Episode 2 The Housing Enforcers


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Episode 2

Consumer programme. Matt Allwright joins the ranks of Britain's housing officers. In this episode, Matt uncovers tragic overcrowding in a tiny terrace house.


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

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It's cold, it's damp and nothing's being done about it.

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

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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're the good cop, I'm the bad cop.

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The notice will be served and action will be taken.

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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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It's coming through from two floors above.

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So there's worse than this. Yep.

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Tackling problem properties...

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I'm going to come a cropper.

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It's not sorting the problem out, is it? It's just covering it up.

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

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-This is supposed to be my last move.

-Yeah.

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..and everything in between.

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It's not getting easier, it's getting worse.

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How are you enjoying being a landlord?

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It has its ups and downs.

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Coming up, I get one of the biggest shocks of my housing officer career.

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This kitchen's been used by a lot of people.

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Nobody in the UK in 2014 should be living like this.

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A tenant is at great risk of losing his dream home.

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I've got...everything I ever wanted is in this little building.

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I'm not happy that it's never moved forward.

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We're looking at trying to keep you safe.

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And, just as I thought I'd seen it all...

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Flipping heck!

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..I walk into the worst living conditions imaginable.

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If you were to draw a picture of a vulnerable person

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in a terrible situation, it feels like it would look like this.

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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's 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

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to make sure that the properties are up to scratch

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and provide somebody with a decent home.

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In Sandwell in the West Midlands,

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I'm working with housing officer Roy Nicholls.

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Right.

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And it sounds like we've got a serious case of overcrowding.

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-Four families?

-Four families.

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-In one house?

-In one house.

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And this is a house that is only supposed to be for one family,

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-is it?

-Correct.

-Right.

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My first job is to make sure that those people are safe. That's it.

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The landlord, again, has been written to, giving him

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-the opportunity to come and meet us.

-And is that for today?

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-The landlord could be there when we turn up?

-Yes.

-Right, let's go.

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Are we all in one car?

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As this is such a complex case,

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Roy's brought colleague Nina Varma along for support.

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Straightaway, it's clear there are too many people staying here.

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Roy thinks maybe as many as 12 in a three-bedroomed house.

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We just need to come in...

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We're not sure if the landlord is aware the house is so overcrowded.

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But the living conditions are pretty shocking.

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The living room is shared,

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and then they have individual rooms that they have to themselves.

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Is there anything through here that would concern you?

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Working on the basis that it's clear that there are children occupying

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this room, straightaway down here, we can see electrics hanging loose.

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Correct. And a child may be able to get

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their fingers down the back of that.

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In fact, I can see exposed and potentially lethal

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electrical wires everywhere.

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Not to mention the portable heaters.

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The radiator that's in here should be sufficient to heat this room

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quite adequately. So, I mean, it's broken, as well.

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You know, but it's there.

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You'll probably find that that's the tenant's.

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In the lounge there, there was an electric heater.

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And it's got radiators.

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So, straightaway, why are they using secondary heaters

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when they have the facility of central heating?

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It turns out that the gas is on a prepayment card

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which means, when money gets short for the families,

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they're understandably anxious about using gas for heating.

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It's not a good situation,

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particularly when there are kids involved.

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And things don't get any better in the kitchen.

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My instinct here is that this kitchen is being

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used by a lot of people.

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A lot of people, regularly.

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And I'm trying to work out why it is.

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Then you come to something on the wall, like this.

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This doesn't happen in a family home. You've got a rota here.

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It feels like everything is coming in for really heavy use.

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It looks like there are accidents waiting to happen, too.

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So, if they are walking across this and they're carrying hot food

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or a hot pan so you're going to trip over that. You know what I mean?

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-You've also got children running about.

-Does this light work?

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OK, so, added to the fact that we've got slips and trips

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on the floor, and carrying food back to whichever room

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you're dining in, is really inadequate lighting.

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-And that's the reason that's there.

-Yeah.

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There's no other reason for that light to be there.

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If this worked, you don't need that.

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So everything else here becomes into darkness and that, then,

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that becomes a real reality for tripping

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because it's going to be dark and it's going to be shadowed.

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As for the outside, it's a dump.

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I mean, we've got household rubbish.

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Where do you start?

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This is just a breeding ground for rats.

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It's just, if there aren't rats or mice already, certainly flies.

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And we haven't even hit summer yet.

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It is literally, it's out of the house, out in the yard,

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we've got to basically bring this to the attention

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of the environmental health section.

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I'll take a few photos so I can e-mail them when I get back.

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And they'll take this issue up with the landlord.

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But, yeah, this is going to have to be totally tidied up.

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-OK, shall we go back in?

-Yeah.

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OK, so whilst the tenants probably bear at least some responsibility

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for the mess outside,

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the conditions throughout the house are simply unacceptable.

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To be honest with you, this house is...

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And don't forget, we've got children here.

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You know, I know I've only been in the job for bit,

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but this is a shocker, isn't it?

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Erm, it's not good.

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Coming up, the house has more horrors to reveal than even

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Roy can deal with.

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They really have excessive mould.

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Don't forget, we have to walk away from here,

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knowing that they're still living in it.

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With over 7,000 rental properties in the north-west town of St Helens,

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complaints and disputes

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between landlord and tenant are all too common.

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Pam Coppock and Chrissy Nevitt from St Helens housing department

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are turning their attentions towards a worrying property on their patch.

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We've received a couple of complaints today

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that we're going to go and visit, regarding

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problems in one particular flat.

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The flat has a first-floor separate unit to the ground floor unit.

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Unfortunately, on our last visit, the toilet was blocked

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and there was no running water.

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So she smashed through the ground floor party wall

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and she was hopping over it

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to use the bathroom on the ground floor flat.

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Smashing through a wall just to use the loo is pretty extreme behaviour,

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but it's part of the landlord's responsibility to make sure

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the properties they let out are in a safe, hygienic condition.

