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.
It's cold, it's damp and nothing's being done about it.
But for thousands of people across Britain,
the reality can be more hovel than home.
A dog's got a better life than what's going on here.
In the battle between tenants and landlords,
it's local housing officers who are on the front line.
You're the good cop, I'm the bad cop.
The notice will be served and action will be taken.
I'm Matt Allwright and I've been training hard,
ready to join the ranks of these housing enforcers.
It's coming through from two floors above.
So there's worse than this. Yep.
Tackling problem properties...
I'm going to come a cropper.
It's not sorting the problem out, is it? It's just covering it up.
..dealing with the consequences of nightmare neighbours...
-This is supposed to be my last move.
..and everything in between.
It's not getting easier, it's getting worse.
How are you enjoying being a landlord?
It has its ups and downs.
Coming up, I get one of the biggest shocks of my housing officer career.
This kitchen's been used by a lot of people.
Nobody in the UK in 2014 should be living like this.
A tenant is at great risk of losing his dream home.
I've got...everything I ever wanted is in this little building.
I'm not happy that it's never moved forward.
We're looking at trying to keep you safe.
And, just as I thought I'd seen it all...
..I walk into the worst living conditions imaginable.
If you were to draw a picture of a vulnerable person
in a terrible situation, it feels like it would look like this.
It's said that an Englishman's home is his castle,
but if that castle is rented, then it's the job of housing officers
to make sure that it's a decent place to live.
They keep an eye on private landlords
to make sure that the properties are up to scratch
and provide somebody with a decent home.
In Sandwell in the West Midlands,
I'm working with housing officer Roy Nicholls.
And it sounds like we've got a serious case of overcrowding.
-In one house?
-In one house.
And this is a house that is only supposed to be for one family,
My first job is to make sure that those people are safe. That's it.
The landlord, again, has been written to, giving him
-the opportunity to come and meet us.
-And is that for today?
-The landlord could be there when we turn up?
-Right, let's go.
Are we all in one car?
As this is such a complex case,
Roy's brought colleague Nina Varma along for support.
Straightaway, it's clear there are too many people staying here.
Roy thinks maybe as many as 12 in a three-bedroomed house.
We just need to come in...
We're not sure if the landlord is aware the house is so overcrowded.
But the living conditions are pretty shocking.
The living room is shared,
and then they have individual rooms that they have to themselves.
Is there anything through here that would concern you?
Working on the basis that it's clear that there are children occupying
this room, straightaway down here, we can see electrics hanging loose.
Correct. And a child may be able to get
their fingers down the back of that.
In fact, I can see exposed and potentially lethal
electrical wires everywhere.
Not to mention the portable heaters.
The radiator that's in here should be sufficient to heat this room
quite adequately. So, I mean, it's broken, as well.
You know, but it's there.
You'll probably find that that's the tenant's.
In the lounge there, there was an electric heater.
And it's got radiators.
So, straightaway, why are they using secondary heaters
when they have the facility of central heating?
It turns out that the gas is on a prepayment card
which means, when money gets short for the families,
they're understandably anxious about using gas for heating.
It's not a good situation,
particularly when there are kids involved.
And things don't get any better in the kitchen.
My instinct here is that this kitchen is being
used by a lot of people.
A lot of people, regularly.
And I'm trying to work out why it is.
Then you come to something on the wall, like this.
This doesn't happen in a family home. You've got a rota here.
It feels like everything is coming in for really heavy use.
It looks like there are accidents waiting to happen, too.
So, if they are walking across this and they're carrying hot food
or a hot pan so you're going to trip over that. You know what I mean?
-You've also got children running about.
-Does this light work?
OK, so, added to the fact that we've got slips and trips
on the floor, and carrying food back to whichever room
you're dining in, is really inadequate lighting.
-And that's the reason that's there.
There's no other reason for that light to be there.
If this worked, you don't need that.
So everything else here becomes into darkness and that, then,
that becomes a real reality for tripping
because it's going to be dark and it's going to be shadowed.
As for the outside, it's a dump.
