then you may need to know where to find your local housing officer.

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They're responsible for making sure that landlords live up to

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their duties and obligations.

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Namely, providing somewhere to live that is safe and decent.

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In St Helens, Merseyside,

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there are more than 7,000 rental properties, but, shockingly,

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more than 50% fail what's known as the decency standard.

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I'm working with seasoned housing officers Pam Coppock

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and Chrissy Nevitt.

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-You do, literally, have to be ready for anything.

-OK.

-OK.

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And we're heading to an old terraced house that's been let out

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as seven individual bedsits.

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Tenants have made complaints about a dangerous lack of maintenance,

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and the way they're being treated by the landlord,

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who, despite being chased for the last seven months,

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doesn't even have a licence to rent out the house.

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Chrissy's gone on ahead so Pam can brief me on the way to the property.

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It should be his fifth year of licensing,

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and we've not had any correspondence from him.

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So we're going to try and chase it up, really.

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That seems like a long time, considering that this could be

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a house that is unsafe for one reason or another.

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That feels like a long time that he can get away with it for.

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Well, this is his second invite to join us

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and look over the property with us,

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so whether he'll turn up or not I don't know.

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By law, housing officers have to give the tenants

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and the landlord 24 hours' notice to enter the property.

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-This one here?

-It is.

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And even though they're not expecting any trouble,

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police are always present on this sort of inspection

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in this neck of the woods.

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Are you happy to sort of guide us through the property?

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Yeah, of course.

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-Pam will do the inspection of the rooms.

-Yeah.

-Is that all right?

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-Yeah, yeah.

-Tenant Gary made the initial complaint.

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He lives at the very top of the house.

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I had a mate who lived upstairs who moved me in here.

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It seemed all right at the time.

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I phoned the council because the hot water went off.

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It was off for about a week, something like that.

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I asked them to get it fixed, nothing was getting done.

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I had no other option but to phone the council

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and get something done properly. There's just always something wrong.

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As soon as Pam walks into Gary's flat, she spots a serious fire risk.

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Oh, that's a serious fire risk, isn't it?

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We've got problems, cos we're coming straight in from the main door

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past a cooker.

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Oh, so, the fire's in here, you're in there, you can't get out.

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So, fire safety.

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If a fire did break out,

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Gary's only escape route is through the window, which is 25 metres

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above street level - that's a big drop.

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Anything over four and a half metres is considered to be too high

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to jump by the council.

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That's a long way down.

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You're not going to survive the drop.

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-You've got a gas cooker?

-Yes.

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Does your landlord do a regular gas safety check?

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No, nothing at all, no.

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Have you got any fire detectors in here? Smoke detectors?

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Yes, that actually doesn't work.

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Cos the electrics keep tripping, the fire alarm's went off

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a couple of times in here, and I can just about hear it.

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It's only when I'm awake that I know it's going off downstairs.

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So I can't even hear that, either.

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Does that actually trip them?

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We don't know if that's working or not.

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No, I've been asleep all night, woke up the next morning

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and I've just about heard it downstairs,

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everyone going off their head, cos they can hear it from downstairs,

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-apart from me cos I'm all the way up here.

-Right.

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You've got no electric at the moment?

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The electric's been off now for about two weeks, I think.

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Are you all right if we just have a bob around the flat and have a look?

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Of course, yeah.

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In the bathroom, Pam wants to know why the window's been boarded up.

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Since I moved in the outside of the glass was already smashed,

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which I told them when I came in to view the flat.

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He said, "I'll get that fixed."

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Er, I think it was some point last year.

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Would you mind taking it off, because if I break your window...

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Yeah, yeah...

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Oh, my word...

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Yeah, the outside's been like that since I moved in.

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Gary's been living like this for the last two years,

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but with all the problems he's reached breaking point.

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So have you withheld rent?

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-Yeah.

-Because the works aren't done.

-We've got no hot water for...

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it's been about two months there was no hot water, no heating,

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nothing like that. So I refused to pay him rent.

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He served me my notice, I said fair enough, when do you want me out by,

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and then arguments basically started from there.

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He came out, he said you've got, like, a week, something like that,

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I said I need a bit more time to save a deposit.

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But your notice is supposed to be two months. Is that right?

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-Yeah.

-Section 21.

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-Section 21, two months.

-And he gave me, basically, a week after that.

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Cos I argued with him,

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and I got quite a bit of legal advice over the phone and stuff.

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I told him about it and he's backed off a bit, like.

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Can I ask how much you pay for this?

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It's £350 a month. It's supposed to be all bills included.

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I can see that Pam's worried about Gary's situation.

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He might not have done himself any favours.

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Where does Gary stand with this, cos he stopped paying the rent?

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Yeah. We never advise that.

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We always tell a tenant to carry on paying the rent

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because a tenancy agreement is a contract.

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One half of the tenancy agreement is the landlord will always do

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the maintenance and keep the place in good repair.

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The tenant's side is that he will always pay his rent.

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But surely we're at the point

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when the landlord has failed to provide the things

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he said he's going to provide. He's broken the contract first,

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so why would you continue to pay?

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Because if it ever goes to tribunal, or if we get involved,

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or you're trying to show that you've been a reasonable person,

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you've adhered to your contract, you haven't done anything wrong,

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you've met your contractual agreements.

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What do you think of this place so far?

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Erm... A bit worried at the moment.

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-We've only seen one room.

-I know. I know.

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And we need to see the others.

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But later, when we inspect the house, the list of problems

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gets even longer.

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If we can see out, that means rats can see in.

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Next we're off to the seaside village of Jaywick

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on the Essex coast.

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Housing officers Grant Fenton-Jones and Rob Goswell are on the road!

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I've been to some of those famous beaches, like Brighton

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and that, and I thought, "This is nothing compared to Jaywick."

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It's definitely something original, innit?

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Yeah.

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Despite its beauty, Jaywick is a problem patch for Grant and Rob.

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In fact, the village has been named

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one of the most deprived areas in Britain.

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Today they're heading to the latest property to fall victim

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to antisocial behaviour.