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The poor state of this terraced house

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has been on Pam and Chrissy's radar for quite a bit.

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It was horrendous, it was really bad,

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and it was bad enough to apply to our homeless section

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and have the tenant rehoused because of the conditions she was living in.

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She didn't have hot water, there wasn't a gas fire,

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the electric wasn't working,

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so she was almost camping out and squatting in the flat.

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As a result, the St Helen's housing team managed

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to successfully prosecute the landlord.

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Now, they're legally required to get the property back into a safe,

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habitable condition.

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We're going back because we now

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have news of a complaint that we have two other tenants in that

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property and, potentially,

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they could still be living in those conditions, so we need to know

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whether they've been repaired or it has been remedied, really.

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-See you later.

-See you later, bye.

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Over one third of private sector homes in Britain currently fail

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to meet the Decent Homes Standard,

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a minimum government requirement

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set to protect council tenants' living conditions.

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But this is a private rented home.

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Pam and Chrissy need to make sure it's safe.

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Having moved in just a few weeks ago,

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Michael is the newest tenant in the problem property.

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And with the top floor flat,

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both he and his new home could benefit from a new start.

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I used to live around here originally, on the top end, there.

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For, yeah, it was bang on...

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With a background in building,

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Mike's agreed with the landlord that he can work on the flat

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to get it into a decent condition while he's living there.

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I've never seen a flat, to start with, with the rooms that he has,

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each one, a nice size, that every room's got...

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..it's got...everything that you need, it's here.

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I like my own living space where I feel like I'm living in a proper...

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With stuff like these, I know it sounds daft, but the Gothic steps...

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I love this bathroom - a big, Gothic-style bathroom

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without it being over-the-top Gothic

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and loads of mad things hanging round.

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It's a fantastic opportunity for me to have.

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Having had a rocky few years,

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Michael can see great potential in his new home

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and hopes living there is going to give him a new start in life.

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I get up every morning, whereas for seven years now it's,

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"Can I get back on my feet?"

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This is the only time I've had a smile on my face,

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is every morning I wake up and have a smile knowing that I've got

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everything I've ever wanted in this little building.

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For Pam and Chrissie, today's job is simple -

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they want to make sure this property's up to the standard

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the landlord promised it would be.

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But first of all, they've got to find a way in.

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Hi, it's Pam Coppock from Private Sector Housing. Did you get my note?

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-MICHAEL CALLS TO DOG

-Come on, sweetheart.

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All I want to know is that you've got gas, electric, water,

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the hole in the wall's gone.

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-Yeah?

-You'll have to excuse...

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Don't worry about it.

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This is the hole, yeah.

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It is screwed on.

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-Have you screwed this on, Michael?

-Yeah.

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I've left it loosely fitted because I need to know everything's safe.

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It's not just you who's worried about concerns about safety.

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It's not exactly how you go about repairing a wall,

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but the hole is gone...for now, anyway.

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Let me just sit down and show you the information I had before.

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Everything in orange are the problems that exist here.

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You've got quite a lot, yeah.

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What I would like to do, because they're still outstanding,

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my duty as an environmental health officer

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is to send that list of works through to your landlord

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and say, "You must get them fixed,"

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because it's your health and wellbeing that's important.

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I understand.

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My health and wellbeing is about me getting my life back in order.

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Pam checks the flat to find out

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which if any of the original problems have now been fixed.

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Right, so you're turning this into a kind of dining room...

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-This is actually my...

-..living room.

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Disappointingly for Pam,

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it's quickly clear that very little has changed since their last visit.

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I just want to make sure you've got water.

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Nothing's changed. It's gone worse.

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It's exactly the same as it was before.

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And later, as the inspection continues,

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the situation gets heated as Pam and Chrissie

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try to make Michael understand he's not the one being accused.

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

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Back in Sandwell, housing officers Roy, Nina and I

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are investigating a privately-rented three-bedroom house

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in which four families are living in shocking conditions.

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They've got a rota here. This doesn't happen in a family home.

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It just feels like everything is coming in for really heavy use.

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'Upstairs, evidence of overcrowding is clear to see.'

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Have a look at this.

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Have a look at these clothes that are drying on the banister.

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'The smallest room in the house is a box room eight feet square.

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'There seems to be a family living in here too.'

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There is an adult with two children in here.

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-Adult with two children?

-Yeah.

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-In this room?

-Yeah.

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One child, as you can see, is a new-born.

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The other one is about three years of age.

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This is someone that's trying to make

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the best of a really bad circumstance,

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because clearly she's trying to get the right environment

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for her children and struggling.

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'We've already seen portable heaters elsewhere in the house,

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'but the one in here is potentially very dangerous

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'for whoever's living in this tiny room.'

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-This is only working on one bar.

-And this is going to be red-hot.

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That's going to get absolutely red-hot.

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It's paramount we try and make this safe.

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The big problem here is,

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and it's kind of the elephant in the room,

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is that you can't make it safe with the number of people that are here.

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-That's the problem.

-The maximum that should be here is four.

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It's just...

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The alternative is homelessness of some sort, clearly.

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If they're not here, they might not have a home.

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-That's why they're accepting it.

-Yes.

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'Because the families are living on the breadline,

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'they're frightened to use the gas.

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'That means the house is freezing

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'and a magnet for mould and damp.'

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The health implications of this, you know...

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-You're sleeping right next to that.

-Well, you're sleeping on top of it.

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And it's in the room and this is just going to get on your chest,

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it's going to cause ill health.

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This is what we're trying to stop.

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If you've got a healthy home,

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the occupants are healthy.

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You've got places like this, their health deteriorates,

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puts pressure on the health authority

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because they're going to keep coming down with colds,

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you know, keep visiting doctors.

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It's not a life, is it, really? As we understand it.