I mean, we've got household rubbish.
Where do you start?
This is just a breeding ground for rats.
It's just, if there aren't rats or mice already, certainly flies.
And we haven't even hit summer yet.
It is literally, it's out of the house, out in the yard,
we've got to basically bring this to the attention
of the environmental health section.
I'll take a few photos so I can e-mail them when I get back.
And they'll take this issue up with the landlord.
But, yeah, this is going to have to be totally tidied up.
-OK, shall we go back in?
OK, so whilst the tenants probably bear at least some responsibility
for the mess outside,
the conditions throughout the house are simply unacceptable.
To be honest with you, this house is...
And don't forget, we've got children here.
You know, I know I've only been in the job for bit,
but this is a shocker, isn't it?
Erm, it's not good.
Coming up, the house has more horrors to reveal than even
Roy can deal with.
They really have excessive mould.
Don't forget, we have to walk away from here,
knowing that they're still living in it.
With over 7,000 rental properties in the north-west town of St Helens,
complaints and disputes
between landlord and tenant are all too common.
Pam Coppock and Chrissy Nevitt from St Helens housing department
are turning their attentions towards a worrying property on their patch.
We've received a couple of complaints today
that we're going to go and visit, regarding
problems in one particular flat.
The flat has a first-floor separate unit to the ground floor unit.
Unfortunately, on our last visit, the toilet was blocked
and there was no running water.
So she smashed through the ground floor party wall
and she was hopping over it
to use the bathroom on the ground floor flat.
Smashing through a wall just to use the loo is pretty extreme behaviour,
but it's part of the landlord's responsibility to make sure
the properties they let out are in a safe, hygienic condition.
The poor state of this terraced house
has been on Pam and Chrissy's radar for quite a bit.
It was horrendous, it was really bad,
and it was bad enough to apply to our homeless section
and have the tenant rehoused because of the conditions she was living in.
She didn't have hot water, there wasn't a gas fire,
the electric wasn't working,
so she was almost camping out and squatting in the flat.
As a result, the St Helen's housing team managed
to successfully prosecute the landlord.
Now, they're legally required to get the property back into a safe,
We're going back because we now
have news of a complaint that we have two other tenants in that
property and, potentially,
they could still be living in those conditions, so we need to know
whether they've been repaired or it has been remedied, really.
-See you later.
-See you later, bye.
Over one third of private sector homes in Britain currently fail
to meet the Decent Homes Standard,
a minimum government requirement
set to protect council tenants' living conditions.
But this is a private rented home.
Pam and Chrissy need to make sure it's safe.
Having moved in just a few weeks ago,
Michael is the newest tenant in the problem property.
And with the top floor flat,
both he and his new home could benefit from a new start.
I used to live around here originally, on the top end, there.
For, yeah, it was bang on...
With a background in building,
Mike's agreed with the landlord that he can work on the flat
to get it into a decent condition while he's living there.
I've never seen a flat, to start with, with the rooms that he has,
each one, a nice size, that every room's got...
..it's got...everything that you need, it's here.
I like my own living space where I feel like I'm living in a proper...
With stuff like these, I know it sounds daft, but the Gothic steps...
I love this bathroom - a big, Gothic-style bathroom
without it being over-the-top Gothic
and loads of mad things hanging round.
It's a fantastic opportunity for me to have.
Having had a rocky few years,
Michael can see great potential in his new home
and hopes living there is going to give him a new start in life.
I get up every morning, whereas for seven years now it's,
"Can I get back on my feet?"
This is the only time I've had a smile on my face,
is every morning I wake up and have a smile knowing that I've got
everything I've ever wanted in this little building.
For Pam and Chrissie, today's job is simple -
they want to make sure this property's up to the standard
the landlord promised it would be.
But first of all, they've got to find a way in.
Hi, it's Pam Coppock from Private Sector Housing. Did you get my note?
-MICHAEL CALLS TO DOG
-Come on, sweetheart.
All I want to know is that you've got gas, electric, water,
the hole in the wall's gone.
-You'll have to excuse...
