Episode 3 The Housing Enforcers


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Episode 3

Consumer programme. Matt Allwright joins the ranks of Britain's housing officers. In this episode Matt meets some young men whose home is a potential deathtrap.


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Transcript


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

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We want to get your problem sorted out.

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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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-That gulley pan was up to the top with

-BLEEP.

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This is not right, this.

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'In the battle between tenants and landlords,

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

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This is a really dangerous place to be living.

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

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'ready to join the ranks of the housing enforcers.'

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

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-Yes.

-You can't get out. 'Tackling problem properties.'

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In the walls, I hear scratching.

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It's a bit of a death trap.

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'Dealing with the consequences of nightmare neighbours.'

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-Urine running down the wall.

-'And everything in between.'

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-We want to pass, nothing gets done.

-I'm so pleased for you.

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-I feel like I've won the lottery.

-You're looking like a bad landlord.

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'Coming up, I meet a lady whose passion for pests

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'has pushed the neighbours and the council to take action.'

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The rats were here before I came here.

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She has put chicken carcasses out on the bird table.

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Take care, Pat.

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One family's complaints about poor housing conditions may have backfired.

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That's really, really damp.

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We just wanted the stuff to be fixed and we could carry on living here.

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And poor plumbing leaves a tenant overflowing with disgust.

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It is coming through into here, and it is all around there.

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A solid puddle of stinky poo and I'm not dealing with it.

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That's fair enough.

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What do you do if you're living near someone who is making your life

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an absolute nightmare?

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The sensible option is to get your local authority involved

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and let them sort it out.

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In Lowestoft in Suffolk, housing officer Sandy Campbell

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is on the case of a homeowner

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whose feeding of wildlife in her back garden

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has resulted in her neighbours' homes being infested with rats.

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After repeated warnings from the council,

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the case is now going to court.

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So what we're applying for

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is a criminally related Antisocial Behaviour Order.

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I don't want the defendant to be fined,

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I want her to stop causing the problem

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that's so badly adversely affecting these neighbours.

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I'll be meeting Sandy and the team from the council

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at the woman's property a little later on.

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'But first, I'm keen to find out from neighbour Nicky

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'how the rat infestation has affected her and her family.'

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Hello. Nicky? I'm Matt.

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Over by the pampas grass there, we've got a huge nest,

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like a big dome, where they all go in.

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They're walking all around our garden.

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-So you see these regularly, do you?

-Yeah, they come out during the day,

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we've got plenty of pictures with them walking around the garden.

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And we've got holes all along the fence.

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-So these are coming from next door?

-Yeah.

-We know that for certain?

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Yeah, because she has put chicken carcasses out on the bird table.

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She thinks she's doing good by feeding the birds.

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Well, it sounds like the neighbour, Patricia Ann Symonds,

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is running some kind of restaurant for rats. If that's not bad enough,

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the infestation is having a serious impact on Nicky's kids.

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This is my son's room,

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he has actually been sleeping on the floor in our room

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because he's worried about the rats getting in

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and under the bed.

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He don't feel safe in his home any more.

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-It's not great, growing up with that fear already there.

-No.

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It's the sort of thing you keep with you for a while, isn't it?

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Yeah, I mean, he's nearly ten,

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and since he's been here that's all he's known.

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You've always got that fear

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that there are going to be rats on the doorstep.

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Yeah. It's annoying that you've got a garden

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and you can't use it.

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Yeah.

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Sad.

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-Are you all right?

-Yes. Yeah.

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Maybe this time, she will listen.

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She will listen.

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It's no wonder Nicky's so upset -

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not only are her kids terrified,

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but rats can spread all sorts of dangerous bugs.

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Things are now so bad, she's considering selling up.

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It's a shame that you should have to think about moving.

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Yeah, just through somebody. Cos it's a lovely road.

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I mean, we even asked the council to buy our house,

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but whether they would, I don't know.

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Last straw with it, I think.

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It's clear that Nicky and her family are really suffering here,

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but they're not on their own.

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On the other side of the infested property is Jane.

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-You are convinced that that's where they're coming from?

-Yes.

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What makes you so convinced?

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I've actually witnessed next door putting food out in the gardens,

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and we've spoke to her numerous times, you know,

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"Can you stop putting it down?"

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But she just can't see that she's causing the problem.

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Show me your rat holes.

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Rat holes, welcome to my world.

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We'll shut the door,

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cos I'm learning to do that in this neighbourhood.

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SHE LAUGHS

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-As you can see, they're down there.

-So that's right under the patio?

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Yeah, as you can probably see, my patio has collapsed.

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Oh, my God, look!

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So they go right underneath that, totally undermine it.

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If you look at that end, as you can see, and here, they just...

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So is that where they are?

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Are they under there now, do you think? Hiding away.

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I don't know about that.

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Oi, get out, come and eat this poison.

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'It's looking pretty bad for the neighbours on both sides.

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'The question now is,

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'will being served with a criminal Antisocial Behaviour Order

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'stop Patricia from her feeding activity?

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'Before Sandy and the team arrive to inspect the property again,

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'Patricia has agreed to meet with me.'

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What your neighbours are saying,

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and other people are saying, is you're putting food out

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and that is encouraging rats to come in to your back garden.

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OK, so I put food out to feed the birds,

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but it's not on the ground, as they have insisted.

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As far as I'm concerned, the rats were here before I came here.

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You know, they just don't appear out of nowhere, Matt.

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'Well, that might be true, but putting food out can't help.

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'Despite Patricia not having the tidiest back garden,

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'it's not the rat run I might have been led to expect.'

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What we haven't got here is any food that I can see.

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No, you can have a look, and you can see.

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And I can't see any rats, OK?

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-No.

-So I'm not walking in here and seeing rats scatter.

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-How often do you see rats in your back garden, Pat?

-I haven't.

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I haven't. I haven't seen one

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for a long, long while.

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But it's true, Matt, I'm not out here that often.

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'Well, Pat might not be,

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'but Nicky's kids haven't been able to play outside for months.

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'However, Pat's adamant that it's not her fault.'

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'Coming up, council officers find some damning evidence.'

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There's fresh rat droppings down here,

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so we're going to need to bait up the back garden.

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In St Helens, Merseyside housing officer Pam Coppock,

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and her colleague Chrissy Nevitt are investigating a complaint.