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'As a housing officer,

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'I have to try and emotionally detach myself from what I'm seeing.

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'But it's tough.'

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HE EXHALES

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Nobody in the UK in 2014

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should be living like this.

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But amongst the terrible living conditions,

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there are still signs of hope.

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Do you know what the funny thing is?

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In all of these rooms that we've gone into so far,

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there's no lack of love for the kids.

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-Oh!

-They're doing their best, in the circumstances that they've got,

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to look after these kids and bring them up.

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You only have to look at the children

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so you can see they're loved and they're well kept.

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They're well kept.

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I mean, you've got loads of washing all about, it's...

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You're just fighting a losing battle.

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You're fighting a losing battle. You can't do it.

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You can't do it in these rooms.

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Don't forget, I have to walk away from here

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knowing that they're still there.

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I can go home at night, at the end of the day. They're still here.

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So it does affect us.

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Don't think we've hardened and that we don't think about it.

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As I said, my priority is to make sure that these families are safe,

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and I'll do everything I can to make sure that happens.

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Well, now it's down to Roy and the team

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to confront the landlord with their findings.

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We've tried.

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We've invited them out,

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we've tried to talk to them to come and meet us.

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So all this is photographed. It's not good viewing.

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'With Roy and Nina's help,

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'things could start to take a turn for the better,

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'and we'll get an update later on.'

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St Helens, Merseyside.

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Pam Coppock and Chrissy Nevitt of the housing team

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are going back to a problem property

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to check if promised works have been carried out

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on two flats which were previously uninhabitable.

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It was horrendous, it was really bad,

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and it was bad enough

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to apply to our homeless section

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and have the tenant rehoused.

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Once they arrive, though,

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despite the new tenant Michael's enthusiasm to do the jobs himself,

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Pam's not impressed with the progress.

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Nothing's changed. It's got worse.

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For Pam and Chrissy, their main priority today

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is to make sure the flat meets certain levels of living standards.

0:17:510:17:55

And tenant Michael is all too aware of the work that needs doing.

0:17:550:17:59

Everything in orange

0:17:590:18:01

are the problems that exist here.

0:18:010:18:03

You've got quite a lot.

0:18:030:18:05

The house has got tremendous things that need doing.

0:18:050:18:07

Stair rail, staircase - everything needs doing.

0:18:070:18:09

But obviously it is and, to be honest with you,

0:18:090:18:11

it's things that's getting done.

0:18:110:18:13

That's the damp, damp wall on this side.

0:18:130:18:15

The bathroom's got damp coming through.

0:18:150:18:17

The front of the house on the roof has gone.

0:18:170:18:19

It's got a leak in the roof,

0:18:190:18:20

it's got all that that needs doing, which needs pointing up and fixing.

0:18:200:18:23

But by agreeing to carry out the repairs himself,

0:18:230:18:25

Pam and Chrissy are concerned Mike could be putting himself at risk.

0:18:250:18:29

He's doing works which are ultimately

0:18:290:18:31

the landlord's responsibility.

0:18:310:18:33

Fireplace, which is done.

0:18:330:18:34

I've got me double bed and unit - everything in here.

0:18:340:18:37

This is a dining table, an eight-foot dining table,

0:18:370:18:40

-which I'm rebuilding for this room.

-OK.

0:18:400:18:42

-Which is a dining room.

-Right.

0:18:420:18:44

I can see you're keen.

0:18:440:18:47

Doing the cosmetic stuff, fixing the hole in the wall,

0:18:470:18:50

doing stuff like that, yeah, I'm quite happy with you doing it.

0:18:500:18:52

Not roofing work,

0:18:520:18:54

not getting up and sealing off roofs.

0:18:540:18:56

-If you're...

-It was me requesting it,

0:18:560:18:59

it was me that asked him... It was me...

0:18:590:19:00

-That was the sales pitch for me getting this house.

-I know.

0:19:000:19:03

But we can't expect you to get scaffolding and get up on the roof.

0:19:030:19:06

It's not... It's not that type of work that wants doing.

0:19:060:19:08

He wants two tiles fixing in the corner

0:19:080:19:10

and a bit of cement supporting the...

0:19:100:19:12

It's still....work at heights.

0:19:120:19:16

This is the reason we're concerned for you.

0:19:160:19:18

It's not your fault, and it's not really...

0:19:180:19:21

This building offers me...

0:19:210:19:23

It offers me and a chance for the unemployment office

0:19:230:19:27

to get me back on my feet.

0:19:270:19:28

-Yeah.

-I'm doing everything I can,

0:19:280:19:30

and have been doing, since the day I moved away from that bedsit.

0:19:300:19:32

Yeah. I understand that.

0:19:320:19:34

-But it doesn't mean you have to live unsafely.

-It's not unsafe.

0:19:340:19:37

You keep saying it's unsafe. This bed...

0:19:370:19:38

This building to me is the most...

0:19:380:19:40

I couldn't get a more perfect building for my situation.

0:19:400:19:43

Pam eventually decides to give Michael 28 days to complete

0:19:430:19:47

the works he says he can do.

0:19:470:19:49

My concern is I'm not happy about this property.

0:19:490:19:51

I'm not happy that it's never moved forward.

0:19:510:19:55

We're going to make an appointment for next month

0:19:550:19:57

and I'm going to come back and see you. OK?

0:19:570:20:00

This has got to improve an awful lot.

0:20:000:20:03

If it doesn't,

0:20:030:20:04

and it's not against you, it's not on you,

0:20:040:20:07

it's on the landlord,

0:20:070:20:09

the notice will be served and action will be taken.

0:20:090:20:12

With the matter of building repairs settled,

0:20:120:20:15

Chrissy has one last concern to discuss.

0:20:150:20:18

Things to point out - the dog muck on the floor...

0:20:180:20:21

It's not dog muck, as in dog splattered...

