Consumer programme. Matt Allwright joins the ranks of Britain's housing officers. Matt meets the partner of a tenant who's so aggressive their letting agent refuses to talk to him.
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The law says everyone has the right to a decent place to live...
This isn't about you, this is to do with the building.
..but for thousands of people across Britain the reality can be
more hovel than home.
The landlord's got concerns, he would be worried about fire risks.
In the battle between tenants and landlords
it's local housing officers who are on the front line.
You can't blame the ills of society on landlords, know what I mean?
'I'm Matt Allwright and I've been training hard,
'ready to join the ranks of these housing enforcers.'
Show me your rat holes.
Oh, my God, look.
'Tackling problem properties...'
They had to go through a whole winter with it like that.
There's fresh rat droppings down here.
'..dealing with the consequences of nightmare neighbours...'
-What was it that happened?
'..and everything in-between.'
I can get a warrant from court and that would be the next step.
-Do you like the big house? Do you?
Can you stop filming and leave my house?
OK, if we're being asked to leave, we'll leave.
'Coming up, I confront a tenant about his challenging behaviour.'
I'm just worried that you seem to get very angry.
-'But I might have pushed him too far.'
-Are you a psychologist?
-No, I'm not, absolutely...
-You sound like one.
-I'm not, I'm not.
Cos I'll tell you to jog on.
'Housing officer Andy finds himself caught between landlord and tenant.'
You can't blame the ills of society on landlords, you know what I mean?
There's always two sides to a story, we know that.
'And there's great news for Paula and Abna and their nine children.'
-How many children sleep in this room?
-You've got five in one room?
'As they find the home that they've longed for.'
Overwhelmed! It's massive.
I knew this was going to be emotional.
I'm totally lost!
They say that an Englishman's home is his castle
but if it's a rented castle, well,
then it's the job of housing officers to make sure that
a growing army of private landlords keep those properties up to scratch.
In some cases that means meeting very basic safety standards.
In Thanet in Kent I'm working on a case
with council housing officer Sarah Kelly.
The tenant of a flat is claiming that the letting agent isn't
carrying out urgent repairs, while the agent's saying it's the tenant's
lifestyle and the attitude of her partner that's causing the problem.
Before we head over to the property we're going to meet
letting agent Theresa Bartlett.
It sounds like she's been at the sharp end of negotiations.
So let's talk about this property that we're about to go and see.
-It's been difficult for you, I understand it.
The person that's involved with all of this is somebody who is not
technically the tenant of the property
and that particular person can be quite abusive to us
on the telephone, erm,
and can be quite dominant
in the nature of the way he deals with things,
and it makes our job very difficult then
to effectively deal with issues,
when we're being talked to like that on the telephone.
So the situation right now, Theresa,
is that you're not happy to go to that flat yourself.
I don't wish to put myself in a confrontational situation.
We're here trying to do a job, we're here trying to be all things to
all people, but there are times when that can be made very challenging.
'It sounds like the tenant's partner has made himself
'very unpopular with the agent.
'But I have to remember that, as housing officers, our main concern
'is any hazards in the property, not the tenancy arrangements.'
We're not qualified enough or have enough knowledge
in regards to the tenancy agreements,
because every agreement is different, and different...
So you can't point the finger and go, "You shouldn't even be here!"
-Like that. That would be overstepping the mark.
Yes, we're definitely not allowed to do that.
'The property is in Cliftonville, an area of Margate packed with
'old hotels, many of which have been turned into flats and bedsits.'
-Let's go and have a look.
-Yeah, it's stunning there, look at that.
-There's a fantastic view anyway.
'But it's a little less idyllic inside.'
-It's not working at all.
-No, it's completely insecure.
There's lots of issues with this common part.
'One of the complaints from the tenant has been about
'the broken front door, meaning anybody is able to just walk in.'
Hello. How you doing? You all right?
'The named tenant of the flat, Natasha,
'can't be here for our visit.
'I'm keen to meet her partner Nigel to find out what the problem is.'
-Tell me why it is you're unhappy with the agency.
Cos they promise, promise and promise and they don't sort things out.
My flooring, my agency ripped the flooring out because I had a leak.
With the laminate flooring, because it's tongue and groove,
once you put it down and you rip it up, you know,
it slides over a period of time. I've been here for years.
So when you say your letting agency,
do you have the agreement for this flat?
I don't have no rights to this property, my partner does,
but I'm a carer for my partner. You know, it's like a third party.