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We're going to have a look at one of the houses

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that appear to have issues about possible sewage

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and blockages in the main sewer.

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We can have a general look around the area

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and have a look around the house and see what's going on, really.

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It's Pam's job to assess any hazards in the property,

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using the Housing Health And Safety Rating System.

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It sounds like tenant Dave has plenty to complain about.

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Well, the electrics, for a start, keep shorting

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and going out

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and, if it happens on a night, me freezer defrosts.

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Plus the drainage round there,

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I have been complaining about since December,

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it's all just been flooded,

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and it's all blocked up with, well, poo.

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I'm not going to be the one doing it

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when the landlord's promised to do it, you know?

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Dave isn't alone.

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Over half of the 7,000 rental properties in St Helens

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would fail what's known as the Decent Home Standard

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applied to council-owned properties.

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Let's hope this isn't another one.

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Hello, is it David? Hi, David.

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-Is it all right if we come in?

-Yes.

-Thank you very much.

-Thank you.

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Just to explain why I'm here and what happens,

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when we receive a complaint,

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and we know there's a private tenant in the house,

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we have a statutory duty

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to come out and do an inspection, OK?

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That inspection includes

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any risks that you might be aware of

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that might compromise your health, safety or welfare.

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You've got that sewer out there, no lights working,

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and the lights keep tripping as well

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and I have to go down there in the dark and flip the trip switch,

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I just don't like electricity.

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No, I don't blame you.

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Do you know what's gone on, do you know who the new tenant is...

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-The new owner, do you know anything?

-No.

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It seems the identity of the landlord is a mystery,

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so Pam will need to track him down.

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But first, there's the matter of Dave's unusual flatmate.

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-Have you really got mice?

-Yeah.

-Have you?

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-OK.

-I've called him Kaiser,

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cos he disappears like that,

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and he's got a funny back leg.

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His back leg's a bit wonky

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so I don't want to kill it or catch it.

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I just leave it. He doesn't like chocolate,

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so I give it bit of cheese.

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You really don't need to encourage it!

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If you put it in a cage and call it a pet, that's different,

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but if you let it run around, ten-to-one it'll be 600 mice

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at the end of the year.

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If you see one mouse, they're not on their own, you know.

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This one is, though, and I even heard it digging in.

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It took, like, three days to scratch its way through

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from under the stairs.

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-Is that where it's come from?

-Yeah.

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Mm, it sounds like Kaiser the mouse

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has met very little resistance on this invasion,

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and even got collaborator Dave to serve up his favourite meals.

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I'm just going to have look under the stairs

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to see if I can find any holes

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or any points where the mice

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or any other pests can get into.

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There's a little bit of rubble,

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and I think he might be dropping in through there,

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cos there's some plaster and concrete on the floor.

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Go on, what do you feed him?

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A little cheese, he likes bits of toast with cheese on,

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and ends of pizzas and that, he finishes them.

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Don't like chocolate, though.

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Everyone told me mice like chocolate.

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It's good chocolate, nice, dark Belgian chocolate.

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He won't touch it.

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He's probably feeding a nest-full, you know that, don't you?

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It's not good.

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I'm sure Kaiser the mouse enjoys a fine and varied menu,

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but if the tenant is found to be causing the infestation,

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they could be liable for pest-control costs,

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so encouraging him probably isn't a good idea, Dave!

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You can't have mice running around, it's not good.

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Dave's hungry housemate is just one thing

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on a list that also includes a broken oven and dodgy electrics.

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As soon as you open it, this doesn't work.

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Smoke, it's burning, whatever it is,

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the smoke keeps setting the smoke alarm off.

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We'll be finding out later on

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that these could be the least of Dave's problems.

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It was just like a porridge,

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-big pudding of

-BLEEP.

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Back in Lowestoft,

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Patricia leaves food out for the wildlife in her garden,

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but refuses to believe it's attracting rats.

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As far as I'm concerned, the rats were here before I came here.

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Following years of complaints from her neighbours,

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she's been given a criminal Antisocial Behaviour Order,

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and now housing officer Sandy Campbell is here

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with the council pest controller

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to try to deal with the rat infestation once and for all.

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Obviously I will be coming on the land,

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the warrant is with private-sector housing,

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I'll come on the land with you.

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I want it dealt with as sensitively as possible.

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The whole point is we eradicate the rat problem

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and make as big of a headway into that as we can.

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I spoke to Pat earlier on.

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I went in there and I said, "Let's have a look,"

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and she showed me the back garden. I couldn't see any rats,

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I couldn't see any evidence of food.

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Now, it may be that she's had a tidy up

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because she knows everyone's coming today.

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I've been visiting this property so much.

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I'm seeing rat holes open, rat holes closed,

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and shovelling earth over them doesn't get rid of them.

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'As this issue seems to have come to a head,

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'Patricia has requested that the police are present.

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'But Sandy's known Patricia for five years

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'and has her best interests at heart.'

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I will still try and deal with this in the most sensitive manner.

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I'm still making choices that are actually benefiting her

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and trying to make the situation as easy as possible.

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'Well, Sandy's certainly right

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'about the need to get this problem sorted,

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'for everybody's sake.

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'Pest controller Steve is going to lay some new traps

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'and, being an expert, it's not long before he spots the classic signs

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'that kind of passed me by.'

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'Don't forget, I am a trainee.'

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Faeces. And smearing, as they come over.

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That brown mark is as they come round...

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So where would they be right now, then?

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Rats are nocturnal.

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Generally you would find them

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at dusk and sunrise, peak activity,

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but generally that would be at night that they would be active.

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You've got gnawing there, you see.

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There is gnawing there, Steve,

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and also this earth has been relatively freshly disturbed.

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There are rat holes here, under this earth which has been kicked over.

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It looks like a chicken bone in that corner.

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There are certainly plenty of signs that rats are here,

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and you can't ignore that.

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'Holes are one thing,

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'but there's another key sign

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'that the rats are still active in these gardens.'

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There's fresh rat droppings down here...

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..so we're going to need to bait up the back garden.

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Steve, what's your verdict?

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Obviously she hasn't been feeding here for a while,

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probably because she knew this was happening,

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but there's been a lot of feeding going on

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and that's the problem.

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That's basically why we've reached this point today -

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you're not going to get the bait take

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as long as the food keeps going down.