Don't worry about it.
This is the hole, yeah.
It is screwed on.
-Have you screwed this on, Michael?
I've left it loosely fitted because I need to know everything's safe.
It's not just you who's worried about concerns about safety.
It's not exactly how you go about repairing a wall,
but the hole is gone...for now, anyway.
Let me just sit down and show you the information I had before.
Everything in orange are the problems that exist here.
You've got quite a lot, yeah.
What I would like to do, because they're still outstanding,
my duty as an environmental health officer
is to send that list of works through to your landlord
and say, "You must get them fixed,"
because it's your health and wellbeing that's important.
My health and wellbeing is about me getting my life back in order.
Pam checks the flat to find out
which if any of the original problems have now been fixed.
Right, so you're turning this into a kind of dining room...
-This is actually my...
Disappointingly for Pam,
it's quickly clear that very little has changed since their last visit.
I just want to make sure you've got water.
Nothing's changed. It's gone worse.
It's exactly the same as it was before.
And later, as the inspection continues,
the situation gets heated as Pam and Chrissie
try to make Michael understand he's not the one being accused.
This isn't about you. This is to do with the building.
Back in Sandwell, housing officers Roy, Nina and I
are investigating a privately-rented three-bedroom house
in which four families are living in shocking conditions.
They've got a rota here. This doesn't happen in a family home.
It just feels like everything is coming in for really heavy use.
'Upstairs, evidence of overcrowding is clear to see.'
Have a look at this.
Have a look at these clothes that are drying on the banister.
'The smallest room in the house is a box room eight feet square.
'There seems to be a family living in here too.'
There is an adult with two children in here.
-Adult with two children?
-In this room?
One child, as you can see, is a new-born.
The other one is about three years of age.
This is someone that's trying to make
the best of a really bad circumstance,
because clearly she's trying to get the right environment
for her children and struggling.
'We've already seen portable heaters elsewhere in the house,
'but the one in here is potentially very dangerous
'for whoever's living in this tiny room.'
-This is only working on one bar.
-And this is going to be red-hot.
That's going to get absolutely red-hot.
It's paramount we try and make this safe.
The big problem here is,
and it's kind of the elephant in the room,
is that you can't make it safe with the number of people that are here.
-That's the problem.
-The maximum that should be here is four.
The alternative is homelessness of some sort, clearly.
If they're not here, they might not have a home.
-That's why they're accepting it.
'Because the families are living on the breadline,
'they're frightened to use the gas.
'That means the house is freezing
'and a magnet for mould and damp.'
The health implications of this, you know...
-You're sleeping right next to that.
-Well, you're sleeping on top of it.
And it's in the room and this is just going to get on your chest,
it's going to cause ill health.
This is what we're trying to stop.
If you've got a healthy home,
the occupants are healthy.
You've got places like this, their health deteriorates,
puts pressure on the health authority
because they're going to keep coming down with colds,
you know, keep visiting doctors.
It's not a life, is it, really? As we understand it.
'As a housing officer,
'I have to try and emotionally detach myself from what I'm seeing.
'But it's tough.'
Nobody in the UK in 2014
should be living like this.
But amongst the terrible living conditions,
there are still signs of hope.
Do you know what the funny thing is?
In all of these rooms that we've gone into so far,
there's no lack of love for the kids.
-They're doing their best, in the circumstances that they've got,
to look after these kids and bring them up.
You only have to look at the children
so you can see they're loved and they're well kept.
They're well kept.
I mean, you've got loads of washing all about, it's...
You're just fighting a losing battle.
You're fighting a losing battle. You can't do it.
You can't do it in these rooms.
Don't forget, I have to walk away from here
knowing that they're still there.
I can go home at night, at the end of the day. They're still here.
So it does affect us.
Don't think we've hardened and that we don't think about it.
As I said, my priority is to make sure that these families are safe,
and I'll do everything I can to make sure that happens.
Well, now it's down to Roy and the team
to confront the landlord with their findings.
We've invited them out,
we've tried to talk to them to come and meet us.