I can sign for her so I do have rights over...on this property.
Different bodies who are responsible for this flat
and the common areas, and the communication with those
-sometimes doesn't always go through...
-The communication's bad.
The communication's very bad. I mean...
But then...but how does the lock on the front door keep getting broken?
I threw my keys down to a friend of mine who was drunk
and he put my keys in the door
and it was my key that actually snapped inside the barrel.
I phoned them up, I told them the situation,
I'm happy to pay for it half and half, do you know what I mean,
cos it's not down to me,
it says in my contract that anything on the exterior of the building
is actually down to the landlord or the freeholder.
And they still haven't done anything about it.
'I know I need to stay impartial, but it is starting to sound like
'Nigel has brought that problem on himself.'
And when you're communicating with the agents,
erm, how does that generally go?
I lose my temper with the agency.
Erm, I'm the sort of person that... don't...mess me around, you know.
You're going to say something, you do it.
My time means my keeping, the way I do my business, you know,
you do it my way or...jog on. You know?
It works. Everyone respects me, that's, you know... The agency don't.
'Coming up, our inspection with Nigel becomes tense.'
You know, don't mug me off. I've had too many...
I've been here three years, I've had too many people mug me off.
Next, we're in Stevenage.
For housing officers Richard Mitchell and Lisa Ashdown,
every day brings a new challenge.
We'll catch you later, yeah?
What we try not to do is wear our badge, because people...
-Because people will come up to you and say,
"Oh, you work for the council, can you fix my tap?"
or, "Can you rehouse me?"
or, "I've got a rat in the kitchen, what are you going to do?"
Three years as a team means that they have perfected their tactics.
-Good cop, bad cop.
-You're the good cop, I'm the bad cop, see?
Depends, don't it? We swing it around.
Well, let's hope it works, Lisa, because there's a family
currently in social housing who desperately need your help.
For the last few years, life's been getting increasingly
difficult for the Georges.
Not only is mum Paula blind and dad Abna partially sighted
but there's a serious lack of space for their super-sized family.
We've got nine children, ranging...
the oldest one being 21 next month, the youngest one was four last week.
The three dogs,
and a tank of fish.
And that keeps us very busy.
KIDS TALK OVER EACH OTHER
Having previously worked full-time,
Abna is now his wife's registered carer, and, with the kids rapidly
growing up, their four-bedroom house is reaching critical mass.
The bedrooms are quite cramped at the moment.
The older two, they've got their own bedrooms,
but the third one, he's sharing with his four other younger brothers.
Which is a bit hard on him,
because obviously he's 16 now and he wants his own space.
I think we've always just managed.
OK, it's not ideal because we're cramped up, but it is home,
and you just make the best of it really.
Local councils have a duty to rehouse overcrowded families
but larger homes are far harder to come by.
Luckily for the Georges, a six-bedroom house has just become
available, one of only three in the borough.
It could be perfect for the family
but before Richard and Lisa can proceed
they'll need to do a routine check
to make sure the Georges have been looking after their current home.
If they find any serious damage it could jeopardise the move.
You know, if we don't take the six-bedroom,
this is the first one that's come up in...
I think Richard said over 20 years.
So this is the opportunity of a lifetime. BOY SHOUTS
If we don't take it now, we're never going to get another opportunity.
-So, what, you've got eight boys and a girl?
It must have been a relief when you got the girl!
Considering what they're up against,
the whole house looks extremely well cared for.
First things first. Lisa checks the kitchen for any damage.
-Are there any repairs issues, all the doors and drawers open?
-Apart from putting this internal door back on.
We took it off simply because it's more convenient
-when you're carrying hot food.
That door's seen better days, hasn't it?
I'm just going to put "door is worn to wear and tear".
Your sink's OK, taps work OK. That's fine.
But it's in the tidy but extremely cramped bedrooms
that the family's plight really becomes clear.
Taking into account we've got five kids, I'd say it's in good nick.
-How many children sleep in this room?
-You've got five in one room?
According to the housing charity, Shelter,
a bedroom like this is unacceptable,
as the kids should be sharing a bedroom in pairs -
not five of them crammed into one room.
Couples and any kids who are still at home after the age of 21
are also entitled to one bedroom each.
But, for Paula and Abna, there just hasn't been the space.
Bedroom number four, the big bedroom?
-That'll be ours.
-We've got bunk beds as well.
We've always had children in our room,
the whole seven years we've been here,
so to have a bedroom on our own, will be like "What?!"