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-It's unsecured, so all the kids are getting in.

-Lovely.

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Trouble is, there's also the chance

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that someone will end up getting hurt.

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Landlord's had a notice, he's not complied with it.

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This half-renovated seaside home has been abandoned.

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It's an all-too-familiar story in Jaywick.

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I do like how they always seem to get me XXXL.

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Need an adult to dress me. Look at this, look.

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Oh, dear.

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-Morning!

-All right, mate?

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Having tried and failed to contact the owner,

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Grant and Rob are having to assess the latest trail

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of destruction here.

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-Smoothly done, mate.

-You all right?

-Yeah.

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Watch out for me big helmet.

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You've got a massive hole there, watch out, mate.

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We had a quite a few fires in here.

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You can actually see the evidence there on the insulation over there.

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They were saying they're coming through the roof.

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Yes! And sort of kicking it all apart in here.

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It seems like unwelcome intruders will go to any lengths to

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get into a derelict house.

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This property now has to be boarded up again

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and secured with a heavy-duty tarpaulin.

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As a local authority we've got a duty to sort of make sure

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that this is safe, so we've served a notice,

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it's not been complied with, so we're doing the works in default.

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And now we'll look at it as a long-term empty

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and we will serve another notice,

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requiring the landlord to either renovate or demolish.

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So give him six months on that notice,

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but at least we can keep it secure and safe as best we can.

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That's one property tackled,

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but Grant and Rob are dealing with a unique problem in Jaywick.

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The village was originally developed

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to be a summer getaway for Londoners,

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so many of its houses weren't designed as permanent residences,

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and they're now beginning to show their age.

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The area is also at risk of flooding,

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so owners are deserting their properties and are reluctant

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to spend money on maintenance, which leaves the place open to vandalism.

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-DOG BARKS

-All right, fella. All right.

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Hello.

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A waste management team has been sent in to sort out this

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abandoned house, but the clear-up process has now ground to a halt.

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So they've found asbestos in the mess somewhere,

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and so that's why they've stopped doing work.

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A load of glass here.

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Yeah, I know. Problem is, you start on turning up this grass

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-and it's going to be more and more...

-Ah, there we are.

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Yeah, they've downed tools, pretty much, haven't they?

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It's not just asbestos the pair have to deal with.

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Can you gain access from underneath?

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-Yes, you can.

-Can you?

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Hello, love, straight in here, look.

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You know what they've done, don't you, they've set a fire.

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-Yeah, to get into it.

-This is what happened,

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they've lit a fire, so they've got in.

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It's like time has forgotten in here, isn't it?

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It's been a long-term empty property, which obviously

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we were getting boarded up.

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We've now been told that the waste contractors can't continue

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any longer, so we've come to have a look and investigate

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and we've also found that it's no longer secure either.

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So we need to get this all boarded up, cos the last thing

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we want is the place to be burnt down or anyone injured

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gaining access, like children or whatever.

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We'll look at serving a notice under Section 79 of the Building Act,

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which will give the owner the opportunity to either renovate

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or demolish.

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We'll probably give them a six-month time span on that.

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Once again, the council is left to sort out the problem,

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when it should be the owner who foots the bill.

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We are trying to do our best to sort of improve

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the housing conditions down here,

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but when you get these privately rented properties,

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sometimes the landlord, I think maybe they lose heart

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cos over a period of time their properties have been attacked

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and burnt down or vandalised,

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and it's trying to put sticking plaster over a dam, really,

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trying to keep up with the amount of work that we need to do here.

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I'm starting to realise just how frustrating this situation is

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for our housing officers.

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It's very difficult to deal with these. It is almost, to a degree,

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like, sort of playing whack a mole, almost.

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We get one bit done and something else kind of raises up.

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So the council is very pro-active dealing with these ones,

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-hence the reason why we're here.

-But it costs money.

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But it does cost considerable amounts of money.

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It's important to track down the owner of this property

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and get it sorted out, especially as somebody seems to be

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attempting what's commonly known as a land grab.

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See whether or not people are just trying to do a land grab

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and pretend they've sort of been maintaining it for ten years

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and then claim it as their own.

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-Sort of maintaining it.

-Yes, sort of maintaining it.

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What they'll do is, you have a vacant plot or a house,

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and they'll find out on land registry whether or not

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it's been registered.

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If it's not been registered, they'll then fence it off,

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and maintain the land, sometimes they're not.

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If they can prove they've been doing it for ten years or so,

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they can then register the land in their name.

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So that has happened, or attempted to be happened

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in the past down there.

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For now, all Grant and Rob can do is remove the immediate risk

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by making the building safe and secure.

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It's secure round near the windows,

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so now we're going to get it skirted underneath so no-one can set a fire

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like they've done before and come up from underneath.

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And Rob can get to work on solving the mystery

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of who owns the property. We'll have an update later.

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Back in St Helens, there's growing concern

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about the state of this unlicensed block of bedsits.

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There's no fire exit from Gary's flat.

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You're not going to survive the drop.

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And things get even worse as we head down to the basement.

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There's not actually any lights down here.

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There's a broken step second from the bottom.

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Just be careful.

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Down here there are two separate shower rooms

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that are the only washing facilities for two of the flats.

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And next door there's a boiler that heats the whole house,

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but the wall it's attached to is in a shocking state.

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There's a hole under the boiler

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that goes straight out to the back garden.

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You can see daylight and the back garden.

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And if we can see out, that means rats can see in.

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It's clear this household needs serious maintenance to make it safe.

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Yet the landlord still charges £350 per month for the room -

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that's nearly £30,000 a year when the place is fully tenanted.

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So where is the landlord?

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I would be absolutely bricking it, you know,

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if this was my property. I'd be thinking, "Oh, my God

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"the council are coming round." You know? He's not here.

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-He's still getting the money coming in...

-Yeah.

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..but he's not here to put things right at the point

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when it's getting quite close to last-chance saloon, really.

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You've got the top-floor flat with the cooking and the drop-out window,

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you've got down here that doesn't even have any electrical lights

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to come down the stairs.