0:20:210:20:24

It makes no difference.

0:20:240:20:26

You need to clean it up - that's for your health.

0:20:260:20:28

-I've only just got up.

-We're looking at trying to keep you safe.

0:20:280:20:31

How are you keeping me safe by telling me this and that?

0:20:310:20:33

-No, because they're the things...

-So I've got to go live in a bedsit

0:20:330:20:37

-and make everyone else's life uncomfortable?

-No.

0:20:370:20:40

We need to get this turned round

0:20:400:20:41

so you have a place to be proud of and you're happy in here.

0:20:410:20:44

We've just agreed 28 days,

0:20:440:20:45

so can you, if you don't mind me saying,

0:20:450:20:47

can you also tell me...?

0:20:470:20:49

You tell me in 28 days what your problem is.

0:20:490:20:51

-Then we'll see whether or not we've got a problem.

-That's great.

0:20:510:20:55

And with that, Pam and Chrissy leave Michael to begin the repairs.

0:20:550:20:59

The owner has promised to do all the works

0:21:010:21:03

and bring it back up to standard.

0:21:030:21:05

As we can see through this visit, it's not happened.

0:21:050:21:08

So it's... How long do you keep giving him really?

0:21:080:21:11

I know the tenant wants 28 days

0:21:110:21:13

and I'll do that just cos the tenant has requested that.

0:21:130:21:17

But within 28 days, if things haven't improved - and they're big jobs -

0:21:170:21:20

then we're going to start taking formal action again.

0:21:200:21:24

Hey, come on.

0:21:240:21:26

It is frustrating.

0:21:270:21:28

He's not a bad chap.

0:21:280:21:30

I think he would be an appreciative tenant.

0:21:300:21:33

If that flat had have been repaired and renovated,

0:21:330:21:36

he could have moved into a really nice property

0:21:360:21:40

and had a really good step up, which is all he's asking for.

0:21:400:21:43

So hopefully, in 28 days, he'll turn it round

0:21:430:21:46

and we'll have a different conversation.

0:21:460:21:50

But we'll see.

0:21:500:21:51

Coming up...

0:21:510:21:53

Pam and Chrissy return to find that

0:21:530:21:54

Michael's enthusiasm remains sky-high.

0:21:540:21:57

I want a second-hand shop, which is like a charity.

0:21:570:21:59

Ensuring that we all have somewhere safe and decent to live is

0:22:030:22:07

the job of housing officers right across the UK.

0:22:070:22:10

You're overcrowded.

0:22:100:22:11

So there's nowhere for your lads to go.

0:22:110:22:12

I'm working alongside the men and women who do exactly that.

0:22:120:22:17

You see this and you go, "Shut it down."

0:22:170:22:21

I'm hitting the streets...

0:22:210:22:23

Good to see you.

0:22:230:22:24

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

0:22:240:22:26

This is just a breeding ground for rats.

0:22:260:22:29

..and I'm finding out what it takes to make sure that a house

0:22:290:22:32

is a fit place to call a home.

0:22:320:22:34

This house is starting to send shivers down my spine.

0:22:340:22:37

I turned up here and there was no house - just completely gone.

0:22:370:22:40

We've got to look at it strategically

0:22:400:22:42

and the best way to attack it.

0:22:420:22:44

Next, I'm heading to North Kesteven in Lincolnshire to hook up

0:22:480:22:51

with housing officer Chris Gallimore.

0:22:510:22:54

It's reckoned that there are 1.5 million people on the housing

0:22:560:22:59

waiting list in Britain,

0:22:590:23:00

so the pressure to find new council property is unrelenting.

0:23:000:23:05

Today, Chris is planning to show me

0:23:050:23:06

just one of the ways his department is attempting to tackle the problem.

0:23:060:23:11

Brand-new boots, these are box-fresh. Look at that!

0:23:130:23:16

This three-bedroomed house had been derelict for several years,

0:23:180:23:21

but now the council's busy doing it up,

0:23:210:23:24

ready to be filled with a family in need.

0:23:240:23:26

It's obviously good news,

0:23:310:23:32

but I'm keen to understand from Chris how this has happened.

0:23:320:23:36

We're doing this under an Empty Dwelling Management Order.

0:23:360:23:40

So this is an EDMO.

0:23:400:23:42

So long-term empties,

0:23:420:23:44

potentially causing problems with antisocial behaviour,

0:23:440:23:47

neighbour complaints,

0:23:470:23:49

but we've got a high number of people on the waiting list for housing,

0:23:490:23:53

so essentially, it becomes a council house for seven years.

0:23:530:23:57

At the end of the seven-year period,

0:23:570:23:58

the owner gets the property back in good shape.

0:23:580:24:01

You could actually move in on somebody's property and say,

0:24:010:24:05

"We're going to do this up."

0:24:050:24:06

We've done some of these where we're actually enforcing,

0:24:060:24:09

but projects such as this, we're doing with the owner's consent.

0:24:090:24:13

You get families that split up and people separate

0:24:130:24:16

and that's the situation.

0:24:160:24:17

You also get properties in negative equity,

0:24:170:24:19

where they've got a massive mortgage

0:24:190:24:21

and the property's not worth what the mortgage is.

0:24:210:24:24

A lot of these properties, it's up to us

0:24:240:24:26

to step in and figure out a way to get them back into use.

0:24:260:24:30

It may seem like a radical scheme, but it seems to be working,

0:24:300:24:34

with empty property being put to good use and the owners

0:24:340:24:37

benefitting from having their homes repaired without paying a penny.

0:24:370:24:42

I thought this was going to be a little bit of tarting up.

0:24:420:24:45

This is gutting - completely.

0:24:450:24:48

Obviously there's different levels of disrepair in them -

0:24:480:24:52

this one's a lot more extensive than some of the ones we're doing.