Six bedroom properties are rare, so it's... You know.
Yeah, we know.
It's clear to me the family have tried their best
but they desperately need more space.
It's now down to Richard and Lisa to make the final decision.
Coming up...the promise of a new life proves too much for Paula.
-Lovely, isn't it?
-You all right?
-Very overwhelmed, I think.
-I'm totally lost.
-You'll find your way.
'Back in Thanet, Housing Officer Sarah and I
'are investigating a two-sided complaint.
'The tenant says damage in the property hasn't been dealt with.
'The letting agents say the tenant's lifestyle
'and her partner's bad attitude is making matters worse.
'Natasha, the tenant, isn't here for our inspection.
'But her boyfriend, Nigel, is.
'And Nigel is really annoyed.'
All these poxy little, petty little things is, you know, to be honest...
It's driving us to the point where...
-to it, you know? Let's just go.
'But, as a trainee Housing Officer, I need to stay impartial
'and focus on any potential hazards in the property.
'We've already seen the floor.
'There's also a problem with the bedroom window.'
So that hole's on the outside, is it? Of the, um...
Yeah, on the external pane.
What was it that happened, did you say?
There's a stone still in the window there.
Catapult job, personally.
'Hm, well, I suppose it's one way of getting someone's attention.
'As if that wasn't bad enough,
'it looks like the smoke alarms are out of action, too.'
So why are they off at the moment?
Burn a bit of toast and, yeah, it will just go off.
The dogs bark on it. He cowers - Buster cowers on it every time.
It'll be like five seconds.
-It'll "beep-beep" and it's a pain in the
-so I just take 'em out.
As many as 250 people die in house fires every year.
And you're four times more likely to die in a fire
if there's no working smoke alarm,
so it's definitely not a good idea to remove them, dogs or not!
Once the work's been done, I can come back and sign it off,
but you're happy that they're going to come back
and replace that window?
-Hopefully, they show up on the 30th.
You know? So I won't hold my... I'll hold my breath on that one.
'So that's the repairs hopefully sorted.
'But I'm still keen to get to the bottom of another issue -
I'm just worried, if I'm honest with you, that...
-you seem to get very angry.
-Yeah, I do, yeah.
You know, and I wonder how you think that affects the situation?
Do you think it...?
-What? In what situation?
-With the lettings agent.
Er, how can I explain it?
You know, don't mug me off.
-I've had too many... I've been here three years.
I've had too many people mug me off.
You know, talking to the letting agent, I think it...
You know, she's quite... It scares her.
And you can probably understand that...
Tough. I'm sorry. Tough - that's my attitude, you know?
Promise, promise, promise, promise, promise -
you don't give me that. You keep, "Promise, promise, promise..."
You know, I wash my hands of them,
and I'm not scared of telling people what I think of them.
OK, I can understand Nigel's frustration,
but surely a calm and less aggressive approach
would get the results he wants?
You've got rights and you've got people like Sarah
-to enforce those rights.
And making that move before you get to that,
-you know, going off on one isn't... You know.
-Yeah, yeah, yeah.
I'm just wondering if that means you'll be able to provide
a much more stable background for Natasha and yourself.
I have got a stable background, so, I mean...
But do you know, otherwise you might find yourself...
I don't know what you mean, because I do have a stable background so...
-I've got money, do you know what I mean?
I don't work, I'm on the social but I've got money, you know?
I have people working for me.
You don't even, like, know my partner
and you're saying you're worrying just over a bit of...
I mean, are you a psychologist?
-No, I'm not.
-Well, you sound like one.
-I'm not, I'm not.
Do you know what I mean? Cos I'd tell you to jog on.
Cos I could be a psychologist.
-I would never do that.
-Do you know what I mean?
-Listen, I don't want to upset you.
-No, no, no, no.
I'm not here to tell you how to live your life.
When you say "a stable background"
I'm thinking, "I HAVE a stable background."
I'm not saying that. What I am saying is....
-I'm talking about the future.
I want to go back to work. Do you know what I mean? Course I do.
Good stuff. Listen, really nice to meet you, Nigel.
-Thank you very much for your time. Appreciate it.
-No, thank you.
It's difficult, isn't it?
Cos obviously it's totally two different sides of the story there.
So that's why I say you've got to be completely impartial.
-Not something that we can get involved in...
-..if we're trying to do the job properly.
So I'm happy that the work's going to be done,
so I'll come back and close it down once the window's in
but I am quite happy with the rest of the condition of the property.