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It's great if you've got your big torches,

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but that tenant has to come down and use this facility

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in the middle of the night if she needs to,

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and she doesn't even have lights on the staircase, so it's not great.

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Back up on the ground floor, I meet another disgruntled tenant,

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young mum Faye, who lives here with her three-year-old son.

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Have you brought up a lot of the problems with this place

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with the landlord?

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He is aware of them, and I have spoken to him about them,

0:16:160:16:19

so he does know, but, erm...

0:16:190:16:22

-he's not...you know...

-Just not responsive?

0:16:220:16:25

No. He always says, "Oh, yeah, I'll fix it, I'll fix it."

0:16:250:16:29

And then weeks pass and months pass and nothing gets done.

0:16:290:16:33

Can you describe what it's like living under these conditions?

0:16:330:16:37

It's freezing cold, you get frustrated and you're angry,

0:16:370:16:40

and it's just... it's not easy, you know?

0:16:400:16:43

Sometimes you've got to get a wash, you've got to be somewhere,

0:16:430:16:46

you've got to be presentable

0:16:460:16:48

and you can't because the shower is freezing cold,

0:16:480:16:51

and the inside is freezing cold, and it's just horrible.

0:16:510:16:55

And your little chap is...

0:16:550:16:56

Exactly. It's not fair on him at all Just not fair.

0:16:560:17:00

Faye's flat does have access to a back yard which is her son's only

0:17:000:17:04

play area, but the steps are so slippery anyone using them

0:17:040:17:08

could have a serious accident.

0:17:080:17:10

Be careful, because they're really, really slippy.

0:17:120:17:16

I can't even go down on these. I can't.

0:17:160:17:19

I'm going to come a cropper.

0:17:190:17:21

Yeah, no, don't go down. There's no handrail.

0:17:210:17:23

It's slippy, and I don't know whether they're secure.

0:17:230:17:26

It is heartbreaking to find a young mum with a toddler

0:17:260:17:29

living in these conditions,

0:17:290:17:30

but it's not down to Pam's team to find Faye a home.

0:17:300:17:34

-Our remit isn't to get you rehoused. I can't do that.

-Yeah, I know.

0:17:340:17:37

But I can let them know what the conditions are like you're living in,

0:17:370:17:41

-and sort of like put in a good word.

-Thank you.

0:17:410:17:44

-All right?

-Yeah.

-And then we'll see, because, er...

0:17:440:17:47

I am a bit worried about you.

0:17:470:17:50

Thanks very much, Faye.

0:17:500:17:52

OK, so what happens from here, then?

0:17:520:17:54

What can you make happen quickly and then in the slightly longer term?

0:17:540:17:59

Make sure that the landlord realises his responsibilities.

0:17:590:18:02

He comes down, he gets the works started, and we're confident they're

0:18:020:18:07

going to be completed, because as it stands he doesn't get a licence.

0:18:070:18:10

We can't licence the property.

0:18:100:18:12

If you knowingly run a property that should have a licence

0:18:120:18:16

and it doesn't, you can be prosecuted,

0:18:160:18:18

and it's up to a £20,000 fine and/or five years in prison.

0:18:180:18:23

Coming up, there's more bad news for the tenants.

0:18:230:18:27

I'm a bit angry about it

0:18:270:18:28

because I feel sorry for the new tenants who've just moved in.

0:18:280:18:33

It's not fair on us.

0:18:330:18:34

It's the job of housing officers across the UK to make sure

0:18:380:18:42

that people have a decent place to live.

0:18:420:18:45

I'm really concerned about what you're living in here,

0:18:450:18:48

and I want to get it fixed for you.

0:18:480:18:49

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

0:18:490:18:54

There's a thing down in the corner there growing out of the skirts

0:18:540:18:56

and it looks like a sea sponge.

0:18:560:18:58

I'm hitting the streets.

0:18:580:18:59

I'm learning on the job.

0:19:010:19:02

We call that flash banding.

0:19:020:19:03

That's like a temporary fix, isn't it?

0:19:030:19:05

To find out what it takes to make sure that every house

0:19:050:19:10

is fit to be called a home.

0:19:100:19:11

I know I've only been in the job for a bit, but this is a shock.

0:19:110:19:14

You've got three boys? Where does everybody sleep?

0:19:140:19:17

You seem to get very angry.

0:19:170:19:18

I've had too many people mug me off.

0:19:180:19:20

Next up, we're off to Stevenage in Hertfordshire,

0:19:240:19:27

where housing officer Emma Williams is on her way to visit

0:19:270:19:30

a young mum on benefits in desperate need of rehousing.

0:19:300:19:33

The lady that we're going to see now contacted us

0:19:330:19:35

about three or four months ago.

0:19:350:19:37

She was having some difficulties in her relationship,

0:19:370:19:42

basically a relationship breakdown.

0:19:420:19:44

Lauren and her daughter Faith are just two of

0:19:460:19:48

the tens of thousands of people who register themselves

0:19:480:19:52

as homeless each year in the UK.

0:19:520:19:54

They've been living in emergency housing

0:19:540:19:56

since Lauren split from her partner.

0:19:560:19:58

We tried to live together for Faith's sake for about

0:19:590:20:01

a year and half.

0:20:010:20:03

And it was just getting worse and worse

0:20:030:20:05

and she was starting to, like, I suppose, understand.

0:20:050:20:08

So when we'd start talking

0:20:080:20:10

she'd instantly think that we was going to argue.

0:20:100:20:13

So she would say - "Mummy, Daddy, stop talking,

0:20:130:20:15

"stop talking."

0:20:150:20:16

Shall we put a hair band in her hair?

0:20:160:20:18

Lauren's current home is a cramped bedsit.

0:20:180:20:20

This is the hallway.

0:20:220:20:24

And then just in here is our bathroom.

0:20:240:20:27

Got bath, sink, normal stuff.

0:20:270:20:30

So in here is the bedroom and living room and in this bit

0:20:300:20:34

here is the kitchen - we've got everything, cooker, new cooker

0:20:340:20:38

and then the fridge is just in the bedroom as well.