0:24:520:24:56

This building is one of just 800,000 homes

0:24:580:25:01

currently standing empty across the UK,

0:25:010:25:03

the majority of which are privately owned.

0:25:030:25:06

North Kesteven Council have already done up

0:25:060:25:09

ten such properties on the EDMO scheme,

0:25:090:25:11

with a further ten on their way to renovation.

0:25:110:25:14

The windows will be replaced in here - brand-new windows.

0:25:160:25:19

The roof space will be fully insulated up to current regulations.

0:25:190:25:22

There's a little wasps' nest there. We'll have to deal with that.

0:25:220:25:26

You can see some damage on the felt

0:25:260:25:28

and that's something they'll have to rectify

0:25:280:25:30

and that's where the water's been coming down the valley

0:25:300:25:32

and some water has come in through there.

0:25:320:25:35

Once work here is completed, the refurbished property

0:25:350:25:38

will become a council house for the next seven years,

0:25:380:25:41

before being returned to its owner.

0:25:410:25:43

Question I ask is,

0:25:450:25:46

why would anybody let their property get into this state?

0:25:460:25:48

Sometimes people have got mental health problems

0:25:480:25:51

so they've got issues on that side,

0:25:510:25:53

or sometimes they're away looking after relatives, things like that...

0:25:530:25:56

What was the case in this one?

0:25:560:25:58

The owner of the property was actually in the forces.

0:25:580:26:00

To start off with, she was stationed away,

0:26:000:26:03

so I think that's how the property became empty.

0:26:030:26:05

Neglected, not through her own fault,

0:26:050:26:07

just the way it's gone with her situation.

0:26:070:26:10

You can't be in two places at once, it was one of those, was it?

0:26:100:26:13

Yeah, yeah.

0:26:130:26:16

It's great to think that when it's completed,

0:26:160:26:18

this property could happily be a home for a family of five.

0:26:180:26:21

It's got the school right there.

0:26:230:26:24

You could have a little family

0:26:240:26:26

-starting out from scratch here, couldn't you?

-Yeah.

0:26:260:26:29

The other issue is there's quite

0:26:290:26:30

-a lot of asbestos in this property as well.

-Now you tell me.

0:26:300:26:35

The asbestos has been removed by a licensed contractor.

0:26:350:26:38

It's impressive, and after a quick chat to the camera-shy neighbours,

0:26:390:26:43

it's clear I'm not the only one who's happy.

0:26:430:26:46

She's said she's over the moon, so relieved that something's

0:26:460:26:49

taking place with the other half of her semidetached,

0:26:490:26:54

because she said it was cold.

0:26:540:26:56

If you imagine living next to a house that's never heated,

0:26:560:26:59

where there's water coming through the roof,

0:26:590:27:01

eventually it's going to start affecting your property.

0:27:010:27:04

She says she's been waiting for ten years for somebody to do

0:27:040:27:07

something about it.

0:27:070:27:09

And now...they are.

0:27:090:27:11

Just five weeks later, Chris has returned for his final

0:27:130:27:16

inspection to see the house transformed.

0:27:160:27:18

There's been over £40,000 spent on this property,

0:27:270:27:30

and as you can see, it's been finished to a high standard.

0:27:300:27:33

The money that we've put into it is offset by the fact that

0:27:330:27:36

it's another house that's brought back into use.

0:27:360:27:39

Some of these properties can be crime hot-spots

0:27:390:27:42

and are a blight for the community,

0:27:420:27:44

so it's a win-win situation all round really.

0:27:440:27:47

It's reckoned a quarter of a million

0:27:470:27:49

new houses need to be built every year,

0:27:490:27:51

and with under a half that number being produced,

0:27:510:27:54

bringing these abandoned homes back into use

0:27:540:27:56

has to be a very good thing.

0:27:560:27:59

Margate in Kent, a seaside destination that's

0:28:050:28:08

dwindled in popularity over the years.

0:28:080:28:11

Scores of once-thriving hotels

0:28:110:28:13

and guest houses have been put out of action as a result.

0:28:130:28:16

While many have been resurrected as flats and bedsits,

0:28:160:28:20

others haven't been so fortunate.

0:28:200:28:22

All right, fantastic. See you shortly.

0:28:230:28:26

Housing officer Sarah Kelly has spent the past 18 months

0:28:260:28:29

dealing with an old guest house that's been left to rot.

0:28:290:28:32

The fundamental problem with the property

0:28:330:28:36

is a distinct lack of roof.

0:28:360:28:38

Went up and inspected the roof from next door

0:28:380:28:41

and the lead had been stolen and all the tiles had slipped,

0:28:410:28:45

so it was pretty much open to the elements

0:28:450:28:47

and was drenching the partition wall.

0:28:470:28:50

The trouble is that the owner of the property isn't really

0:28:500:28:53

interested in getting the roof fixed.

0:28:530:28:56

We tried to work informally with the landlord first of all,

0:28:560:28:58

which is what we'd always do.

0:28:580:29:00

He wasn't playing ball so we went down the formal route,

0:29:000:29:03

served an abatement notice on him and here we are, 12 months later,

0:29:030:29:09

doings works in default, cos the landlord still hasn't done anything.

0:29:090:29:12

An abatement notice is served by the council where nuisance exists.

0:29:120:29:16

It gives the landlord a specific time period to get

0:29:160:29:19

the problem fixed,

0:29:190:29:20

but as the landlord has failed to comply,

0:29:200:29:22

the housing team will have to get the work done.

0:29:220:29:25

The disrepair is having horrendous consequences

0:29:250:29:28

for the flats next door.

0:29:280:29:29

We're going to meet the landlord of the flats,

0:29:290:29:32

so I can see for myself just what he's been putting up with.

0:29:320:29:34

Until recently,

0:29:340:29:36

Jason had been making a living from renting these flats out.