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There are different ways to feed animals and feed cats

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in your own home

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without leaving it out there

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to cause an attraction for rats.

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-OK.

-That's what I don't...

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That's the bit I still can't get my head around.

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I think the lady thinks, if she stops feeding the animals outside,

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in some way they may starve.

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They won't. I have been here at length

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and spoken to her about how she could continue feeding the birds

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whilst not attracting the rats,

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and none of that has ever been put in place.

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She has not wanted any intervention, she's very private,

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but unfortunately that privacy has impacted very badly

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on the neighbours.

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What I have done, I have put three boxes in your front garden.

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Don't feed the birds,

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because what we want to do is get the rats in the boxes

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to get this situation under control.

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I'm hardly ever feeding the birds.

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Nope, but we'll be coming back, probably in about ten days.

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Well, hopefully people will be satisfied then.

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Well, I hope so too, Pat.

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Find out later if the plan works.

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Here in Britain you only have to look out of the window

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to work out why so many of the calls that come into housing departments

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concern damp homes.

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Sometimes it's not always obvious

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how the water's getting in.

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That's when you need skill and experience -

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the skill and experience I don't have.

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In Tendring Council in Essex,

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Housing officers Ian and Grant

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are off to see a family who believe their health is being affected

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by their damp home.

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This came out of housing allocations, didn't it, this one?

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Well, it says here, "Property in disrepair,

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"ongoing problem with damp and mould issues.

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"Glen from allocations visited the property in December

0:15:590:16:02

"and told her to contact us."

0:16:020:16:04

Righty-ho.

0:16:040:16:05

Damp affects almost 1 million properties across the UK,

0:16:050:16:09

so it's not surprising it's one of the most common calls

0:16:090:16:11

housing officers get.

0:16:110:16:13

-It's here, mate.

-Whoa, yeah. Well done.

0:16:130:16:17

Looks like it's this little bad boy.

0:16:170:16:19

Hello. Tendering District Council.

0:16:210:16:23

One of our housing allocation officers came to see you

0:16:230:16:26

back in December, is that right?

0:16:260:16:28

That's right. We've got damp, mould, virtually everywhere,

0:16:280:16:32

-near enough everywhere in the house.

-Right.

0:16:320:16:34

And it's affecting my partner's and my son's health.

0:16:340:16:39

-Right.

-He's severely asthmatic.

0:16:390:16:41

I'm affected a lot more in the winter

0:16:410:16:43

because, obviously, our roof leaks as well,

0:16:430:16:45

and as you'll see up the stairs.

0:16:450:16:47

You still got a roof leak, have you?

0:16:470:16:48

Well, the guy said...

0:16:480:16:50

The landlord said he fixed it

0:16:500:16:52

and sent someone to fix it, but the wall's still damp.

0:16:520:16:55

You can see new patches where new damp has come.

0:16:550:16:58

-Right, OK. Do you want to sort of run us through?

-Yes.

0:16:580:17:01

-Where do we start?

-You start knocking on the wall...

0:17:010:17:03

Areas of blown plaster.

0:17:030:17:05

There's all blown plaster all the way.

0:17:050:17:08

That's all right, I think, that bit.

0:17:080:17:10

Yeah, that sounds a bit more...

0:17:100:17:12

It's all... Pretty much all this whole section here.

0:17:120:17:15

This is where you can see it's starting to come damp again.

0:17:150:17:19

Even my relatively untrained eye

0:17:190:17:21

can see that the damp marks on the walls

0:17:210:17:24

show there has been a major leak.

0:17:240:17:25

But as a housing officer,

0:17:250:17:27

I'm starting to learn

0:17:270:17:28

everything isn't always as it seems.

0:17:280:17:31

IAN: Do you know when this was painted outside?

0:17:310:17:33

They did paint it...last year.

0:17:330:17:36

They came and put a little bit of filler in there.

0:17:360:17:39

-GRANT:

-Well, that's interesting to hear.

0:17:390:17:41

Where did they fill it, did they fill it at the back here?

0:17:410:17:43

Pretty much 90% of the house they filled.

0:17:430:17:45

Right, OK, because that tells me again

0:17:450:17:48

that, potentially, because this is solid...

0:17:480:17:50

I don't know if you can see these lines?

0:17:500:17:52

They're like blocks.

0:17:520:17:54

Now, probably what's happened is the water's sheeted against it.

0:17:540:17:57

Where the cracks are, the water gets behind it,

0:17:570:17:59

it has seeped into the structure.

0:17:590:18:01

You have then got a situation where you paint that structure.

0:18:010:18:05

-It's sealed the water in...

-Exactly.

0:18:050:18:07

-So what's the water going to do?

-That's it, it's got nowhere to go.

0:18:070:18:10

And it's going to go one way.

0:18:100:18:12

It's starting to look like

0:18:120:18:13

the landlord has made repairs to the outside walls,

0:18:130:18:16

but that these may have trapped the damp inside.

0:18:160:18:18

It also looks like the damp could be affecting the family's health.

0:18:180:18:22

-Is that your boy?

-That's me stepson.

0:18:220:18:25

In that back room. How old is he?

0:18:250:18:29

He's 13, he's got asthma the same as me.

0:18:290:18:31

And in the winter, it gets on his chest

0:18:310:18:34

and it gets on my chest a bit as well. He gets very wheezy.

0:18:340:18:38

Nobody knows for certain

0:18:380:18:39

if living in a damp house can cause asthma,

0:18:390:18:41

but experts are agreed that the mould that grows in damp

0:18:410:18:45

produces spores that can make it worse.

0:18:450:18:47

The dampness in the house, it hasn't been fixed.

0:18:470:18:51

He's done a couple of bits of work, the problem still hasn't been fixed,

0:18:510:18:55

and it is just... It's an ongoing problem

0:18:550:18:59

and it's not great for my kids or my partner.

0:18:590:19:02

Their health is deteriorating

0:19:020:19:03

because of the mould and the dampness is in the house.

0:19:030:19:06

Cor, that's really, really damp, innit?

0:19:060:19:09

You move your hand and it just... You got covered in paint.

0:19:090:19:11

'In the winter, I hate it.

0:19:110:19:14

'I hate it so much.'

0:19:140:19:15

It's so cold, and the expense to try and warm that house up...

0:19:150:19:20

You wouldn't believe me if I told you!