0:20:380:20:41

It's been OK, the only thing that really gets me

0:20:410:20:44

is that I have to go to bed when she goes to bed otherwise she won't

0:20:440:20:48

go to sleep, so I've been going to bed at, like, seven o'clock with her.

0:20:480:20:52

Where? Where? Where? Where...

0:20:520:20:54

But for Lauren, there could be good news round the corner.

0:20:540:20:57

Emma's found a one-bedroom flat that could be perfect for the family.

0:20:570:21:02

But with housing in such high demand,

0:21:020:21:05

the landlord will have his pick of potential tenants.

0:21:050:21:08

They like to see how the person's dressed,

0:21:080:21:13

how they present themselves.

0:21:130:21:14

If they believe they might have an issue,

0:21:140:21:17

and I suppose you don't really know until, I would say, at least two or

0:21:170:21:20

three months into the tenancy whether or not this person

0:21:200:21:25

is going to be a bad tenant. You know, we would want to find

0:21:250:21:29

the best tenants for them as possible.

0:21:290:21:32

Today landlord Mark has two families booked in to view the property,

0:21:320:21:37

so the pressure's on for Lauren and Faith to make a good impression.

0:21:370:21:41

You know, we've got

0:21:410:21:42

such a massive list of people who need properties

0:21:420:21:45

and, you know, there is only one to go around and I suppose the landlord

0:21:450:21:49

has to make the choice and when you have to break that news to them

0:21:490:21:52

they are very sad about it.

0:21:520:21:54

Look, there's a park just across the road. That's good, isn't it?

0:21:540:21:57

-I want to go there.

-You want to go there, oh.

0:21:570:22:00

OK, this is the bathroom.

0:22:000:22:02

This is a nice property, it's um, obviously, a lot better than what

0:22:030:22:06

I'm in at the minute and the park is just across the road

0:22:060:22:09

so it's ideal, really.

0:22:090:22:11

We've got another viewing coming in a minute.

0:22:110:22:14

We'll know from that viewing as to who they're going to choose

0:22:140:22:17

but from there we'll definitely tell you by today

0:22:170:22:20

as to what the situation will be.

0:22:200:22:21

Thank you. Thank you. Come on then, Faithie, let's go.

0:22:210:22:25

With Lauren and Faith clearly sold on the house,

0:22:250:22:27

they now face an anxious wait while the second couple are shown round.

0:22:270:22:31

Some cases it can be quite demoralising

0:22:320:22:36

and they don't like the property or especially

0:22:360:22:38

if the landlords don't want to go with them either

0:22:380:22:40

and having to tell them and break that news to them,

0:22:400:22:43

it can be quite heartbreaking.

0:22:430:22:45

The viewings are over. It's now crunch time,

0:22:450:22:48

the landlord has to choose between the two families.

0:22:480:22:51

I would be happier that there was just the one person in here

0:22:510:22:54

and I think the size of the flat kind of lends itself

0:22:540:22:56

to one person and a child rather than a couple.

0:22:560:22:58

Yeah, yeah.

0:22:580:23:00

With a baby like that. Because I think there's

0:23:000:23:02

too many adults in a smaller place, potentially.

0:23:020:23:05

Do you think she's quite happy to move in?

0:23:050:23:08

Yeah, I think Lauren would be the better candidate

0:23:080:23:11

-for the property.

-I think so.

0:23:110:23:13

-She will be so happy, definitely.

-Good. Definitely, yes.

0:23:130:23:16

Oh, that went so well, that went really, really well.

0:23:180:23:21

Really happy for the landlord, um,

0:23:210:23:23

yeah, we're going to make some very happy people.

0:23:230:23:26

The landlord believes his flat may not be big enough for a couple

0:23:260:23:29

and would prefer a tenant who is single.

0:23:290:23:32

All that's left for Lauren to do is sign the paperwork

0:23:320:23:35

and begin her new life.

0:23:350:23:36

-Write my name.

-You want to write your name, do you?

0:23:370:23:40

Mummy will get you some paper.

0:23:400:23:42

When all the paperwork has been sorted,

0:23:420:23:44

we've made someone, like - not homeless!

0:23:440:23:47

Which is always good in our jobs.

0:23:470:23:49

Back in St Helens, I've been working with Housing Officers Pam

0:23:550:23:59

and Chrissy on the trail of a landlord who's been renting

0:23:590:24:02

a property out as bedsits.

0:24:020:24:04

But not only is the building in need of serious maintenance...

0:24:040:24:07

Er, the outside has been like that

0:24:070:24:09

-since we moved in.

-..the landlord doesn't even have a proper licence.

0:24:090:24:13

If you knowingly run a property that should have a licence

0:24:130:24:17

and it doesn't, you can be prosecuted.

0:24:170:24:20

Now, since our last visit, some things have been fixed,

0:24:200:24:23

such as tenant Gary's smashed window and the wall behind the boiler.

0:24:230:24:27

But the boiler itself is still inadequate for a house this size,

0:24:270:24:31

and Gary still doesn't have a proper fire exit.

0:24:310:24:35

Bad enough, you might think, but Pam has some even worse news.

0:24:350:24:39

It's been alleged that the landlord has said

0:24:400:24:44

we're insisting on vacation so that he can close the property.

0:24:440:24:47

So the council is insisting on, on everyone moving out,

0:24:470:24:50

-that's what he's claiming?

-That's what he's claiming,

0:24:500:24:53

-obviously, we're not...

-That's not the case.

0:24:530:24:55

..we're asking for it to be licensed, which it needs to be done.

0:24:550:24:58

To add insult to injury, since our last visit,

0:24:580:25:01

he's only gone and rented out another of the flats!

0:25:010:25:04

Can we come in? Is that all right?

0:25:040:25:06

-Thanks, Laura.

-Thanks, Laura.

0:25:060:25:08

What tenancy agreement have you got? What type of agreement is it?

0:25:080:25:13

Six months.