So all this is photographed. It's not good viewing.
'With Roy and Nina's help,
'things could start to take a turn for the better,
'and we'll get an update later on.'
St Helens, Merseyside.
Pam Coppock and Chrissy Nevitt of the housing team
are going back to a problem property
to check if promised works have been carried out
on two flats which were previously uninhabitable.
It was horrendous, it was really bad,
and it was bad enough
to apply to our homeless section
and have the tenant rehoused.
Once they arrive, though,
despite the new tenant Michael's enthusiasm to do the jobs himself,
Pam's not impressed with the progress.
Nothing's changed. It's got worse.
For Pam and Chrissy, their main priority today
is to make sure the flat meets certain levels of living standards.
And tenant Michael is all too aware of the work that needs doing.
Everything in orange
are the problems that exist here.
You've got quite a lot.
The house has got tremendous things that need doing.
Stair rail, staircase - everything needs doing.
But obviously it is and, to be honest with you,
it's things that's getting done.
That's the damp, damp wall on this side.
The bathroom's got damp coming through.
The front of the house on the roof has gone.
It's got a leak in the roof,
it's got all that that needs doing, which needs pointing up and fixing.
But by agreeing to carry out the repairs himself,
Pam and Chrissy are concerned Mike could be putting himself at risk.
He's doing works which are ultimately
the landlord's responsibility.
Fireplace, which is done.
I've got me double bed and unit - everything in here.
This is a dining table, an eight-foot dining table,
-which I'm rebuilding for this room.
-Which is a dining room.
I can see you're keen.
Doing the cosmetic stuff, fixing the hole in the wall,
doing stuff like that, yeah, I'm quite happy with you doing it.
Not roofing work,
not getting up and sealing off roofs.
-It was me requesting it,
it was me that asked him... It was me...
-That was the sales pitch for me getting this house.
But we can't expect you to get scaffolding and get up on the roof.
It's not... It's not that type of work that wants doing.
He wants two tiles fixing in the corner
and a bit of cement supporting the...
It's still....work at heights.
This is the reason we're concerned for you.
It's not your fault, and it's not really...
This building offers me...
It offers me and a chance for the unemployment office
to get me back on my feet.
-I'm doing everything I can,
and have been doing, since the day I moved away from that bedsit.
Yeah. I understand that.
-But it doesn't mean you have to live unsafely.
-It's not unsafe.
You keep saying it's unsafe. This bed...
This building to me is the most...
I couldn't get a more perfect building for my situation.
Pam eventually decides to give Michael 28 days to complete
the works he says he can do.
My concern is I'm not happy about this property.
I'm not happy that it's never moved forward.
We're going to make an appointment for next month
and I'm going to come back and see you. OK?
This has got to improve an awful lot.
If it doesn't,
and it's not against you, it's not on you,
it's on the landlord,
the notice will be served and action will be taken.
With the matter of building repairs settled,
Chrissy has one last concern to discuss.
Things to point out - the dog muck on the floor...
It's not dog muck, as in dog splattered...
It makes no difference.
You need to clean it up - that's for your health.
-I've only just got up.
-We're looking at trying to keep you safe.
How are you keeping me safe by telling me this and that?
-No, because they're the things...
-So I've got to go live in a bedsit
-and make everyone else's life uncomfortable?
We need to get this turned round
so you have a place to be proud of and you're happy in here.
We've just agreed 28 days,
so can you, if you don't mind me saying,
can you also tell me...?
You tell me in 28 days what your problem is.
-Then we'll see whether or not we've got a problem.
And with that, Pam and Chrissy leave Michael to begin the repairs.
The owner has promised to do all the works
and bring it back up to standard.
As we can see through this visit, it's not happened.
So it's... How long do you keep giving him really?
I know the tenant wants 28 days
and I'll do that just cos the tenant has requested that.
But within 28 days, if things haven't improved - and they're big jobs -
then we're going to start taking formal action again.
Hey, come on.
It is frustrating.
He's not a bad chap.
I think he would be an appreciative tenant.