0:19:200:19:23

GRANT: Crikey, yeah.

0:19:230:19:25

-IAN:

-The white stuff isn't actually mould,

0:19:250:19:28

that's actually salt.

0:19:280:19:29

So when the water comes through the brick work,

0:19:290:19:31

it brings salts out of the brick with it as well,

0:19:310:19:33

and that's the white stuff you can see.

0:19:330:19:35

So it's not going to be harmful to your health, just wipe it off.

0:19:350:19:38

The tenants in this house are doing what they can

0:19:380:19:40

to keep the mould at bay.

0:19:400:19:42

But the salt coming through the walls is another clue

0:19:420:19:44

that the problem may not be a current leak.

0:19:440:19:47

Have you actually seen water on there or has it just appeared?

0:19:470:19:50

No, it's just appeared from the damp...

0:19:500:19:52

It could be historic, if they've done those flashings,

0:19:520:19:54

it could be what's in the structure coming out.

0:19:540:19:56

Now, I've been to enough damp houses by now

0:19:560:19:58

to know that there is one more check that needs to be done.

0:19:580:20:01

And unfortunately for Ian, it involves a ladder.

0:20:010:20:05

I have gone up on ladders before. It has been known,

0:20:050:20:07

but I don't relish the prospect, I have to say.

0:20:070:20:09

It's not something I enjoy doing.

0:20:090:20:11

-We'll stitch you up, don't worry.

-Yeah, thanks.

0:20:130:20:16

Coming up, the cause of the damp is confirmed,

0:20:160:20:19

but tenants Chris and Elizabeth discover

0:20:190:20:21

that it only makes their problems worse.

0:20:210:20:24

I received a letter

0:20:240:20:26

saying I have to vacate within a month.

0:20:260:20:29

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

0:20:330:20:35

to defend your right to a decent place to live.

0:20:350:20:39

-You're not sleeping here, are you?

-Oh, no, no, no.

0:20:390:20:42

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

0:20:420:20:46

'It is just room after room of devastation.'

0:20:460:20:48

It's just every room you go in.

0:20:480:20:50

'I'm hitting the streets, I'm learning on the job...'

0:20:500:20:53

That is just soaking up all the water

0:20:530:20:55

and bringing it straight into the house.

0:20:550:20:57

'..to find out what it takes to make your house'

0:20:570:21:00

is fit to be called a home.

0:21:000:21:01

People here are at risk.

0:21:010:21:02

I'm not happy about this property.

0:21:020:21:04

Your tenant is still living here and is still paying her rent.

0:21:040:21:07

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

0:21:070:21:10

Next, I'm heading to the town of Smethwick in the West Midlands

0:21:140:21:17

to join housing Hercules Roy Nicholls

0:21:170:21:19

en route to yet another problem property.

0:21:190:21:22

It's a complaint from the occupants,

0:21:240:21:28

who basically have said that the landlord...

0:21:280:21:31

They've asked the landlord on numerous occasions

0:21:310:21:33

to carry out some repair work,

0:21:330:21:36

and basically he's not doing anything at all for them.

0:21:360:21:40

'Since house prices soared,

0:21:420:21:43

'this area has seen a huge surge in the number of landlords

0:21:430:21:46

'converting homes into bedsits.

0:21:460:21:48

'Although they may be cheap,

0:21:480:21:50

'this way of living can be far from cheerful,

0:21:500:21:52

'as Roy and I are about to discover.'

0:21:520:21:55

So one of the problems that you can have, if you've got bedsits,

0:21:560:22:00

is that sometimes the gas meter or the electricity meter

0:22:000:22:04

is in one person's room.

0:22:040:22:05

And when you've got that, of course,

0:22:050:22:07

it means that if that person is out,

0:22:070:22:10

when the meter runs out,

0:22:100:22:11

everybody else in the house is without a supply.

0:22:110:22:14

So that is a problem.

0:22:150:22:18

'All we have to do now is hunt down the hidden gas meter,

0:22:180:22:22

'which is not necessarily as simple as it might seem.'

0:22:220:22:25

It's like hide-and-seek, this is.

0:22:250:22:28

There seem to be quite a lot of extension leads across the floor,

0:22:280:22:32

which would make me think

0:22:320:22:34

that there maybe aren't enough plug sockets.

0:22:340:22:38

Use your eyes, Matt.

0:22:380:22:39

Everything that we do is visual.

0:22:390:22:42

So it's whatever we see.

0:22:430:22:44

So here's your gas meter.

0:22:440:22:48

'OK, not only is the meter in a bedroom behind a lockable door,

0:22:480:22:52

'it's also buried deeper than King Solomon's mines.

0:22:520:22:56

'And I've got a theory as to why no-one else can get access.'

0:22:560:23:00

So when he's away, the gas runs out,

0:23:000:23:02

nobody else in here gets gas...

0:23:020:23:05

You know, they haven't got anything - no hot water, no heating, nothing.

0:23:050:23:09

So, again, it's a situation

0:23:090:23:11

where it's in a room, and it's in a locked room.

0:23:110:23:14

And they haven't got access to it.

0:23:140:23:15

They can't get in to give themselves a bath or a shower

0:23:150:23:18

or just heat the house.

0:23:180:23:19

-Yeah.

-OK.

0:23:190:23:21

But even more hazardous than the hidden gas meter

0:23:210:23:25

are a whole host of fire risks

0:23:250:23:27

spotted by eagle-eyed Roy.

0:23:270:23:29

Any door that comes onto the escape route

0:23:310:23:33

must be able to shut from any angle on its own.

0:23:330:23:36

You can't rely on somebody shutting the door

0:23:360:23:39

if there's a fire in the place.

0:23:390:23:41

You look here...

0:23:410:23:42

That closes the door.

0:23:440:23:45

The problem is that is not strong enough.

0:23:450:23:48

It's a heavy door -

0:23:480:23:50

one chain isn't going to be sufficient

0:23:500:23:52

to shut that door into the frame.

0:23:520:23:54

'And there's worse to come

0:23:540:23:55

'when we spot-check the smoke alarms.'

0:23:550:23:57

BUTTON CLICKS

0:23:590:24:01

Yeah, that doesn't work.

0:24:020:24:04

And yet there's a green light on it.