0:25:130:25:15

'Despite Laura only moving in two weeks ago, she's now being evicted.

0:25:150:25:19

'But the letter the landlord has given her

0:25:190:25:21

'is from HIS mortgage company threatening HIM with repossession.'

0:25:210:25:25

They're still working under the assumption here that

0:25:250:25:28

everything within this property belongs to him, as if it's his home.

0:25:280:25:31

-As if it's his home. Yeah.

-They need to know as soon as possible

0:25:310:25:34

that there are tenants here with their own property

0:25:340:25:37

and possessions here that the bailiffs have no right to touch.

0:25:370:25:40

Thanks a lot, guys.

0:25:400:25:43

For young mum Faye, news of a possible eviction is the last straw.

0:25:430:25:47

The council have found her a place in a hostel,

0:25:470:25:50

so she's moving with her son until she can find a new flat.

0:25:500:25:53

I'm a bit angry about it, because I feel sorry for the new tenants

0:25:530:25:58

who've just moved in, they moved in and not even a week later

0:25:580:26:01

that letter arrived and they've got to find somewhere else

0:26:010:26:04

now as well. It's not fair on us, do you know what I mean?

0:26:040:26:08

And how about you for the future?

0:26:080:26:09

Are you looking forward to the next place you're going to?

0:26:090:26:12

I'm so excited, I can't wait to get out of here.

0:26:120:26:14

Just have my own space, you know what I mean?

0:26:140:26:16

I'll be able to finally settle down.

0:26:160:26:19

I wish you all the best, I really do, for both of you.

0:26:190:26:21

Thank you.

0:26:210:26:23

It's great that Faye's feeling so positive about the future but that

0:26:230:26:26

still leaves the threat of eviction hanging over the other tenants.

0:26:260:26:29

We'll get an update on what's facing them, later.

0:26:290:26:32

Back in Essex in the district of Tendring,

0:26:400:26:43

housing officer Grant Fenton-Jones, this time joined

0:26:430:26:46

by Ian Kavanagh, is about to face another day of problem properties.

0:26:460:26:50

-Oh, we'll get you up a ladder again today!

-Oh!

0:26:500:26:52

I forgot about that, well done.

0:26:520:26:54

Oh, no! As long as you don't look down

0:26:540:26:57

-it's not so bad.

-You get vertigo cleaning the windows, don't you?

0:26:570:27:00

This pair are the go-to guys when it gets grimy.

0:27:000:27:03

-Where did we put all the shoe covers?

-I don't know.

0:27:030:27:06

With nearly 20 years on the job between them,

0:27:060:27:08

this pair have seen it all.

0:27:080:27:10

We regularly visit properties that are, um, less than clean,

0:27:100:27:14

shall we say? Normally we have to wipe our feet on the way out.

0:27:140:27:18

See you later, Marion - I love you too.

0:27:180:27:20

Today they've been called out to a very special property

0:27:220:27:26

that Grant hasn't set foot in for a long time.

0:27:260:27:28

It's his old childhood home.

0:27:280:27:30

It's going to be a bit of a trip down memory lane for me.

0:27:300:27:34

-We were so poor we never had a bath.

-You didn't have a bath?

0:27:340:27:37

-No, we never had a bathroom.

-You're not that old, Grant.

0:27:370:27:39

You weren't born in the '50s.

0:27:390:27:41

-No... well, it was a rented property.

-Oh, right.

0:27:410:27:45

Looking forward to that.

0:27:450:27:47

Whoa! That was clever, mate.

0:27:470:27:50

Grant may remember his home fondly,

0:27:500:27:51

but for the current tenant Naomi Warcombe,

0:27:510:27:53

the house is making her family's life a misery.

0:27:530:27:57

There's mould in nearly every room,

0:27:570:28:00

there is some sort of, either a leaky roof or something in the roof.

0:28:000:28:04

And the kitchen is coming off the walls.

0:28:040:28:06

Not knowing what else to do,

0:28:060:28:08

Naomi's complained directly to the council housing team.

0:28:080:28:11

-Hiya.

-Hello.

-Tendring District Council.

0:28:110:28:14

-Come on in.

-Could you just give us an idea

0:28:140:28:16

what the problems are and take us round?

0:28:160:28:18

Come on you, you can come with us.

0:28:180:28:21

Well, that is the mould, is all there, you see that

0:28:220:28:26

all around the house to the point where my...

0:28:260:28:28

The TV people had to come in with the TV line up the wall

0:28:280:28:31

-because it corroded away down there.

-Right.

0:28:310:28:34

The council is obliged to inform the landlord of their inspection

0:28:340:28:37

so they'll be joined by

0:28:370:28:38

a representative from the letting agency.

0:28:380:28:41

Naomi's main concern is how the damp

0:28:410:28:43

and mould could be affecting her 18-month-old daughter Amy Lee.

0:28:430:28:47

She's constantly getting ill,

0:28:470:28:49

one thing after another, coming out in rashes.

0:28:490:28:52

I'm not too sure whether the house is making it worse

0:28:520:28:55

or if the house is what made her have it.

0:28:550:28:57

But I don't think living in a mouldy house is helping her health at all.

0:28:570:29:02

Damp has been linked to a number of respiratory diseases

0:29:020:29:05

such as asthma and bronchitis and it's something

0:29:050:29:08

none of us should have to live with. There are three types of damp.

0:29:080:29:11

If the problem is structural

0:29:250:29:27

then the landlord is responsible for fixing it.

0:29:270:29:30

Upstairs, the detective work to hunt for the source of the problem

0:29:300:29:33

begins in the one room Grant never had - the bathroom.

0:29:330:29:37

This is coming off the wall... the WC cistern.

0:29:370:29:40

Yeah, and it's just mould. I cleaned this just a couple of months ago.

0:29:400:29:44

-So, yeah. It's just come back.

-Yeah.

-OK.

0:29:440:29:46

Do you ventilate in here when you have a bath or anything?

0:29:460:29:49

Yeah, I keep the window open,

0:29:490:29:50

even when I clean it just gets left like all of that.