Let's, er... Let's jog on, shall we?
'It was a bit tense in there, to say the least.
'Later, we'll find out if the situation has improved.'
Elsewhere in Thanet, Housing Officer Andy Emerson
is going to meet a tenant
who's complained about damp and mould in their property.
The best thing is that there's nothing wrong with it
and the worst thing is there's quite a lot of structural defects
that are causing the water to come in, which may be an issue
in terms of getting the landlord to repair the property...
One of the many things I'm learning as a Trainee Housing Officer
is that disputes between tenants and landlords aren't always clear-cut.
But tenant Andrew's got quite a list of grievances,
so there's lots for Andy to think about.
Mould in bathroom, kitchen.
Damp in back bedroom under window, damp on ceiling.
-He's done most of it.
-Oh, has he really? Oh, OK.
Was it the landlord or was it...?
-Well, it was the landlord...
-Yeah, he got people out to do it all.
Before you came out, obviously.
But they've just painted over it, wiped it with a bit of bleach.
But the damp could possibly be a contributing factor
to a more serious health problems.
-My partner's actually got pneumonia at the moment.
Yeah, I don't know if that was anything to do with mould but...
Cos she's got asthma as well.
When you've got mould, it doesn't isolate itself to one place,
because there are spores constantly in the air,
and they float around, yeah.
So, obviously, if you've got asthma,
you're susceptible to chest infections and things.
-She's just come out of hospital.
Oh, dear. Nasty.
Well, we don't know if the damp
is causing Andrew's partner's health problems
but it does need to be addressed.
If you look under here...
it's all damp.
It looks like you have got a leak. From underneath the bath, isn't it?
So that's the damp.
There's also an issue with the layout of the kitchen,
which is not only impractical - it could be dangerous.
They're going to come out and do the boiler.
We've asked them to move it into there.
Moving the boiler in there, this'll free up the space.
-And the cooker going to be turned around.
That is massively unsafe, as it is at the moment.
If you've got a boiling hot pan on there...
-Yeah, I've knocked handles myself so...
And we've got a seven-year-old as well.
You are cooking stuff over here, you don't have enough space to do it
and you also need preparation space either side of your cooker, as well,
-which you just haven't got.
I mean, that needs to be done pretty urgently.
A disgruntled tenant and an ever-growing list of problems
means Andy's got his work cut out here.
But I've got a feeling there could be more to this than meets the eye.
Coming up...landlord Ian arrives to give Andy a piece of his mind.
This particular tenant here,
he hasn't mentioned to you his rent arrears, has he?
Most people would've got rid of him.
Ensuring that we all have somewhere safe and decent to live
is the job of housing officers right across the UK.
You're overcrowded, so there's nowhere for your lads to go.
'In this series, I'm working alongside
'the men and women who do exactly that.'
You see this room and you go, "Shut it down, move him out."
'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 just no house, it was completely gone.
We got to look at it strategically and the best way to attack it.
We're in Sandwell and I've just sat down at my desk, um...
to find this, which is relating to a house in Oldbury.
There have been a string of chances for a landlord to put right
some pretty serious defects with this house
and he hasn't taken those opportunities.
So this has been going on for...
nearly six months now. No, OVER six months.
The situation has reached crisis point.
Housing Officer Laura Mahiques is running out of options -
as the landlord has failed to act,
he's now facing prosecution.
So these are photos that you've taken there?
Yeah, so this was on the initial visit,
so this is before any notices were carried out
and we were obviously highlighting
that there were issues in the property.
I'm joining Laura today to inspect the property
but, before we go, I want to get a measure
of what the some of the big problems are.
What's the main thing that hits you?
It doesn't appear to have a gutter - it's got no guttering at all.
-No guttering at all.
so the rain effectively comes straight off this sheet of slates...
-And then just, what? Dribbles down the brickwork?
Yeah, hits right down there.
And if you've got a damp period,
-it's not going to get a chance to dry out.
'Poor or missing guttering can cause untold damage to a property.'
There's quite big signs of damp here.
Now we're after a really very damp winter, a very wet winter,
-and a fairly damp spring...
-This is going to be...
-If it hasn't been replaced,
-it will obviously have got much worse than that.
'And it's not just at the front of the property
'where the guttering's making the house damp.
'It's a similar story in the back yard.
'All of this has led to a stream of requests for home improvements.'