If that flat had have been repaired and renovated,
he could have moved into a really nice property
and had a really good step up, which is all he's asking for.
So hopefully, in 28 days, he'll turn it round
and we'll have a different conversation.
But we'll see.
Pam and Chrissy return to find that
Michael's enthusiasm remains sky-high.
I want a second-hand shop, which is like a charity.
Ensuring that we all have somewhere safe and decent to live is
the job of housing officers right across the UK.
So there's nowhere for your lads to go.
I'm working alongside the men and women who do exactly that.
You see this and you go, "Shut it down."
I'm hitting the streets...
Good to see you.
..I'm learning on the job...
This is just a breeding ground for rats.
..and I'm finding out what it takes to make sure that a house
is a fit place to call a home.
This house is starting to send shivers down my spine.
I turned up here and there was no house - just completely gone.
We've got to look at it strategically
and the best way to attack it.
Next, I'm heading to North Kesteven in Lincolnshire to hook up
with housing officer Chris Gallimore.
It's reckoned that there are 1.5 million people on the housing
waiting list in Britain,
so the pressure to find new council property is unrelenting.
Today, Chris is planning to show me
just one of the ways his department is attempting to tackle the problem.
Brand-new boots, these are box-fresh. Look at that!
This three-bedroomed house had been derelict for several years,
but now the council's busy doing it up,
ready to be filled with a family in need.
It's obviously good news,
but I'm keen to understand from Chris how this has happened.
We're doing this under an Empty Dwelling Management Order.
So this is an EDMO.
So long-term empties,
potentially causing problems with antisocial behaviour,
but we've got a high number of people on the waiting list for housing,
so essentially, it becomes a council house for seven years.
At the end of the seven-year period,
the owner gets the property back in good shape.
You could actually move in on somebody's property and say,
"We're going to do this up."
We've done some of these where we're actually enforcing,
but projects such as this, we're doing with the owner's consent.
You get families that split up and people separate
and that's the situation.
You also get properties in negative equity,
where they've got a massive mortgage
and the property's not worth what the mortgage is.
A lot of these properties, it's up to us
to step in and figure out a way to get them back into use.
It may seem like a radical scheme, but it seems to be working,
with empty property being put to good use and the owners
benefitting from having their homes repaired without paying a penny.
I thought this was going to be a little bit of tarting up.
This is gutting - completely.
Obviously there's different levels of disrepair in them -
this one's a lot more extensive than some of the ones we're doing.
This building is one of just 800,000 homes
currently standing empty across the UK,
the majority of which are privately owned.
North Kesteven Council have already done up
ten such properties on the EDMO scheme,
with a further ten on their way to renovation.
The windows will be replaced in here - brand-new windows.
The roof space will be fully insulated up to current regulations.
There's a little wasps' nest there. We'll have to deal with that.
You can see some damage on the felt
and that's something they'll have to rectify
and that's where the water's been coming down the valley
and some water has come in through there.
Once work here is completed, the refurbished property
will become a council house for the next seven years,
before being returned to its owner.
Question I ask is,
why would anybody let their property get into this state?
Sometimes people have got mental health problems
so they've got issues on that side,
or sometimes they're away looking after relatives, things like that...
What was the case in this one?
The owner of the property was actually in the forces.
To start off with, she was stationed away,
so I think that's how the property became empty.
Neglected, not through her own fault,
just the way it's gone with her situation.
You can't be in two places at once, it was one of those, was it?
It's great to think that when it's completed,
this property could happily be a home for a family of five.
It's got the school right there.
You could have a little family
-starting out from scratch here, couldn't you?
The other issue is there's quite
-a lot of asbestos in this property as well.
-Now you tell me.
The asbestos has been removed by a licensed contractor.
It's impressive, and after a quick chat to the camera-shy neighbours,
it's clear I'm not the only one who's happy.
She's said she's over the moon, so relieved that something's
taking place with the other half of her semidetached,
because she said it was cold.
If you imagine living next to a house that's never heated,
where there's water coming through the roof,
eventually it's going to start affecting your property.