0:29:500:29:53

Yeah, I know it's a pain but you really need to

0:29:530:29:55

keep on top of this black a bit more often. Every couple of months.

0:29:550:29:58

I'm going to recommend they put an extractor fan in here, as well,

0:29:580:30:01

so if they don't open the window during bathing

0:30:010:30:04

it will continue to pull the wet air out.

0:30:040:30:06

But when Grant was a boy,

0:30:060:30:07

this was an altogether different kind of room.

0:30:070:30:10

That used to be my brother's bedroom, that did.

0:30:100:30:13

Oh, did you have a little outhouse?

0:30:130:30:15

No, we had an outside toilet and had a bath in the kitchen. Yeah.

0:30:150:30:18

We had to go up to my gran's for a bath.

0:30:180:30:21

We used to sit in here and listen to his records with him

0:30:210:30:24

when I was about five and he was about, oh... How old is he now?

0:30:240:30:28

He probably had been sort of late teens,

0:30:280:30:31

I suppose, so he was probably my hero in those days, really.

0:30:310:30:34

Not any more, I hate him now, but... CHUCKLING

0:30:340:30:37

No, he's all right.

0:30:370:30:39

Yeah, it's quite surreal, really.

0:30:390:30:41

I can hear the Hovis music playing in the background.

0:30:410:30:43

I know.

0:30:430:30:45

Back to the job in hand. In the main bedroom,

0:30:450:30:47

there's a much more significant problem.

0:30:470:30:50

There's a patch with what appears to be a tide line

0:30:500:30:54

where moisture could be getting in from an overflowing gutter

0:30:540:30:56

or there could be a hole in the roof in that area.

0:30:560:30:59

-Although, saying that, it could be flashing, couldn't it?

-Yeah.

0:30:590:31:02

Water is coming in from above, which means

0:31:020:31:04

climbing into the roof space to investigate.

0:31:040:31:06

-I don't have a ladder or anything.

-We do.

0:31:060:31:09

OK!

0:31:090:31:10

Can you see any daylight?

0:31:120:31:14

Oh, yeah, there is a bit of evidence on that the parapet.

0:31:140:31:17

-It is leaking.

-Yeah.

-I can see streaky rain down here.

0:31:170:31:21

-There is a gap around that stack as well.

-Yeah. OK.

0:31:210:31:26

Ow!

0:31:260:31:27

Another problem identified.

0:31:270:31:29

Back downstairs, the memories come flooding back.

0:31:290:31:32

My dad used to sit here at the table rolling his fags.

0:31:320:31:35

On this table here, on the very table, here just here.

0:31:350:31:38

This used to have a door across there.

0:31:390:31:41

-You got a tumble drier going in here at all?

-No.

0:31:410:31:44

Cos it's showing a lot of mould in here.

0:31:440:31:46

Then Ian spots what could be the worst water damage yet.

0:31:460:31:49

Grant, I've just noticed something here, mate.

0:31:490:31:51

-What's that, mate?

-That looks relatively new when the light's on.

0:31:510:31:54

I can see it. That's going to go off the scale.

0:31:540:31:56

-That's off the scale, mate, that's saturated.

-Go around the brickwork.

0:31:560:32:00

I tell you, that's absolutely saturated.

0:32:000:32:03

Going in the brickwork. Yeah.

0:32:030:32:05

BEEPING

0:32:050:32:08

That's absolutely saturated, there's something happening there.

0:32:080:32:11

Do you reckon it's where this fence is attached to the wall?

0:32:110:32:13

It could be it's that.

0:32:130:32:15

Crikey, Ian, you're right for a change.

0:32:180:32:21

-Where that post is.

-Yeah.

-They've rendered round it.

0:32:210:32:23

-Have they?

-The water is getting in behind, round the post,

0:32:230:32:25

and it's sitting behind that new render.

0:32:250:32:28

Well, there is damp, but, luckily,

0:32:280:32:30

Grant and Ian seem to have identified each source.

0:32:300:32:33

It's not bad, the property, really. I know it's all right

0:32:330:32:36

me saying that, I don't live here, but it's not particularly bad

0:32:360:32:39

so that's why we've got to look at other ways

0:32:390:32:42

we can improve your conditions and help you,

0:32:420:32:44

-at the same time, be fair to the landlord.

-Yeah.

0:32:440:32:47

You know, there's one or two bits he's got to do but it's not...

0:32:470:32:51

it's nothing that's going to cause him great hardship, I don't think.

0:32:510:32:55

The landlord now has four weeks to respond.

0:32:550:32:58

Failure to act on Grant's recommendations

0:32:580:33:00

could lead to prosecution.

0:33:000:33:02

Hopefully now improvements will be made -

0:33:020:33:05

which will, perhaps, give Amy Lee a better chance of getting well.

0:33:050:33:09

I think for Grant it's one of the stranger house calls he's made.

0:33:090:33:13

A bit surreal, really, going back in there after 30,

0:33:130:33:16

38 years since I was last in there.

0:33:160:33:20

I didn't expect to see a bathroom, but, yeah, fairly similar.

0:33:200:33:23

It was hard with four kids, Dad, and a big dog as well so you can

0:33:230:33:26

imagine it in there, that kitchen was half the size of that, having to

0:33:260:33:30

go outside to use the toilet, having to get in the kitchen to have a

0:33:300:33:33

wash in the morning while my sister was hogging it, which was great fun.

0:33:330:33:36

-But...

-I'm surprised it's not you who was hogging it.

0:33:360:33:38

-No, not in them days, might have been now.

-Yeah, I was going to say,

0:33:380:33:41

there wouldn't be enough room for all your male grooming products

0:33:410:33:44

-in there, now.

-It ain't done me any good, have they?

-No, no.

0:33:440:33:46

-You need Polyfilla, mate, that's what you need.

-I know, I know I do.

0:33:460:33:50

Here's a scary statistic - eight million of us

0:33:580:34:00

are only a month's paycheck away from losing our homes.