These are all the actions that you've taken,
all the chances where you've given him notices or made phone calls.
-And even reminder letters in between.
-Appointments to meet?
Yeah, we arranged a meeting but he hadn't met me at the property.
So it has got to a point now
where we had to serve the Improvement Notice,
which the landlord does get charged for as well.
So he's been served an Improvement Notice
and understands that if this doesn't get...
If this doesn't get sorted, then he's going to court, effectively.
Yeah, potentially could be prosecuted for it.
Under the 2004 Housing Act,
a local authority can serve an Improvement Notice to a landlord
to remove hazards from the home.
'Laura won't start a prosecution
'before one final check to see what work has been done.
'The Improvement Notice was served three months ago -
'scaffolding was erected at the front of the house
'and some repairs begun
'but, according to tenant Roxanne Wesley, not that many.'
So what work has the landlord done so far?
Patched the few tiles on the roof
-and, um, you know the chimney at the back?
All he done was patch that, that's it.
OK, well, I'll have a look at that
and, obviously, see if it's been done to a good standard.
He's put the guttering at the front?
-Oh, the guttering has been put up as well.
But what about the back?
The back by the bathroom hasn't been done.
Work has definitely started on the front of the building
but is it up to standard?
Laura's keen to put my skills to the test.
What do you think the potential problem would be there?
Well, I mean, the gutter's got nowhere to go,
so it's effectively the same as it was before,
when you had no gutter,
cos it's just going to fill up, then it's going to overflow,
it's going to go down the face of the brickwork again.
So they haven't really...
It doesn't look like we've made any sort of improvement there.
'So not a great start at the front.
'We need to check on what's happened at the back.
'And, again, things don't seem to be as good as they could be.'
It doesn't look like a very professional scaffolding job.
That was the... That's the issue we had. It's the same scaffolding
we reported to the Health And Safety Executive.
There's always concerns about it and it should be checked every week
to make sure it hasn't been tampered with
and it's safe for contractors to use.
'This potentially unsafe scaffolding
'has, just like at the front, been up for months.
'However, it looks like there's still a lot to do
'to make the house watertight.'
When we're looking at this guttering now,
apart from the obvious disrepair to it, what's... What highlights?
Anything that jumps out at you?
Well, we've got water staining down here,
so it's clear that it's not water tight.
-What's it made of?
-That's...what? DULL TAPPING
What is that? Is that...? Cos that's not...
I'll give you a clue -
it would need to be removed by a licensed contractor.
-So that's asbestos?
So you've got asbestos guttering out the back
and it's...it's sort of peeling and flaking.
Anything else you think is pointing at you
that might be giving you a clue that it's not functioning properly?
Well, we've got, um, you know,
weeds and grass growing out of the middle of it.
We've also got here, um...
a scaffolding joint.
-Either that was just left there by the scaffolders...
..or, more worryingly,
it's fallen from the scaffolding and lodged there,
-which is a really...
That's a really worrying thing, isn't it?
That means that the scaffolding job has...
We're starting to suspect it's not a bang-up job.
'The inspection has shown that the tenants
'have every reason to be unhappy.
'Later, I'll discover that the landlord
'might also have a reason to complain.'
This is when you get that reaction sometimes from landlords,
where they're going to say,
"Have you looked at the inside of that place?"
Back in Stevenage, after living with nine children
and various pets crammed into a four-bedroom property,
social housing tenants Paula and Abna George now have
the chance to upsize to a rare six-bedroom house.
Paula is blind and Abna partially sighted,
so a move into a less cluttered home could prove life-changing.
If we don't take this six-bedroom, this is the first one
that's come up in, I think Richard said, over 20 years.
So, this is the opportunity of a lifetime.
If we don't take it now,
then we're never going to get another opportunity.
Before any offer can be made, though,
housing officers Richard and Lisa need to be satisfied
that the family have been looking after their current home.
They have checked every room.
That door has seen better days, hasn't it?
I'm just going to put, "Door is worn, due to wear and tear."
And now, the verdict's in.
Couple of little repair issues
that Mr George is going to sort out himself.
-Are you happy for me to opt back the offer to them, yeah?
-Yeah, I'm happy.
If you're happy, we want to make the offer to you for the six-bedroom.
-So, you're interested, are you?
-Yeah, we want to!
-So, next Friday at 10:30.
-Yeah, that's fine.
I'll see you next week.
It's terrific news for the family.
We're going to see the house!
To have a look and see just what a six-bedroom property looks like.