0:24:040:24:06

The mains, which is on the base, is showing that it's connected,

0:24:060:24:11

but because it's damaged, as you've just said,

0:24:110:24:14

you press it, and it isn't working.

0:24:140:24:16

So even though we've got - or we think we've got - detection,

0:24:160:24:21

we haven't.

0:24:210:24:23

That's not the only room where the smoke alarms are out of action.

0:24:230:24:27

Nothing.

0:24:270:24:28

That's two out of two, and as I said, they're all linked.

0:24:280:24:31

So I would think, if we tested every one on this circuit,

0:24:310:24:34

I wouldn't expect one to work on this.

0:24:340:24:37

BUTTON CLICKS

0:24:370:24:39

-Nothing.

-Not a sound.

-Not a sound,

0:24:390:24:41

and this is the most likely source of a fire in the house, isn't it?

0:24:410:24:46

The kitchen's got to be your top risk.

0:24:460:24:48

Beyond the blatant fire-safety hazards,

0:24:480:24:50

Roy and I also uncover a host of serious sanitary problems.

0:24:500:24:56

You've got what looks like an open drain down there

0:24:560:24:59

in this really unpleasant wet room

0:24:590:25:02

that they've created.

0:25:020:25:04

So that means... yes, the water goes down there,

0:25:040:25:07

but anything that happens to be in your drain

0:25:070:25:09

-can come back into this room as well.

-Yeah.

0:25:090:25:12

I mean, I wouldn't want to come and have a shower in here.

0:25:120:25:15

The tenants sharing this bedsit

0:25:150:25:17

certainly aren't living a life of luxury,

0:25:170:25:19

but the problems here are far more than just cosmetic.

0:25:190:25:23

It's got kind of covered over with a paper thing -

0:25:240:25:26

is that the workings of the...?

0:25:260:25:28

-Yes.

-That just is wrong, isn't it?

0:25:280:25:30

That's wrong on so many levels.

0:25:300:25:33

'Later on, we'll meet tenant Wayne,

0:25:330:25:35

'and Roy's determined to make his home a better place.'

0:25:350:25:39

You know what they call him in the office?

0:25:390:25:40

They call him the Rottweiler.

0:25:400:25:42

'Back in St Helens, housing officer Pam

0:25:480:25:50

'is inspecting a property with a plethora of problems -

0:25:500:25:53

'including ravenous rodents...'

0:25:530:25:55

What do you feed him?

0:25:550:25:56

He doesn't like chocolate but a little cheese and that.

0:25:560:25:59

You really don't need to encourage it!

0:25:590:26:01

OK.

0:26:010:26:02

'..and dodgy electrics.'

0:26:020:26:05

As soon as you open it, this doesn't work.

0:26:050:26:07

Smoke, just... It's burning, whatever is burning,

0:26:070:26:10

that keeps setting the smoke alarm off.

0:26:100:26:12

'But there's an even more pressing issue,

0:26:120:26:15

'in the form of tenant Dave's drains.'

0:26:150:26:17

When it rains, right, it's coming up here,

0:26:190:26:22

it's coming through into here, and it's all round there,

0:26:220:26:24

a solid puddle of stinky poo. And I'm not dealing with it.

0:26:240:26:28

It's actually leaked into the main rainwater gully, hasn't it?

0:26:280:26:33

I unblocked some of it myself at first,

0:26:330:26:35

-and me mates are like,

-"BLEEP,

-don't touch it, like,

0:26:350:26:38

"get them to do it."

0:26:380:26:40

-And it was, it was all

-BLEEP.

0:26:400:26:42

It's quite interesting - you've got one, two, three...

0:26:420:26:46

..four, five, six feed-ins on one drain.

0:26:480:26:52

It's just going to cause everything to rise up.

0:26:520:26:55

Leaving sewage and drainage defects like that is...

0:26:550:26:59

Well, it's unforgiveable, really.

0:26:590:27:01

It should have been tended to,

0:27:010:27:03

but the house has been up for sale

0:27:030:27:05

and there is a little bit of problem, contentiousness,

0:27:050:27:08

with who the actual owner is,

0:27:080:27:10

so I think it's got lost in the sale.

0:27:100:27:13

Worried about the waste,

0:27:130:27:15

Pam has put a call in

0:27:150:27:16

to St Helen's resident sheriff of everything smelly -

0:27:160:27:20

colleague Glyn.

0:27:200:27:21

Nothing is too gruesome for Glyn.

0:27:210:27:24

Hiya, Glyn, you all right?

0:27:240:27:26

Have you come to see our sewage puddle?

0:27:260:27:29

-Yeah.

-We've got a nice bit of sewage for you.

0:27:290:27:33

I don't know why it's coming up there,

0:27:330:27:35

because that's...rain water.

0:27:350:27:36

First things first, they'll need to check the flow.

0:27:360:27:39

I think it's the sink, and I'm going to try the bath now.

0:27:420:27:46

Leave that one upstairs running for a minute, please.

0:27:460:27:49

-The cold water.

-OK.

0:27:490:27:52

-Right, you can turn it off now.

-OK.

0:27:540:27:57

Ooh, that's no good, is it?

0:28:010:28:02

Luckily, Glen soon gets to the bottom of the blockage -

0:28:020:28:06

armed with a very useful stick

0:28:060:28:08

and what sounds like his own personal bleeper.

0:28:080:28:10

-That gulley pan there was up to the top with leaves and

-BLEEP.

0:28:120:28:17

-It was just like a porridge, a big pudding of

-BLEEP.

0:28:170:28:21

-Yeah, that's what I

-BLEEP -

0:28:210:28:22

to be honest with you, I'm not cleaning that up.

0:28:220:28:24

The landlord's... They're the one to do that.

0:28:240:28:26

As I say, I've just done that now, the drain's unblocked -

0:28:260:28:29

if you want to chase your landlord up, by all means,

0:28:290:28:32

-but I've got down there now and it's not even my

-BLEEP.

0:28:320:28:35

Well, fair enough, no-one asked you to,

0:28:350:28:37

but I'm not cleaning out that.

0:28:370:28:39

Dave, Dave...

0:28:390:28:40

Anyway, I'm done, I'll see you later.

0:28:400:28:42

Because it looks like

0:28:420:28:43

Glyn's cleared it out of the gulley,

0:28:430:28:46

fingers crossed, that'll be the end of it.