0:34:000:34:04

And the number of people sleeping on the streets

0:34:040:34:07

has shot up by more than a third in the past few years.

0:34:070:34:10

Lowestoft in Suffolk might have all of the charm of a seaside town,

0:34:110:34:15

but there are plenty of people experiencing its rougher side.

0:34:150:34:19

While the council can't just wave a magic wand to help

0:34:190:34:22

the homeless here, they can do more than I realised.

0:34:220:34:25

Today I'm working with Phil Gough,

0:34:260:34:28

and we've got a very interesting case on our hands.

0:34:280:34:31

Are you going to find me something useful to do?

0:34:310:34:33

Oh, yes. There's a lovely job for you to do when we get there.

0:34:330:34:36

We're on our way to meet young couple Jennifer Allan

0:34:370:34:40

and Daniel Hallsworth.

0:34:400:34:42

They've been effectively homeless for over a year now,

0:34:420:34:45

but all that's about to change.

0:34:450:34:47

Jennifer has found out she is pregnant.

0:34:470:34:49

They have been sofa surfing around for a little while now,

0:34:490:34:53

and they came to us to see what assistance we can give,

0:34:530:34:56

erm...

0:34:560:34:58

and... we done the assessments and things and we looked at their income

0:34:580:35:02

and expenditure and we decided we could assist them

0:35:020:35:05

with what's called a deposit guarantee bond.

0:35:050:35:07

This is just one of the options the housing team has

0:35:080:35:11

at its disposal to help the homeless get a roof over their heads.

0:35:110:35:15

It's a 12-month guarantee to the landlord, that the council

0:35:150:35:18

will cover the deposit on a property, if it becomes necessary.

0:35:180:35:22

Tenants then have that year to raise those funds

0:35:220:35:25

and pay the landlord themselves.

0:35:250:35:28

It's useful for those who are struggling to gather

0:35:280:35:31

the funds needed upfront as a deposit...

0:35:310:35:34

and it helps to reassure landlords and encourage them

0:35:340:35:37

to take on tenants who haven't got cash at hand.

0:35:370:35:40

That makes a lot of sense, doesn't it? Because, actually,

0:35:400:35:43

what the landlord needs is security, not cash.

0:35:430:35:46

-Sure.

-They want peace of mind.

-Absolutely.

0:35:460:35:49

It prevents homelessness, which is what our main job role is, really.

0:35:490:35:54

Jennifer and Daniel have found a flat they can now afford,

0:35:560:35:59

thanks to the scheme, and for Daniel,

0:35:590:36:01

today can't come soon enough.

0:36:010:36:03

So, Danny, you're going to be a dad.

0:36:050:36:07

-How does that feel?

-I'm quite excited.

0:36:070:36:09

-Are you?

-Yep.

-Nervous?

-Little bit.

0:36:090:36:13

How did you find out about the bond system of being able to do this?

0:36:130:36:16

We found that out through one of the homeless drop-in centres

0:36:160:36:19

that they provide in town.

0:36:190:36:21

You imagine in your head an idea of homelessness

0:36:210:36:23

-and it's usually somebody by themselves.

-Yeah.

0:36:230:36:26

But as a couple and now as a family...

0:36:260:36:29

is that difficult for you to take?

0:36:290:36:32

It is quite hard, especially when everyone we know has only got

0:36:320:36:36

little bedsits or flats, so we're crammed in on the floor or the sofa.

0:36:360:36:41

Last night, for instance, was one of the nights where

0:36:410:36:44

I had to stay one place and Jenny had to go somewhere else and

0:36:440:36:47

we left each other for the night and then met up again in the morning.

0:36:470:36:50

I mean, it is quite hard.

0:36:500:36:52

After you, your place.

0:36:520:36:53

'All that's about to become a thing of the past.

0:36:530:36:57

'Landlord Jason Taylor is here with the keys to their new home

0:36:570:37:00

'and I've got to do the formal handover.'

0:37:000:37:03

-This is your job, Matt, for the day.

-Right.

0:37:030:37:05

The flat has been inspected previously by private sector housing

0:37:050:37:08

and we just need to go through the flat with the tenants

0:37:080:37:10

to make sure that everything

0:37:100:37:12

-is still as it was when it was inspected.

-OK.

0:37:120:37:15

'Time for the clipboard.'

0:37:150:37:17

We'll start in the kitchen/ living room, which is here.

0:37:170:37:21

Now, I'd like you to accompany me to the front door.

0:37:210:37:23

Kitchen/living room door, entrance door - black, condition good.

0:37:250:37:29

-Happy with that?

-Yes.

-Yup.

0:37:290:37:31

Now, I'm going to tick these off as we go through.

0:37:310:37:33

Carpet - very nice! UPVC windows...

0:37:330:37:36

-Happy with those?

-Yes.

0:37:380:37:39

Units - happy.

0:37:390:37:41

Bathroom or bedroom? your choice, Danny.

0:37:410:37:44

We'll go bedroom first.

0:37:440:37:45

Bedroom first. Nice one.

0:37:450:37:46

The bedroom - excellent, right, oh, this is nice.

0:37:470:37:51

Compare this to where you've been sleeping over the last few months.

0:37:510:37:55

A million times better.

0:37:550:37:56

We've had, like, a thin futon mattress on the floor

0:37:560:38:00

and stuff like that, so it'll be our first proper bed in a long while.

0:38:000:38:05

We were living with friends in their house and they left the property

0:38:050:38:09

and left us in the property understanding that the landlord

0:38:090:38:13

was going to take us on as the tenants, but the landlord didn't.

0:38:130:38:17

It was £1,000, or near on, for a deposit for a place

0:38:170:38:21

and it just wasn't manageable.

0:38:210:38:23

That's difficult, that puts you in a really tricky situation.

0:38:230:38:26

-It was just too much money.

-Can I ask you what your situation is

0:38:260:38:29

at the moment with jobs, employment, how's that working out?

0:38:290:38:32

We're both unemployed at the minute,

0:38:320:38:34

but I will be looking for work in the future.