I've never even seen one before.
And a few days later,
Richard and Lisa are off to show them around the new home.
For me, they are the ones I like,
-they are the sort of people I want to help.
-Yeah, they are genuine.
-They've got some issues...
-They've got the green light.
They try to do the best for their kids. The kids need some more space.
Well, everybody's in.
- Hello? - Hello.
-You all right?
-Hi, Mrs George.
Right, so, what we'll do is we'll move from room to room,
we'll talk about what every room is like and
if you've got any questions, let us know, yeah?
-Yeah, that's fine.
-Come on, Lewis!
The Georges' nine kids have spent
years crammed into four tiny bedrooms.
But will this six-bedroom house get their seal of approval?
Who's going to go in this one, Lewis?
Who's is this room going to be? Yours?
Ready? Let's have another look. There is your garden down there, look.
See, there's your garden.
And Mum and Dad finally get their own bedroom,
complete with fitted wardrobes.
That's the thing, it's such a big house, it's going to take...
-It's a good size.
-It's a nice property.
What do you reckon, Lewis?
Look at this!
Look at the size of that!
It's clear that having
so much extra space is going to make a huge difference to this family.
I'm overwhelmed. It's massive!
I didn't realise that a six-bedroom house could be so big.
It'll take some getting used to, but it's nice, I love it.
You OK? I knew this was going to be emotional!
-It's lovely, isn't it? You all right?
-Very overwhelmed, I think.
-Yeah. I'm totally lost!
-You will find your way.
So, you're going to be able to bring your lovely great big
dining room and all your chairs and they can all sit down.
-I can get a new sideboard now!
-You're going to get a new sideboard?
That's a promise, is it?
After years of coping with overcrowding, it's great to think
that the family can now look forward to a much better quality of life.
What do you think of your house?
Big house for my monkey.
-Do you like the big house?
-Do you? It's lovely, isn't it?
If only all our houses were like that. Another satisfied customer.
We can move on to the next one.
'I'm out with Sandwell Council's Laura Mahiques.
'We are inspecting a rundown terrace house with damp and mould problems.'
I was just tidying the kitchen before you've come.
-The radiator fell off the wall last week.
'Rainwater leaking through damaged guttering and drainpipes is
'causing big problems inside for tenant Roxanne and her family.'
In terms of health and safety in this kitchen,
what's your issue with... Anything that screams out at you?
We've got tiles that are falling off here, straightaway, and you've got
all of that detritus going straight onto the food preparation area.
What do you think might have caused this issue?
That's the asbestos guttering not doing its job on that corner, there.
Which is roughly where we've got the issue.
This is... You can tell it's absolutely saturated.
That's where the tiles are lifting.
Yeah, they're just lifting and falling off.
'The landlord has so far failed to complete repairs
'and could be facing prosecution.
'What is also clear in this house is that some of the problems
'have nothing to do with the landlord.
'In the bathroom, things get worse.'
Looking around the bathroom here
and we've got big issues with mould, condensation mould, um,
but that could be from the way the bathroom is being used.
There are big issues here, which are
-not all of the landlord's making.
This is when you get that reaction sometimes from landlords where
they are going to say, "Have you looked at the inside of that place?
"Why should I bother improving it when they treat it that way?"
But equally, landlords have the powers,
if they are not happy with how the property is being treated,
they should be regularly inspecting the property,
and they should be able to say that
this is not in the terms and conditions of the tenancy agreement.
'The place is damp, yes, but it's also filthy,
'and that must be the fault of the tenants.
'I want to find out from Roxanne and her partner, Paul,
'what has been happening between them and their landlord.'
Do you think the relationship with the landlord is beyond repair?
We've tried to do our bit to keep it tidy and that,
-but he's not bothering...
-He's just not bothering
Do you think part of the problem,
or part of the challenge with this, is to get yourself organised a bit?
Do you think you could do with some help with that?
Possibly, it would help.
We're at the stage now, obviously,
where sufficient time has been given,
a legal notice has been served,
he hasn't carried out the work in the legal notice,
so this is obviously an offence under the Housing Act,
what he hasn't carried out.
-I've got to fill that in today...
-Nice to meet you, mate.
And you, mate. No problem.
Let's be honest, Paul and Roxanne could probably be doing
a better job of looking after the house.
That is a separate issue to the landlord's
responsibility to keep this house in good order.
That's why it looks like he could be going to court
and could be prosecuted. And then, after that, who knows?