0:28:460:28:49

If it's not, you phone me straightaway

0:28:490:28:51

and I get back on to the landlord for you.

0:28:510:28:53

But, in the meantime, when I do a notice on the landlord

0:28:530:28:56

for all the faults that we've seen today,

0:28:560:28:58

that's going to be included to be cleaned up.

0:28:580:29:00

Pam and the team will now attempt to track down the landlord

0:29:000:29:04

and advise them to sort out the issues

0:29:040:29:06

or face a hefty fine.

0:29:060:29:07

It's one of those things where it's a rented property

0:29:070:29:10

so it's not attention to detail, it's just rented out.

0:29:100:29:13

And also, just because you're renting a property

0:29:130:29:15

doesn't mean that you can live in absolutely anything,

0:29:150:29:18

you've still got a standard,

0:29:180:29:19

And that's what the Housing Act and the Housing Act Health And Safety Rating System does -

0:29:190:29:23

it ensures the tenant has a minimum standard of accommodation.

0:29:230:29:28

Coming up, we find out what happened to Dave's dirty drains.

0:29:300:29:33

Back in Tendring, housing officers Ian and Grant

0:29:400:29:43

are out to discover why Chris and Elizabeth's home is damp.

0:29:430:29:47

The dampness in the house,

0:29:470:29:49

it hasn't been fixed.

0:29:490:29:51

It's an ongoing problem

0:29:510:29:52

and it's not great for the kids or my partner.

0:29:520:29:55

Today, our damp-finding duo are on their way back,

0:29:550:29:59

this time equipped with a ladder for some final checks.

0:29:590:30:01

And Ian is feeling nervous.

0:30:010:30:04

-I'm not looking forward to going in the

-BLEEP

-loft. I hate it.

0:30:040:30:07

You're going up, mate, I tell you.

0:30:070:30:09

-BLEEP!

-You're going up first.

0:30:090:30:11

I'm behind you, so you'll be all right.

0:30:110:30:13

Well, at least I'll have something large and spongy

0:30:130:30:16

to break my fall, won't I?

0:30:160:30:18

The landlord had recently carried out extensive work

0:30:200:30:23

to both the walls and roof of the property,

0:30:230:30:25

but unwanted water still seems to be seeping in to the house.

0:30:250:30:29

Grant and Ian won't rest until they have their answer.

0:30:290:30:32

Come on, then, supersonic.

0:30:320:30:34

Yeah, wonderful(!)

0:30:340:30:36

Let's have a look, then.

0:30:360:30:37

I hate ladders...

0:30:380:30:40

-Look at him...

-Steady!

0:30:400:30:42

Oh!

0:30:420:30:43

If you look along the top there,

0:30:430:30:46

you'll just see what I think are sort of a few crumbly, soft reds.

0:30:460:30:50

I reckon it's historic.

0:30:500:30:52

You going up a ladder is like you doing your typewriting at work -

0:30:540:30:58

one foot at a time, innit?

0:30:580:30:59

Painful.

0:30:590:31:00

The roof inspection proves to Grant and Ian

0:31:020:31:05

the repairs are good

0:31:050:31:06

and no more water is getting into the property,

0:31:060:31:09

which means there can only be one cause of the problem.

0:31:090:31:12

Looking at this, we've got cracking against the exterior here,

0:31:120:31:17

which obviously has allowed penetrating damp,

0:31:170:31:19

rain ingress into the structure.

0:31:190:31:21

This has now, well, sort of been filled

0:31:210:31:23

and it's painted,

0:31:230:31:25

so it's sealing in any moisture that was in the structure.

0:31:250:31:28

Plaster and render will have to come off, brickwork treated, dried out,

0:31:280:31:32

and then re-rendered and set.

0:31:320:31:34

But it's ideal now, cos the summer weather's coming

0:31:340:31:37

so we can get it dried right out.

0:31:370:31:39

It looks like the landlord's done everything he can

0:31:390:31:41

to stop more water coming into the property.

0:31:410:31:44

But it's not solved the problem,

0:31:440:31:46

and the extra work the landlord needs to do

0:31:460:31:48

means very bad news for Chris and Elizabeth.

0:31:480:31:50

Since contacting the health environment,

0:31:500:31:54

they have contacted my landlord

0:31:540:31:56

and we had the visit on the Tuesday and the Wednesday.

0:31:560:32:00

On the Thursday, I received a letter

0:32:000:32:04

from my estate agent,

0:32:040:32:07

saying that I have to vacate within a month.

0:32:070:32:12

The family's tenancy is up for renewal

0:32:120:32:15

and the nature of the building work that needs to be done

0:32:150:32:17

means the landlord's decided not to let them renew their contract,

0:32:170:32:21

so the house can be empty while he carries out these vital jobs.

0:32:210:32:25

Although he's entirely within his rights to do so,

0:32:250:32:28

of course this will have consequences for the family.

0:32:280:32:31

The kids may have to change schools, which is going to disrupt them.

0:32:310:32:34

Especially with my oldest, Kieran, he's autistic and ADHD.

0:32:340:32:37

-He doesn't like change.

-He don't like changes.

0:32:370:32:40

Wow! Careful, young lady...

0:32:400:32:43

With the council's help, they now have just a few weeks

0:32:430:32:46

before they have to find a new home.

0:32:460:32:48

They possibly might put us in a B&B

0:32:480:32:52

or sheltered accommodation,

0:32:520:32:54

or temporary accommodation.

0:32:540:32:57

But I don't want to do that, cos it's not fair on my children.

0:32:580:33:01

It disrupts everything in the household, with routine,

0:33:010:33:05

and with my older son I have to have a routine,

0:33:050:33:08

because it just disrupts him...

0:33:080:33:10

and he just don't like changes,

0:33:100:33:13

and that's when he kicks off.

0:33:130:33:15

Come back later,

0:33:230:33:24

when we'll discover what happens

0:33:240:33:26

to this family who are facing homelessness.

0:33:260:33:28

'Next, it's back to Smethwick in the West Midlands,

0:33:320:33:35

'where I'm on duty with housing officer Roy Nicholls,

0:33:350:33:38

'responding to tenant complaints about a dangerously dodgy bedsit.'

0:33:380:33:42

-It's got kind of covered over with a paper thing, hasn't it?

-Yeah.