She says she's been waiting for ten years for somebody to do
something about it.
And now...they are.
Just five weeks later, Chris has returned for his final
inspection to see the house transformed.
There's been over £40,000 spent on this property,
and as you can see, it's been finished to a high standard.
The money that we've put into it is offset by the fact that
it's another house that's brought back into use.
Some of these properties can be crime hot-spots
and are a blight for the community,
so it's a win-win situation all round really.
It's reckoned a quarter of a million
new houses need to be built every year,
and with under a half that number being produced,
bringing these abandoned homes back into use
has to be a very good thing.
Margate in Kent, a seaside destination that's
dwindled in popularity over the years.
Scores of once-thriving hotels
and guest houses have been put out of action as a result.
While many have been resurrected as flats and bedsits,
others haven't been so fortunate.
All right, fantastic. See you shortly.
Housing officer Sarah Kelly has spent the past 18 months
dealing with an old guest house that's been left to rot.
The fundamental problem with the property
is a distinct lack of roof.
Went up and inspected the roof from next door
and the lead had been stolen and all the tiles had slipped,
so it was pretty much open to the elements
and was drenching the partition wall.
The trouble is that the owner of the property isn't really
interested in getting the roof fixed.
We tried to work informally with the landlord first of all,
which is what we'd always do.
He wasn't playing ball so we went down the formal route,
served an abatement notice on him and here we are, 12 months later,
doings works in default, cos the landlord still hasn't done anything.
An abatement notice is served by the council where nuisance exists.
It gives the landlord a specific time period to get
the problem fixed,
but as the landlord has failed to comply,
the housing team will have to get the work done.
The disrepair is having horrendous consequences
for the flats next door.
We're going to meet the landlord of the flats,
so I can see for myself just what he's been putting up with.
Jason had been making a living from renting these flats out.
Lost about £20,000 in rent,
and the repair work is being quoted at between £39,000 and £41,000.
Bear in mind I've got a mortgage on the property, I've still got to
cover that, without having an income to cover it.
So that's obviously quite difficult.
It's got so bad, basically,
cos the guy next door hasn't done anything to the house.
So it just carries on dripping and dripping and dripping
and it's been dripping in for 18 months now.
So that is very spotty and nasty.
And that's all coming through from next door?
From the roof next door and the partition walls, yeah.
Right. Cos these houses are kind of dependent upon each other,
aren't they? If something's going on next door,
-it's going to be happening here soon.
This place is in a terrible state.
Obviously Jason's had no choice
but to remove his tenants for the sake of their own health.
That's still going to be...
You can feel it - it's still wet there.
-That's going to need dried out for...
..weeks and weeks.
Everything's got to come off and start again back to bare bricks.
What's the status then with these?
How many are occupied in this building? Any at all?
Got two tenants left but they're not using this side,
they're using those rooms there. So they're using it as a studio flat
so I've had to reduce the rent for them, obviously.
But they want to stay in the building,
so when we do this flat,
the people in the basement are going to move up,
then we'll do the flat below
and move everybody around till it's all done.
This problem's reached crisis point,
but it could actually have been avoided.
It's a great shame cos this could all have been resolved
when we first reported it to the council.
I had a quote to replace the roof next door -
it was only £7,000 to do the whole roof.
What was only £7,000 next door
and a lick of paint in here has now turned into £40,000-worth of
work for all the flats to be gutted and started again.
It is a great shame and easy to see how unresolved building works
can quickly spiral out of control.
While it looks like Jason's nightmare
is finally coming to an end,
he's still got one big problem on his hands.
And we'll discover it later on.
There's a thing down in the corner growing out of the skirting
that looks like a sea sponge.
I haven't seen anywhere like this. This just seems out of control.
Back in St Helens, housing officers Pam Coppock
and Chrissy Nevitt are on the way back to check on the progress
of a particularly difficult property.
This is a property that has a notice on it, and we should really
have been informed by the owner that he was going to tenant the property,
so that we could come
and make sure that every defect listed on the notice has been lifted.