0:29:360:29:38

Lost about £20,000 in rent,

0:29:380:29:41

and the repair work is being quoted at between £39,000 and £41,000.

0:29:410:29:45

Bear in mind I've got a mortgage on the property, I've still got to

0:29:450:29:48

cover that, without having an income to cover it.

0:29:480:29:51

So that's obviously quite difficult.

0:29:510:29:53

It's got so bad, basically,

0:29:530:29:55

cos the guy next door hasn't done anything to the house.

0:29:550:29:58

So it just carries on dripping and dripping and dripping

0:29:580:30:00

and it's been dripping in for 18 months now.

0:30:000:30:02

So that is very spotty and nasty.

0:30:040:30:07

And that's all coming through from next door?

0:30:070:30:09

From the roof next door and the partition walls, yeah.

0:30:090:30:12

Right. Cos these houses are kind of dependent upon each other,

0:30:120:30:15

aren't they? If something's going on next door,

0:30:150:30:18

-it's going to be happening here soon.

-Exactly. Yeah.

0:30:180:30:22

This place is in a terrible state.

0:30:220:30:24

Obviously Jason's had no choice

0:30:240:30:25

but to remove his tenants for the sake of their own health.

0:30:250:30:29

That's still going to be...

0:30:290:30:31

You can feel it - it's still wet there.

0:30:310:30:34

-That's going to need dried out for...

-Yeah.

0:30:340:30:37

..weeks and weeks.

0:30:370:30:39

Everything's got to come off and start again back to bare bricks.

0:30:390:30:42

What's the status then with these?

0:30:420:30:44

How many are occupied in this building? Any at all?

0:30:440:30:46

Got two tenants left but they're not using this side,

0:30:460:30:48

they're using those rooms there. So they're using it as a studio flat

0:30:480:30:52

so I've had to reduce the rent for them, obviously.

0:30:520:30:54

But they want to stay in the building,

0:30:540:30:56

so when we do this flat,

0:30:560:30:57

the people in the basement are going to move up,

0:30:570:30:59

then we'll do the flat below

0:30:590:31:01

and move everybody around till it's all done.

0:31:010:31:03

This problem's reached crisis point,

0:31:030:31:05

but it could actually have been avoided.

0:31:050:31:08

It's a great shame cos this could all have been resolved

0:31:080:31:10

when we first reported it to the council.

0:31:100:31:12

I had a quote to replace the roof next door -

0:31:120:31:14

it was only £7,000 to do the whole roof.

0:31:140:31:17

What was only £7,000 next door

0:31:170:31:18

and a lick of paint in here has now turned into £40,000-worth of

0:31:180:31:22

work for all the flats to be gutted and started again.

0:31:220:31:27

It is a great shame and easy to see how unresolved building works

0:31:270:31:31

can quickly spiral out of control.

0:31:310:31:34

While it looks like Jason's nightmare

0:31:340:31:35

is finally coming to an end,

0:31:350:31:37

he's still got one big problem on his hands.

0:31:370:31:40

And we'll discover it later on.

0:31:400:31:43

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

0:31:430:31:46

that looks like a sea sponge.

0:31:460:31:49

I haven't seen anywhere like this. This just seems out of control.

0:31:490:31:52

Back in St Helens, housing officers Pam Coppock

0:31:580:32:00

and Chrissy Nevitt are on the way back to check on the progress

0:32:000:32:03

of a particularly difficult property.

0:32:030:32:06

This is a property that has a notice on it, and we should really

0:32:060:32:12

have been informed by the owner that he was going to tenant the property,

0:32:120:32:16

so that we could come

0:32:160:32:17

and make sure that every defect listed on the notice has been lifted.

0:32:170:32:22

As the most recent tenant, DIY-enthusiast Michael was given

0:32:220:32:25

28 days to carry out repairs to the flat on behalf of the landlord.

0:32:250:32:30

But the housing officers are still concerned about the safety issues

0:32:300:32:34

and have dropped by for a halfway visit to check up.

0:32:340:32:37

Michael was so keen to do some of the works himself

0:32:370:32:41

and get it into a good standard of repair.

0:32:410:32:43

So we've given him that time

0:32:430:32:45

so I'd just like to catch up with him and see how he's getting on.

0:32:450:32:48

Hello?

0:32:480:32:50

Hi. Michael, are you there?

0:32:500:32:51

Come here, sunshine.

0:32:510:32:53

Michael has clearly made a start on the guttering

0:32:530:32:55

and fascia boards outside,

0:32:550:32:57

but it seems he's still got a long way to go.

0:32:570:32:59

-You've got a couple of points there if you look at it.

-Yeah.

0:32:590:33:03

Your gutter isn't up to the roof there,

0:33:030:33:05

so it's going to drip behind it.

0:33:050:33:07

That one's changing to a double clip.

0:33:070:33:10

Pam's satisfied that the repairs are under way,

0:33:100:33:13

but inside, Michael reveals a much-grander plan for his home.

0:33:130:33:17

To be honest with you, I want the full building,

0:33:170:33:19

-not just the flat.

-Yeah.

0:33:190:33:21

I want a second-hand shop which is like a charity.

0:33:210:33:23

So you want to turn the bottom...

0:33:230:33:25

If I get the bottom and turn it into a charity shop.

0:33:250:33:28

I think it was a shop, so it'd go well...

0:33:280:33:31

I'm going to say something that's probably going to annoy,

0:33:310:33:34

and I don't mean to. You seem to be a bit of a hoarder.

0:33:340:33:37

It's not a hoarder...

0:33:370:33:39

-See, what it is...

-Go on.

0:33:390:33:41

Because I want that as a second-hand shop,

0:33:410:33:43

I can't afford to go and splash money out if he gives me the shop.

0:33:430:33:46

I need already at least something I can start putting in.

0:33:460:33:50

Your thoughts are, collect it and when you get that as a shop,

0:33:520:33:55

fit it out with the stuff you've got?