0:33:430:33:46

That's wrong on so many levels.

0:33:460:33:48

'Tenants here say the landlord has refused to address the issues,

0:33:480:33:52

'which include a top-up gas meter they can't access.'

0:33:520:33:55

You know, no hot water, no heating. They haven't got anything.

0:33:560:33:59

'During our inspection, we've also discovered

0:33:590:34:01

'that none of home's fire-detection systems seem to working.'

0:34:010:34:05

Here we go. They've all got a hole in them in the same place.

0:34:070:34:11

-They have.

-Has someone disabled them?

0:34:110:34:13

That is a possibility on this one.

0:34:130:34:14

If they keep going off in different people's rooms

0:34:140:34:17

and they keep doing that...

0:34:170:34:18

They stick a screwdriver through the front of it.

0:34:180:34:20

-And disable it.

-Yes.

0:34:200:34:21

'With tenants clearly smoking in the house,

0:34:210:34:24

'the chances of a fire starting is significantly increased.

0:34:240:34:28

'But, according to Wayne Healy, who's lived here for over a year,

0:34:280:34:31

'the landlord couldn't care less.'

0:34:310:34:34

You know, it's cold in here,

0:34:340:34:36

and the landlord is not cooperative

0:34:360:34:39

in any way whatsoever.

0:34:390:34:40

Any faults, it's all our faults.

0:34:400:34:42

He doesn't take responsibility for anything.

0:34:420:34:44

He's bringing me down, literally,

0:34:440:34:46

and I've been putting up with this for over a year now.

0:34:460:34:48

Yeah, because you don't really know

0:34:480:34:50

how long you're going to be able to be here.

0:34:500:34:52

No. I'm trying to move, but it's not that easy,

0:34:520:34:55

because it's just lack of money.

0:34:550:34:56

I've just been stuck here, going through it all.

0:34:560:34:59

With Roy, I feel like I'm getting very close to the source,

0:35:010:35:05

to the oracle, the source of all wisdom.

0:35:050:35:08

He's got such a lot of experience.

0:35:080:35:10

His action, could, in a worst-case scenario,

0:35:100:35:14

save the life of five, possibly eight, people.

0:35:140:35:18

We don't know how many are living there.

0:35:180:35:20

But it's very real results,

0:35:200:35:22

and could make a very real difference to people's lives.

0:35:220:35:26

Listen, Wayne, thank you for letting us in

0:35:270:35:29

and letting us have a look round.

0:35:290:35:30

-You know you've got the best guy you can have with Roy, don't you?

-Yeah, Roy has helped out a lot.

0:35:300:35:34

Do you know what they call him in the office?

0:35:340:35:36

-I'm going to find out now, aren't I?

-They call him the Rottweiler.

0:35:360:35:39

Rottweiler! I would've called him the Pit Bull.

0:35:390:35:42

He is too big for a pit bull.

0:35:420:35:44

Having "doggedly" carried out his inspection - ugh! -

0:35:440:35:48

Roy the Rottweiler can now start barking at this landlord

0:35:480:35:51

to get his bedsit in shape, or risk a serious fine.

0:35:510:35:55

I will tell him that there is going to be a schedule of works coming,

0:35:550:35:58

but I'm going to see if I can have a meet with him.

0:35:580:36:01

I'll try and mediate between the two

0:36:010:36:04

and see if we can get this sorted in one way or the other, OK?

0:36:040:36:07

-Is that all right?

-That's fine, thank you.

-Magic.

0:36:070:36:11

The good news is that since our visit

0:36:110:36:13

the council have served a Hazard Awareness Notice

0:36:130:36:16

on the property

0:36:160:36:17

to fix all the problems we discovered on our inspection.

0:36:170:36:20

Roy and his team are working closely with the landlord

0:36:200:36:23

to make sure he complies.

0:36:230:36:25

I've seen enough housing cases now to realise that no two are the same,

0:36:290:36:34

and I'm also starting to realise that,

0:36:340:36:36

no matter how much housing law I learn,

0:36:360:36:39

sometimes the best way to get a result

0:36:390:36:43

is to try and get everyone to use a bit of common sense.

0:36:430:36:47

At Suffolk Coastal Council,

0:36:470:36:50

there isn't much that housing officer Theresa Howarth

0:36:500:36:52

hasn't seen in her 20 years in the business.

0:36:520:36:54

But even for the most experienced housing officer,

0:36:550:36:58

every case presents its own unique set of circumstances.

0:36:580:37:01

We're going to a rented property now

0:37:020:37:04

where the tenant has lived in the property, I believe,

0:37:040:37:07

for about 70 years, and is in her 90s.

0:37:070:37:10

At some point in the past, her husband built a lean-to porch,

0:37:100:37:14

and, unfortunately, this porch structure

0:37:140:37:17

is now in a very poor state of repair.

0:37:170:37:19

The home's long-term tenant

0:37:190:37:22

is 96-year-old Olive Wilson.

0:37:220:37:24

I have lived in this house ever since I married.

0:37:260:37:28

That was a long, long time ago.

0:37:280:37:31

This dispute situation

0:37:310:37:32

is causing a lot of distress to her,

0:37:320:37:35

and I understand that,

0:37:350:37:36

but sometimes people's expectations

0:37:360:37:38

of what the council can actually deliver

0:37:380:37:40

are greater than what we can.

0:37:400:37:41

To complicate matters,

0:37:410:37:43

Olive's landlady isn't your typical property tycoon.

0:37:430:37:47

She's also in her 90s,

0:37:470:37:48

so she's responsible for a property

0:37:480:37:51

and really hasn't got the ability

0:37:510:37:53

to carry out the management that's required.

0:37:530:37:56

To help find an amicable resolution to this long-running feud,

0:37:560:38:00

Theresa's enlisted the aid of local councillor Tony Cooper.

0:38:000:38:04

Hello, Mrs Wilson?

0:38:060:38:08

-Council?

-Yes, I'm Theresa Howarth.

0:38:080:38:10

We met before, some months ago. And you know Tony, don't you?

0:38:100:38:13

Hello, yes.

0:38:130:38:15

This is one...

0:38:150:38:16

Yes, I know you have got a problem there.

0:38:160:38:20

-And that's how my carpet all gets wet.

-Hmm, yeah.

0:38:200:38:23

Clearly, water is getting in.