As the most recent tenant, DIY-enthusiast Michael was given
28 days to carry out repairs to the flat on behalf of the landlord.
But the housing officers are still concerned about the safety issues
and have dropped by for a halfway visit to check up.
Michael was so keen to do some of the works himself
and get it into a good standard of repair.
So we've given him that time
so I'd just like to catch up with him and see how he's getting on.
Hi. Michael, are you there?
Come here, sunshine.
Michael has clearly made a start on the guttering
and fascia boards outside,
but it seems he's still got a long way to go.
-You've got a couple of points there if you look at it.
Your gutter isn't up to the roof there,
so it's going to drip behind it.
That one's changing to a double clip.
Pam's satisfied that the repairs are under way,
but inside, Michael reveals a much-grander plan for his home.
To be honest with you, I want the full building,
-not just the flat.
I want a second-hand shop which is like a charity.
So you want to turn the bottom...
If I get the bottom and turn it into a charity shop.
I think it was a shop, so it'd go well...
I'm going to say something that's probably going to annoy,
and I don't mean to. You seem to be a bit of a hoarder.
It's not a hoarder...
-See, what it is...
Because I want that as a second-hand shop,
I can't afford to go and splash money out if he gives me the shop.
I need already at least something I can start putting in.
Your thoughts are, collect it and when you get that as a shop,
fit it out with the stuff you've got?
The stuff that I've already got and then go on from there.
-When would you like the shop going?
Michael, keen to prove to Pam his plans for a second-hand shop
are well under way, gives her a tour of his eclectic private collection.
-I've rebuilt them.
-What's that made of?
-Is it really?
But while they're upstairs,
Chrissy's spotted something that leaves her with a difficult
decision to make.
It appears he has a small cannabis plant in his back yard.
It's only very small, but I've rang for one of our local
bobbies to come down and take a look at it.
She is duty-bound to call the police,
who are soon on the scene to read Michael the riot act.
POLICEMAN: Was the property in a bad state when you come?
Explaining he was unaware of what he'd planted,
the police leave Michael with a caution for his small
foray into horticulture.
You all right?
90 quid fine.
Is that what it was?
Two plants that big.
It's not the news Michael wanted,
but with progress on the repairs finally under way,
and Michael's grand plans to turn part of the place into a shop,
Pam and Chrissy leave,
hoping that eventually,
this is one property that'll be taken off their books.
We'll see how you get on with it.
I can understand you wanting to turn it into a single house,
-just for yourself.
-It makes more sense.
See you later.
And if Michael's enthusiasm is anything to go by,
I'd say they'd be right.
Back in Margate, housing officer Sarah Kelly
and I have been seeing for ourselves the full impact an absent neighbour
can have on the innocent person next door.
This is full-on penetrating damp,
which is through the party wall of the adjoining property.
The owner of the adjoining property doesn't believe it's
causing a problem. As you can see, clearly it is.
Landlord Jason was renting the flats in this building out to tenants,
but a long-term damaged roof in the abandoned guest house next
door has resulted in severe damp and he's had no choice
but to get the tenants out.
Hopefully, it's the end of the line of this nightmare and we
can get the whole block refurbished and make it nice flats again,
and rent them out back to nice tenants.
The council have used their powers to get the roof fixed
so that Jason can start repair work,
but while most of his tenants have moved out,
one resident is very reluctant.
He lives down in the basement.
-This is terrible, isn't it?
-Yeah, this is awful.
My God, you couldn't keep anything in here at all.
That corner over there, it's like a thick coat of black and white mould.
It's like an inch thick. This has got to be a health hazard.
This is when it starts turning like candyfloss.
This is now growing. The spores are in the air,
and they're starting to grow off the furniture.
There's a thing down in the corner growing out the skirting that
looks like a sea sponge.
I haven't seen anywhere like this before.
This just seems out of control.
You're the landlord, this is your tenant,
you've got responsibility towards him.
Your natural instinct is, "Get this chap out."
Yes, but he doesn't want to move, that's the thing
so he's moved into the front and had it as a studio
and, you know, just blocked this off.