0:33:550:33:57

The stuff that I've already got and then go on from there.

0:33:570:34:00

-When would you like the shop going?

-Me?

-ASAP?

0:34:000:34:05

Yeah. Yeah.

0:34:050:34:07

Michael, keen to prove to Pam his plans for a second-hand shop

0:34:090:34:12

are well under way, gives her a tour of his eclectic private collection.

0:34:120:34:18

-I've rebuilt them.

-What's that made of?

0:34:180:34:20

-Skin. Leather.

-Is it really?

-Yeah.

0:34:200:34:23

But while they're upstairs,

0:34:290:34:30

Chrissy's spotted something that leaves her with a difficult

0:34:300:34:33

decision to make.

0:34:330:34:34

It appears he has a small cannabis plant in his back yard.

0:34:360:34:41

It's only very small, but I've rang for one of our local

0:34:410:34:47

bobbies to come down and take a look at it.

0:34:470:34:50

She is duty-bound to call the police,

0:34:500:34:52

who are soon on the scene to read Michael the riot act.

0:34:520:34:57

POLICEMAN: Was the property in a bad state when you come?

0:34:570:35:00

Explaining he was unaware of what he'd planted,

0:35:000:35:02

the police leave Michael with a caution for his small

0:35:020:35:05

foray into horticulture.

0:35:050:35:07

Michael?

0:35:130:35:14

You all right?

0:35:160:35:17

90 quid fine.

0:35:170:35:19

Is that what it was?

0:35:190:35:20

Two plants that big.

0:35:250:35:26

It's not the news Michael wanted,

0:35:290:35:31

but with progress on the repairs finally under way,

0:35:310:35:34

and Michael's grand plans to turn part of the place into a shop,

0:35:340:35:38

Pam and Chrissy leave,

0:35:380:35:40

hoping that eventually,

0:35:400:35:41

this is one property that'll be taken off their books.

0:35:410:35:44

We'll see how you get on with it.

0:35:450:35:47

I can understand you wanting to turn it into a single house,

0:35:470:35:50

-just for yourself.

-Yeah.

-It makes more sense.

0:35:500:35:52

See you later.

0:35:540:35:55

And if Michael's enthusiasm is anything to go by,

0:35:550:35:58

I'd say they'd be right.

0:35:580:36:00

Back in Margate, housing officer Sarah Kelly

0:36:040:36:07

and I have been seeing for ourselves the full impact an absent neighbour

0:36:070:36:11

can have on the innocent person next door.

0:36:110:36:14

This is full-on penetrating damp,

0:36:160:36:18

which is through the party wall of the adjoining property.

0:36:180:36:21

The owner of the adjoining property doesn't believe it's

0:36:210:36:24

causing a problem. As you can see, clearly it is.

0:36:240:36:28

Landlord Jason was renting the flats in this building out to tenants,

0:36:280:36:32

but a long-term damaged roof in the abandoned guest house next

0:36:320:36:35

door has resulted in severe damp and he's had no choice

0:36:350:36:39

but to get the tenants out.

0:36:390:36:41

Hopefully, it's the end of the line of this nightmare and we

0:36:410:36:44

can get the whole block refurbished and make it nice flats again,

0:36:440:36:46

and rent them out back to nice tenants.

0:36:460:36:49

The council have used their powers to get the roof fixed

0:36:490:36:52

so that Jason can start repair work,

0:36:520:36:54

but while most of his tenants have moved out,

0:36:540:36:56

one resident is very reluctant.

0:36:560:36:59

He lives down in the basement.

0:36:590:37:01

God almighty!

0:37:010:37:03

Flipping heck!

0:37:030:37:05

-This is terrible, isn't it?

-Yeah, this is awful.

0:37:070:37:09

My God, you couldn't keep anything in here at all.

0:37:090:37:12

That corner over there, it's like a thick coat of black and white mould.

0:37:120:37:20

It's like an inch thick. This has got to be a health hazard.

0:37:200:37:24

This is when it starts turning like candyfloss.

0:37:260:37:29

This is now growing. The spores are in the air,

0:37:290:37:31

and they're starting to grow off the furniture.

0:37:310:37:35

There's a thing down in the corner growing out the skirting that

0:37:380:37:41

looks like a sea sponge.

0:37:410:37:44

I haven't seen anywhere like this before.

0:37:440:37:46

This just seems out of control.

0:37:460:37:49

You're the landlord, this is your tenant,

0:37:500:37:53

you've got responsibility towards him.

0:37:530:37:55

Your natural instinct is, "Get this chap out."

0:37:550:37:58

Yes, but he doesn't want to move, that's the thing

0:37:580:38:01

so he's moved into the front and had it as a studio

0:38:010:38:03

and, you know, just blocked this off.

0:38:030:38:05

I said to him before, you know, "I'll move you out."

0:38:050:38:08

He said, "No, I want to stay with you."

0:38:080:38:10

He said, "When you do the top flat up, move me up to the top flat,

0:38:100:38:13

"refurbish this then I'll move back down."

0:38:130:38:15

Which I'm happy to, he's a nice guy, it's his home at the end of the day.

0:38:150:38:19

None of us expected this

0:38:190:38:21

and Sarah's not comfortable with somebody living in these conditions.

0:38:210:38:26

Yeah, it's probably one of the worst cases of damp I've seen.

0:38:260:38:28

So I'm not happy with this guy living here.

0:38:300:38:33

I'm going to phone the office.

0:38:330:38:35

Hello, you all right?

0:38:350:38:36

If you were to draw a picture of a vulnerable person

0:38:360:38:39

in a terrible situation, it feels like it would look like this.

0:38:390:38:43

So, Sarah's stepping in to say,

0:38:430:38:45

"Hold on, someone needs to come down here

0:38:450:38:48

"and look and see the conditions this guy's living in."