0:38:230:38:25

So, the reason this structure was put up in the first place was...

0:38:270:38:30

This, at the time, was the only toilet,

0:38:300:38:33

so, rather than come outside

0:38:330:38:35

in the wet and the cold,

0:38:350:38:37

they built this structure to give them a dry route to the WC.

0:38:370:38:41

Now, probably about 25 years ago or so,

0:38:410:38:43

the council gave a grant

0:38:430:38:45

to put an internal bathroom in the property.

0:38:450:38:47

So, because that's not the only toilet,

0:38:470:38:49

this structure is less critical to us than it would have been in the past.

0:38:490:38:53

Olive's problem-porch may be redundant,

0:38:550:38:58

but simply tearing it down isn't that straightforward.

0:38:580:39:01

If they demolished it, they would have to,

0:39:010:39:03

as part of the demolition,

0:39:030:39:05

re-route the gas pipe, because it's actually fixed to this structure

0:39:050:39:08

and not to the wall.

0:39:080:39:10

So they would have a more major job to do than just take it down.

0:39:100:39:13

This isn't a very nice way for an elderly lady to live her life.

0:39:140:39:18

I think she finds it really distressing

0:39:180:39:20

that the water is coming in.

0:39:200:39:22

Every time she tries to open the door,

0:39:220:39:23

it sticks and it's in danger of falling apart.

0:39:230:39:25

It's really not something that you would want her to put up with.

0:39:250:39:28

It is a worry to a certain extent,

0:39:280:39:30

but there's nothing I can do about it.

0:39:300:39:32

The best the council can do for me

0:39:320:39:35

is to get this all sorted out

0:39:350:39:37

so that I don't have any rain coming in

0:39:370:39:39

and my carpets don't get wet.

0:39:390:39:42

Because carpets are not things you buy every week.

0:39:420:39:46

But unfortunately for Olive,

0:39:460:39:49

resolving this problem isn't simple.

0:39:490:39:52

If this porch was, as history seems to suggest,

0:39:520:39:56

put up by the tenant,

0:39:560:39:57

then repair of it may be the tenant's responsibility,

0:39:570:40:00

and that's the issue that is in contention.

0:40:000:40:04

So, yes, bit of a problem one, really.

0:40:040:40:07

Although it seems Olive is liable for the work,

0:40:070:40:09

Theresa can still let her landlord, also a widow in her 90s,

0:40:090:40:13

know what problems her tenant's having.

0:40:130:40:16

I'm just taking some photos, Mrs Wilson.

0:40:160:40:18

-I'm taking some photos.

-Not of me?

-No, not of you, dear!

0:40:180:40:22

No, don't worry!

0:40:220:40:24

These snaps will be sent to the landlady and her family.

0:40:250:40:28

So, hopefully, these pictures will tell a story,

0:40:310:40:34

so they can envisage exactly what Mrs Wilson

0:40:340:40:37

is having to put up with,

0:40:370:40:39

and hopefully that will help them understand

0:40:390:40:41

that it's something that just can't be left

0:40:410:40:43

to go on for ever.

0:40:430:40:44

So, that's my aim.

0:40:440:40:46

-Take care.

-Cold hands, warm heart.

0:40:460:40:48

Absolutely, cold hands and warm heart.

0:40:480:40:50

-Bye, Olive, take care, dear.

-Bye, thank you.

0:40:500:40:53

As it was Olive's late husband who built the porch,

0:40:530:40:56

the structure isn't the responsibility of the landlord.

0:40:560:40:59

For housing officers up and down the UK,

0:40:590:41:01

the law is most often a last resort.

0:41:010:41:04

We're not all about enforcement,

0:41:040:41:06

we're about trying to solve problems for people,

0:41:060:41:09

and that's primarily why I like my job.

0:41:090:41:11

You come along and you have a problem,

0:41:110:41:13

you need to find a solution, and, wherever possible,

0:41:130:41:16

we do that without resorting to the law.

0:41:160:41:18

Another housing officer who's mediated between landlord and tenant

0:41:210:41:25

is Pam in St Helens.

0:41:250:41:27

She discovered maintenance in Dave's home had stopped

0:41:270:41:30

because of a legal dispute the landlord found himself in.

0:41:300:41:33

This is now resolved

0:41:330:41:35

and Dave's drains have been cleaned.

0:41:350:41:37

I just hope he's stopped feeding Kaiser the mouse.

0:41:370:41:40

In Tendering, Elizabeth and Chris were facing homelessness

0:41:400:41:44

after their landlord decided not to renew their tenancy

0:41:440:41:47

so he could fix a damp problem.

0:41:470:41:49

Happily, the family has found a nice new home nearby

0:41:490:41:53

and have settled into a damp-free life.

0:41:530:41:56

Sandy Campbell's ongoing case

0:41:560:41:58

involving Patricia Ann-Symonds attracting rats into her garden

0:41:580:42:03

seems at last to be improving.

0:42:030:42:06

Ah, dead rat.

0:42:060:42:07

Pest controller Steve Warne went back to Pat's garden

0:42:070:42:10

and, lo and behold, his traps seem to be doing the job,

0:42:100:42:13

although it remains to be seen

0:42:130:42:15

if Pat will uphold her side of the bargain.

0:42:150:42:18

Hello, young man.

0:42:180:42:20

We've checked your garden

0:42:200:42:22

and there had been take of bait

0:42:220:42:24

in two of the boxes by rats.

0:42:240:42:26

We found a dead rat this time, so that all looks good.

0:42:260:42:29

-Thank you.

-OK, thanks very much.

0:42:290:42:31

For neighbours Jane, Nicky, and the kids,

0:42:310:42:34

the future is suddenly looking a little bit brighter.

0:42:340:42:37

Hopefully, it's all starting to get a bit better.

0:42:370:42:41

And hopefully we'll be able to use my garden in the summer holiday.

0:42:410:42:45

So, especially for the kids, it will be nice for them.

0:42:450:42:48

At least it's getting sorted now.

0:42:480:42:50

That's it for today.

0:42:540:42:56

Join me next time on the front line

0:42:560:42:58

with Britain's housing officers.

0:42:580:43:00

In this episode Matt meets a woman who has been given a criminal antisocial behaviour order for feeding rats, a man who is given a warning for feeding mice and some young men whose home is a potential deathtrap.