I said to him before, you know, "I'll move you out."
He said, "No, I want to stay with you."
He said, "When you do the top flat up, move me up to the top flat,
"refurbish this then I'll move back down."
Which I'm happy to, he's a nice guy, it's his home at the end of the day.
None of us expected this
and Sarah's not comfortable with somebody living in these conditions.
Yeah, it's probably one of the worst cases of damp I've seen.
So I'm not happy with this guy living here.
I'm going to phone the office.
Hello, you all right?
If you were to draw a picture of a vulnerable person
in a terrible situation, it feels like it would look like this.
So, Sarah's stepping in to say,
"Hold on, someone needs to come down here
"and look and see the conditions this guy's living in."
The most obvious thing to do here
would be to serve a prohibition order
but having a vulnerable tenant makes things more complicated.
'I think we need some guidance from our boss Richard.'
-How are you?
-Shall we see what the problems are, then?
-Pretty horrendous, isn't it?
-Look at it all.
And this is the sponges and the cotton wool.
With the amount of mould growth that you can see on the walls,
clearly it's detrimental to health.
Oh, yeah, the wall's pretty much saturated still
and it's going to take some time to dry out.
My instincts are very, very straightforward.
-Probably the same as most people watching this.
You see this room and you go, "Shut it down, move him out."
Let's say in theory that we decided
that we'd serve an emergency prohibition order.
We'd serve it on the owner and the tenant but what happens
when that vulnerable tenant doesn't want to move out, you know,
then you've got to decide has that tenant committed an offence?
The penalty for not compiling with an emergency prohibition order
is prosecution. Now would we want to prosecute this tenant
because he felt an attachment to this property?
The prohibition order is actually on the property
-and anybody that doesn't go with it...
Anybody doesn't go with it could find themselves in trouble
and that includes the occupant here.
-All right, OK.
I can see why this presents a real dilemma for Jason
and clearly it's not a simple case of quoting housing law.
He knows the flat, he knows where he lives
and he just doesn't want to move at all.
That's the difficulty with us because if he did,
it would make our lives a lot easier obviously but if there is an order
and he has to move which is beneficial to, you know,
the builders and to him as well,
then we can get the builders in to do the whole lot in one go
which will make everything a lot of easier
because the building needs to dry out as sort of one flat.
Landlord, council and tenant all need to cooperate from here
in order to take the right course of action for everyone concerned.
So, Richard, what's going to happen next?
We're going to go back to the office now.
We're going to explore the gentleman's housing options,
we're going to call him
and see if there's anything we can help him out with.
I'm sure they'll be no problems in getting the property back to
a state that would be, you know, much healthier to live in.
This is a delicate situation that needs to be carefully handled.
I'm just glad it's been brought to our attention.
It's now up to the housing team to work with Jason in getting
the flats fixed and putting the welfare of the tenant first.
The good news is that since our inspection,
landlord Jason has organised his building work
around renovating the basement flat
and the tenant has moved into another habitable flat
in the building until the work's done.
Thanks to teamwork, a great result has come from a terrible situation.
And there's more news. Earlier in Sandwell,
Roy Nicholls and I visited a severely overcrowded home
that was riddled with health and safety issues.
Now Roy's got an update for me.
There were obviously some long term issues in that house
but there was also stuff that needed to be sorted straightaway and
I'm thinking particularly about those electric fires, you know,
where kids were staying.
To be honest, that was the most dangerous item that was imminent,
something was going to happen on that.
All the residents have been told now to use the heating
that's been provided and we'll be speaking to the landlord.
Roy served the landlord with a notice to upgrade the house,
the work needed has to be even more comprehensive
if he's planning to house more than five people.
As the tenants paid their rent to an agent at their offices,
he was unaware of how many people were living in the property.
Meanwhile, the relevant services have been brought in to talk
to all the families living there.
The mum with two small children living in the box room
has been given a support worker who's helping to rehouse her.
The landlord sent us the following statement
about the situation at the property.
That's it for today's show.
Join me next time on the front line with Britain's housing officers.
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.