0:38:480:38:52

The most obvious thing to do here

0:38:520:38:54

would be to serve a prohibition order

0:38:540:38:56

but having a vulnerable tenant makes things more complicated.

0:38:560:39:00

'I think we need some guidance from our boss Richard.'

0:39:000:39:02

-Hiya.

-How are you?

0:39:020:39:04

-OK.

-Very good.

-Shall we see what the problems are, then?

0:39:040:39:08

-Pretty horrendous, isn't it?

-Look at it all.

0:39:110:39:14

And this is the sponges and the cotton wool.

0:39:140:39:16

With the amount of mould growth that you can see on the walls,

0:39:160:39:19

clearly it's detrimental to health.

0:39:190:39:22

Oh, yeah, the wall's pretty much saturated still

0:39:240:39:27

and it's going to take some time to dry out.

0:39:270:39:30

My instincts are very, very straightforward.

0:39:300:39:32

-Probably the same as most people watching this.

-Yeah.

0:39:320:39:35

You see this room and you go, "Shut it down, move him out."

0:39:350:39:38

Let's say in theory that we decided

0:39:380:39:42

that we'd serve an emergency prohibition order.

0:39:420:39:45

We'd serve it on the owner and the tenant but what happens

0:39:450:39:50

when that vulnerable tenant doesn't want to move out, you know,

0:39:500:39:54

then you've got to decide has that tenant committed an offence?

0:39:540:39:58

The penalty for not compiling with an emergency prohibition order

0:39:580:40:01

is prosecution. Now would we want to prosecute this tenant

0:40:010:40:04

because he felt an attachment to this property?

0:40:040:40:06

The prohibition order is actually on the property

0:40:060:40:09

-and anybody that doesn't go with it...

-Anybody.

0:40:090:40:11

Anybody doesn't go with it could find themselves in trouble

0:40:110:40:13

and that includes the occupant here.

0:40:130:40:15

-Yes.

-All right, OK.

0:40:150:40:17

Hm.

0:40:170:40:18

I can see why this presents a real dilemma for Jason

0:40:180:40:21

and clearly it's not a simple case of quoting housing law.

0:40:210:40:25

He knows the flat, he knows where he lives

0:40:250:40:27

and he just doesn't want to move at all.

0:40:270:40:29

That's the difficulty with us because if he did,

0:40:290:40:31

it would make our lives a lot easier obviously but if there is an order

0:40:310:40:34

and he has to move which is beneficial to, you know,

0:40:340:40:37

the builders and to him as well,

0:40:370:40:38

then we can get the builders in to do the whole lot in one go

0:40:380:40:41

which will make everything a lot of easier

0:40:410:40:43

because the building needs to dry out as sort of one flat.

0:40:430:40:45

Landlord, council and tenant all need to cooperate from here

0:40:450:40:49

in order to take the right course of action for everyone concerned.

0:40:490:40:52

So, Richard, what's going to happen next?

0:40:520:40:54

We're going to go back to the office now.

0:40:540:40:56

We're going to explore the gentleman's housing options,

0:40:560:40:59

we're going to call him

0:40:590:41:00

and see if there's anything we can help him out with.

0:41:000:41:02

I'm sure they'll be no problems in getting the property back to

0:41:020:41:05

a state that would be, you know, much healthier to live in.

0:41:050:41:09

This is a delicate situation that needs to be carefully handled.

0:41:090:41:12

I'm just glad it's been brought to our attention.

0:41:120:41:15

It's now up to the housing team to work with Jason in getting

0:41:150:41:19

the flats fixed and putting the welfare of the tenant first.

0:41:190:41:22

The good news is that since our inspection,

0:41:230:41:26

landlord Jason has organised his building work

0:41:260:41:28

around renovating the basement flat

0:41:280:41:31

and the tenant has moved into another habitable flat

0:41:310:41:34

in the building until the work's done.

0:41:340:41:37

Thanks to teamwork, a great result has come from a terrible situation.

0:41:370:41:41

And there's more news. Earlier in Sandwell,

0:41:430:41:46

Roy Nicholls and I visited a severely overcrowded home

0:41:460:41:49

that was riddled with health and safety issues.

0:41:490:41:52

Now Roy's got an update for me.

0:41:520:41:54

There were obviously some long term issues in that house

0:41:540:41:57

but there was also stuff that needed to be sorted straightaway and

0:41:570:42:01

I'm thinking particularly about those electric fires, you know,

0:42:010:42:04

where kids were staying.

0:42:040:42:06

To be honest, that was the most dangerous item that was imminent,

0:42:060:42:10

something was going to happen on that.

0:42:100:42:12

All the residents have been told now to use the heating

0:42:120:42:15

that's been provided and we'll be speaking to the landlord.

0:42:150:42:21

Roy served the landlord with a notice to upgrade the house,

0:42:210:42:24

the work needed has to be even more comprehensive

0:42:240:42:28

if he's planning to house more than five people.

0:42:280:42:31

As the tenants paid their rent to an agent at their offices,

0:42:310:42:34

he was unaware of how many people were living in the property.

0:42:340:42:37

Meanwhile, the relevant services have been brought in to talk

0:42:370:42:40

to all the families living there.

0:42:400:42:43

The mum with two small children living in the box room

0:42:430:42:45

has been given a support worker who's helping to rehouse her.

0:42:450:42:49

The landlord sent us the following statement

0:42:490:42:51

about the situation at the property.

0:42:510:42:54

That's it for today's show.

0:43:070:43:09

Join me next time on the front line with Britain's housing officers.

0:43:090:43:13

In this episode, Matt uncovers tragic overcrowding in a tiny terrace house, finds a house so damp it has sprouted fungus that looks like it belongs under the sea, and meets a man who is hoping his building work will get him out of trouble, but finds his green fingers bring the attention of the police.