But there are a lot of issues to sort out right here.
'Later on, we'll find out if the threat of court action
'motivates the landlord to get the jobs done.'
'Back in Thanet, housing officer Andy Emerson has been dealing with
'a complaint from private tenant Andrew.'
If you look under here, it's all damp.
'Amongst other things, he is claiming the landlord isn't dealing
'with the damp in the property
and isn't providing a safe kitchen area.'
If you've got a boiling hot pan on there...
I've got a seven-year-old, as well.
That is massively unsafe, how it is at the moment.
'Inspection over, landlord Ian turns up, keen to show Andy that he
'is addressing the tenant's issues, starting with the damp.'
-Let's get the issues...
-Let's deal with my tenants and what they are.
-We've put in some new windows.
-Yeah, that's fine.
And when the guys complained, it is in the middle of winter, isn't it?
-And you must agree, it is the wettest winter we have had.
'Fair enough, but there is also the issue of the kitchen.'
Just the fact that if you've got boiling hot pans on here,
regardless of where they were...
And the other thing is to put the kitchen in there,
but that's up to him, isn't it?
Well, it's your house, so you can do whatever you want.
Of course, I could see if I could sell it, which is
quite tempting when you get a day like this.
It's probably better to inform you, and we'll give you an improvement
notice, that maybe gives you a certain amount of time to do it.
'Outside, Ian is keen to point out
'the improvement work he HAS done so far.'
-Up there, where he's had new windows, that was done before Christmas.
And that's where his problem was, and that's why the water
getting in there is what has caused the problem upstairs.
'Landlord Ian has some other important points to raise.'
You need to listen to me, because, you know,
we tried to do work here last week and they weren't available.
The place is like a pigsty when you go in there normally.
You can't start blaming the ills of society on landlords,
-do you know what I mean?
-That's not what we're doing at all.
Obviously, we have to respond to a complaint.
And there are always two sides to a story. We know that.
And it's important that both sides are listened to.
It is a housing officer's duty to deal with each case objectively.
Ian is not convinced that his own struggles
as a landlord are being heard.
I don't think they quite understand how hard it is sometimes to
work with these tenants.
We've always tried to be fair, and do bits and pieces as they need doing.
You know, we've got several tenants, some of them are really good,
we get on really well with, and others are not quite so good
and we try to work with them,
but that sometimes becomes impossible.
Ian says he is dealing with a tenant who isn't always paying his way.
This particular tenant here,
he hasn't mentioned to you his rent arrears, has he?
And he won't contact me because he knows that when he contacts me,
he also needs to address rent arrears.
Now, admittedly, we've done the windows
and he has made a small attempt to pay his rent arrears.
But they have been consistent rent arrears over five or six years.
Now, most people would have got rid of him.
When they've reported any problems, we have carried out the work,
but also there is routine maintenance to do in my own house.
If you get a bit of damp occasionally...
We have just gone through the wettest winter on record,
you do have to maintain the place.
We're not renting them serviced apartments.
It's true that a tenant has the responsibility to keep
a property in good order.
It seems to me that, for whatever reason, there has been
a communication breakdown here between the tenant and landlord,
and now it's Andy's job to ensure work is carried out
to everyone's satisfaction.
Basically, it seems like the tenant has complained to the council
without going to the landlord first.
Which is always a problem.
Obviously, the landlord was a little bit aggrieved about that,
but he seemed quite happy and he understands what he needs to do
to rectify the problems that we found when we were there.
Happily, after Andy's inspection,
it didn't take landlord Ian long to address the issues.
The damp is being tackled and a new boiler is on order,
which should free up more kitchen space.
Andy is making top-up payments to make up for his rent arrears.
Hopefully that means tenant
and landlord relations will now get a bit better.
I'm heading to Stevenage in Hertfordshire,
'and this time I'm teaming up with housing officer Richard Mitchell.
'We are on a mercy mission.'
The lady we are going to see, she's a 27-year-old lady.
She has a three-year-old daughter.
She's living in private rented accommodation,
but the landlord has asked her to leave.
So she's desperate for rehousing.
Single mum Nicola Stagg has been on the council housing register
for the past six years.
I've been in a bedsit for about 18 months.
Me and my daughter have got to share a bed.
It's full of mould, damp, and I really don't like it any more.
There is no security, nowhere for my daughter to play.
It's getting to the point where it's affecting her development.
So my priority is to get her out and give her a life, really.