0:38:340:38:37

This place is a platform to start doing that, is that the idea?

0:38:370:38:41

Yeah, we've got somewhere now that we can reside at.

0:38:410:38:43

I think we're really looking forward to having a place

0:38:430:38:46

and starting to get things ready for the baby coming.

0:38:460:38:49

Let's carry on.

0:38:490:38:51

Are you happy with the door?

0:38:510:38:53

-Yep, the door looks good.

-Yes.

0:38:530:38:55

'Just when it looks like my first inventory is going to be

0:38:550:38:57

'a huge success, I spot a mistake.'

0:38:570:39:01

Hold on a second we haven't quite finished here,

0:39:010:39:04

at the bottom of the list here it says TV - black, good condition.

0:39:040:39:09

That's not there, though. Phil, is this you again?

0:39:090:39:13

-May have been. So...

-Cross that off.

0:39:130:39:16

Top points for you, as well, for that one.

0:39:160:39:18

'I have a feeling that Phil's playing games with me.'

0:39:180:39:20

I think that's all in order.

0:39:200:39:22

-Are we good to go ahead and sign this?

-That'd be good.

0:39:220:39:25

Just thinking how all Danny and Jennifer need to do is put a quid

0:39:250:39:28

in a pot every day and by the end of the 12 months they'll have the bond.

0:39:280:39:32

So that would be perfect.

0:39:320:39:33

'And it's great to see landlords like Jason are completely on board

0:39:330:39:37

'with the scheme.'

0:39:370:39:38

We've been doing this with the council in Waveney now

0:39:390:39:42

for a lot of years, something on the region

0:39:420:39:44

of probably about 40 bonds a year that we do.

0:39:440:39:48

You want tenants who are...from whom you're going to get regular rent,

0:39:480:39:52

no trouble, and you've got that back up from the council

0:39:520:39:56

to say the deposit is going to be looked after one way or the other,

0:39:560:40:00

you're protected that way.

0:40:000:40:02

That's...what it's all about.

0:40:020:40:04

That's your front-door keys, well done.

0:40:040:40:07

'Well, to me, that seems like a simple solution.

0:40:070:40:09

'I do hope it works out for Jennifer and Daniel.'

0:40:090:40:12

That's a satisfying visit.

0:40:140:40:16

Good stuff. There is something that's cost the council nothing,

0:40:160:40:20

and it's giving them a home for 12 months,

0:40:200:40:24

minimum, during which, all being well, the child will be born.

0:40:240:40:29

I mean, that's a nice coming together, isn't it?

0:40:290:40:31

-That's a good solution and a happy result.

-Yeah.

0:40:310:40:34

For them, it's such a massive event for them today.

0:40:340:40:37

And it's such a nice thing to be able to do.

0:40:370:40:39

It is a really rewarding job.

0:40:390:40:41

And in Jaywick in Essex, there's also been some success.

0:40:480:40:52

Grant and Rob were trying to reunite a derelict property with its

0:40:520:40:55

rightful owner which they suspected had been claimed by a land-grabber.

0:40:550:40:59

It seems Rob's detective work eventually paid off.

0:40:590:41:02

Took a while, a little bit of investigating work

0:41:020:41:04

because that property wasn't on land registry or anything so...

0:41:040:41:07

and the person who originally owned it died so we had to

0:41:070:41:10

kind of investigate into it, and we found it was actually owned

0:41:100:41:13

by a gentleman who is currently serving in the army at the moment.

0:41:130:41:15

And he said he is going to sort it out, do it up,

0:41:150:41:18

so we've got that agreement from him.

0:41:180:41:21

I don't think he fully even realised that it was his.

0:41:210:41:24

And in St Helens, Pam, Chrissy and I

0:41:240:41:26

were trying to help tenants faced with eviction.

0:41:260:41:29

Phil, it's Chrissy Nevitt from the council.

0:41:290:41:31

-Luckily, Pam and Chrissy came to the rescue.

-Right.

0:41:310:41:35

It doesn't appear that they actually know that there are tenants in there.

0:41:350:41:38

And after some phone calls managed to get a suspended eviction notice

0:41:380:41:42

giving the tenants at least two months' breathing space

0:41:420:41:45

-before anything can happen.

-Take care, thanks.

0:41:450:41:48

Whilst all that was going on,

0:41:480:41:49

landlord Tony remained conspicuous in his absence.

0:41:490:41:53

Then he said he'd try to meet me at the house.

0:41:540:41:56

But instead I received a message.

0:41:580:42:01

So, it's five past midday, which is when Tony was supposed to

0:42:020:42:06

be here to meet us but, instead he sent us a text.

0:42:060:42:10

Which says, "Sorry, can't make it.

0:42:100:42:13

"But again no paid rent and I can't be..." BOTHERED...

0:42:130:42:16

he didn't say bothered...

0:42:160:42:17

"..defending myself when one flat owes 1,800 quid,

0:42:170:42:19

"another owes 17 and one flat is not paying at all.

0:42:190:42:23

"They expect services - it's a joke.

0:42:230:42:26

"Delete my number, please, I'm fed up."

0:42:260:42:29

Faye and Laura told us they always paid their rent

0:42:290:42:31

and have now both moved out.

0:42:310:42:33

Gary told me he was withholding his

0:42:330:42:35

because of the conditions in his bedsit.

0:42:350:42:38

But there were another four people living in this building.

0:42:380:42:41

Tony the landlord has now paid his mortgage arrears

0:42:410:42:44

and is in dispute with the council over whether he NEEDS a licence.

0:42:440:42:49

You should have come and you should have explained yourself.

0:42:490:42:52

That's it for today's show.

0:42:520:42:54

I've come to the end of my training session.

0:42:540:42:56

And I'm leaving with a new-found respect

0:42:560:42:58

for those housing enforcers

0:42:580:43:00

who fight for our right to a safe place to live.

0:43:000:43:03

Matt Allwright visits some dangerous bedsits where the landlord and the tenants are not on good terms, and we visit one of the most deprived areas in Britain where abandoned properties are a magnet for firebugs.