'Despite her long wait, Nicola's deteriorating living conditions
'mean she's now a priority for rehousing.'
Most councils moved to, like, an estate agent approach, really.
They call it choice-based lettings, where we advertise the property
on a website that belongs to us,
it's open for a week, people get allocated points
and they have their number, they bid on that property.
So it feels like you're making a choice,
rather than being given something, or allocated.
Yes, it's just a different mindset.
I know that my life will improve 100% if we had a stable environment
to live in, knowing it won't affect your health,
and your daughter could smile,
just be happy and play with her toys in a garden.
I'm hoping today could be good news for Nicola.
She's recently made a successful bid on a council house,
and it's now my job to show her round her potential new home.
So tell me, what's the best thing that could happen today,
with this young woman?
The best thing that could happen to this lady is she's really
happy with the property.
That's the keys to the property.
-Hello. How you doing?
-I'm fine, thank you.
-I work in the lettings team.
-Hiya. This is my mum.
-How do you do? I'm Matt.
'So, under the watchful eye of Mum,
'it's on me to show Nicola her brand-new home.
'I mean, what could possibly go wrong?'
Is it this one? LAUGHTER
That was a test, wasn't it?
'Yes, we'll brush that one under the doormat. Second time lucky.'
-I tested you.
-And I failed.
There you go.
-Tell us what you think.
This is a new kitchen.
Not actually new, but it was installed in the last 12 months.
-Have you seen the garden?
I have fallen in love with it, to be honest.
I can't believe what I've got. It was worth the wait, you know?
I've waited that long, I'm like, "Finally!"
'Nicola's reaction is just what Richard and I were waiting to hear.
'It's clear this house could genuinely transform her life.'
-What's your daughter's name?
-How old is she?
What she asked for Christmas was a garden and stairs.
So I can now finally give her her Christmas present, as such.
She's got a play area. Somewhere safe.
-Is your mum doing all the measuring?
-I can hear that tape going.
This is the master bedroom.
-It's quite big for you, isn't it?
Cupboards over there.
This is...my flat.
So your whole flat is this big.
-Yes, this level is bigger than my flat.
-And look at this.
Nicola's housing history has been a long and rocky road.
'It's clear from talking to her mum the lengths
'she had to go to to secure this home are dramatic,
'to say the least.'
So there was a stage when Nicola
and her daughter were staying at your place.
Yes, for about a year.
And you actually had to formally evict her.
Yes, I had to give the council a letter to say
-I couldn't house her any more.
-That must feel strange.
-It's not nice.
There's no kind of ill will or feeling,
it was just a process you had to go through to get here.
Yes, my mum didn't want to do it - I guess it's harder for her
to have to do it, but it's the only way I could move.
I'm so pleased for you.
I'm delighted. I really can't believe it.
I feel like I've won the lottery.
And I'm happy to report, just 1½ weeks later,
Nicola and Isabel finally moved into their new home.
-Are you closing your eyes?
-What's new in here?
-We've got the new curtains, haven't we? And blinds.
And the new sofa!
-What room are you in?
-This is her bedroom.
We've managed to get pink on the wall,
and were going to be doing the wallpaper on there.
Pink and white.
You make Mummy laugh! You are well happy now, aren't you?
Are you happy we're in our new home?
And that's not all the good news.
'We revisited tenants Roxanne and Paul, to discover
'that their landlord had finally made progress
'on the crucial repairs.'
They've done the damp stuff, they've done the tiles in the kitchen,
sorted out the bathroom...
They put the radiator back on the wall and it started to come off.
They're waiting for someone to come and do the chimney breast.
The landlord has done nearly 70% of the jobs
and has so far avoided prosecution.
Laura's been working closely with the family to make sure
they get the support they need.
I've got a new-found respect for guttering now!
And last but not least, in Cliftonville, Kent,
there's been a surprising turnaround.
Since our visit, repairs have been done to the property,
and tenant Nigel has had a change of heart.
I actually had a visit this morning from the tenant's partner,
who decided he was going to bring me a gift of a pot plant to say
he was terribly sorry and should never have spoken to me
the way he spoke to me, and wished to make amends and move on.
Nice one, Nigel.
That's it for today's show.
Join me next time, when I'll be learning more about what it takes
to be a front-line housing officer.
Matt Allwright meets the partner of a tenant who's so aggressive their letting agent refuses to talk to him. A blind mother with 11 children is in need of a bigger house. Matt meets a young mum whose daughter gets the Christmas present she always wanted.