Episode 6 The Housing Enforcers


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Episode 6

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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Transcript


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

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

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..but for thousands of people across Britain the reality can be

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more hovel than home.

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The landlord's got concerns, he would be worried about fire risks.

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In the battle between tenants and landlords

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

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You can't blame the ills of society on landlords, know what I mean?

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

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

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Show me your rat holes.

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Oh, my God, look.

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'Tackling problem properties...'

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

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There's fresh rat droppings down here.

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

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-What was it that happened?

-Catapult job.

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'..and everything in-between.'

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

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-Do you like the big house? Do you?

-Yeah.

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Can you stop filming and leave my house?

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OK, if we're being asked to leave, we'll leave.

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'Coming up, I confront a tenant about his challenging behaviour.'

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I'm just worried that you seem to get very angry.

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-'But I might have pushed him too far.'

-Are you a psychologist?

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-No, I'm not, absolutely...

-You sound like one.

-I'm not, I'm not.

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Cos I'll tell you to jog on.

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'Housing officer Andy finds himself caught between landlord and tenant.'

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You can't blame the ills of society on landlords, you know what I mean?

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There's always two sides to a story, we know that.

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'And there's great news for Paula and Abna and their nine children.'

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-How many children sleep in this room?

-Five.

-You've got five in one room?

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'As they find the home that they've longed for.'

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Overwhelmed! It's massive.

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I knew this was going to be emotional.

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I'm totally lost!

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They say that an Englishman's home is his castle

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but if it's a rented castle, well,

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then it's the job of housing officers to make sure that

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a growing army of private landlords keep those properties up to scratch.

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In some cases that means meeting very basic safety standards.

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In Thanet in Kent I'm working on a case

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with council housing officer Sarah Kelly.

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The tenant of a flat is claiming that the letting agent isn't

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carrying out urgent repairs, while the agent's saying it's the tenant's

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lifestyle and the attitude of her partner that's causing the problem.

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Before we head over to the property we're going to meet

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letting agent Theresa Bartlett.

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It sounds like she's been at the sharp end of negotiations.

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So let's talk about this property that we're about to go and see.

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-It's been difficult for you, I understand it.

-Yes.

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The person that's involved with all of this is somebody who is not

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technically the tenant of the property

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and that particular person can be quite abusive to us

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on the telephone, erm,

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and can be quite dominant

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in the nature of the way he deals with things,

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and it makes our job very difficult then

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to effectively deal with issues,

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when we're being talked to like that on the telephone.

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So the situation right now, Theresa,

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is that you're not happy to go to that flat yourself.

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I don't wish to put myself in a confrontational situation.

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We're here trying to do a job, we're here trying to be all things to

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all people, but there are times when that can be made very challenging.

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'It sounds like the tenant's partner has made himself

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'very unpopular with the agent.

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'But I have to remember that, as housing officers, our main concern

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'is any hazards in the property, not the tenancy arrangements.'

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We're not qualified enough or have enough knowledge

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in regards to the tenancy agreements,

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because every agreement is different, and different...

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So you can't point the finger and go, "You shouldn't even be here!"

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-Yeah.

-Like that. That would be overstepping the mark.

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Yes, we're definitely not allowed to do that.

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'The property is in Cliftonville, an area of Margate packed with

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'old hotels, many of which have been turned into flats and bedsits.'

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-Let's go and have a look.

-Yeah, it's stunning there, look at that.

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-There's a fantastic view anyway.

-Yeah.

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'But it's a little less idyllic inside.'

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-It's not working at all.

-No, it's completely insecure.

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There's lots of issues with this common part.

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'One of the complaints from the tenant has been about

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'the broken front door, meaning anybody is able to just walk in.'

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DOG BARKS

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Hello. How you doing? You all right?

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'The named tenant of the flat, Natasha,

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'can't be here for our visit.

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'I'm keen to meet her partner Nigel to find out what the problem is.'

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-Tell me why it is you're unhappy with the agency.

-My agency?

-Yeah.

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Cos they promise, promise and promise and they don't sort things out.

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My flooring, my agency ripped the flooring out because I had a leak.

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With the laminate flooring, because it's tongue and groove,

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once you put it down and you rip it up, you know,

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it slides over a period of time. I've been here for years.

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So when you say your letting agency,

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do you have the agreement for this flat?

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I don't have no rights to this property, my partner does,

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but I'm a carer for my partner. You know, it's like a third party.

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I can sign for her so I do have rights over...on this property.

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Different bodies who are responsible for this flat

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and the common areas, and the communication with those

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-sometimes doesn't always go through...

-The communication's bad.

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The communication's very bad. I mean...

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But then...but how does the lock on the front door keep getting broken?

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I threw my keys down to a friend of mine who was drunk

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and he put my keys in the door

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and it was my key that actually snapped inside the barrel.

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Right.

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I phoned them up, I told them the situation,

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I'm happy to pay for it half and half, do you know what I mean,

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cos it's not down to me,

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it says in my contract that anything on the exterior of the building

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is actually down to the landlord or the freeholder.

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And they still haven't done anything about it.

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'I know I need to stay impartial, but it is starting to sound like

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'Nigel has brought that problem on himself.'

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And when you're communicating with the agents,

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erm, how does that generally go?

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I lose my temper with the agency.

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Erm, I'm the sort of person that... don't...mess me around, you know.

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You're going to say something, you do it.

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My time means my keeping, the way I do my business, you know,

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you do it my way or...jog on. You know?

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It works. Everyone respects me, that's, you know... The agency don't.

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'Coming up, our inspection with Nigel becomes tense.'

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You know, don't mug me off. I've had too many...

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I've been here three years, I've had too many people mug me off.

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Next, we're in Stevenage.

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For housing officers Richard Mitchell and Lisa Ashdown,

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every day brings a new challenge.

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We'll catch you later, yeah?

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What we try not to do is wear our badge, because people...

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-Will approach.

-Because people will come up to you and say,

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"Oh, you work for the council, can you fix my tap?"

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or, "Can you rehouse me?"

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or, "I've got a rat in the kitchen, what are you going to do?"

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Nice reference.

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Three years as a team means that they have perfected their tactics.

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-Good cop, bad cop.

-Yeah.

-You're the good cop, I'm the bad cop, see?

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Depends, don't it? We swing it around.

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Well, let's hope it works, Lisa, because there's a family

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currently in social housing who desperately need your help.

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For the last few years, life's been getting increasingly

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difficult for the Georges.

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Not only is mum Paula blind and dad Abna partially sighted

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but there's a serious lack of space for their super-sized family.

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We've got nine children, ranging...

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the oldest one being 21 next month, the youngest one was four last week.

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The three dogs,

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eight cats...

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and a tank of fish.

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And that keeps us very busy.

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KIDS TALK OVER EACH OTHER

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Having previously worked full-time,

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Abna is now his wife's registered carer, and, with the kids rapidly

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growing up, their four-bedroom house is reaching critical mass.

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The bedrooms are quite cramped at the moment.

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The older two, they've got their own bedrooms,

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but the third one, he's sharing with his four other younger brothers.

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Which is a bit hard on him,

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because obviously he's 16 now and he wants his own space.

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I think we've always just managed.

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OK, it's not ideal because we're cramped up, but it is home,

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and you just make the best of it really.

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Local councils have a duty to rehouse overcrowded families

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but larger homes are far harder to come by.

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Luckily for the Georges, a six-bedroom house has just become

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available, one of only three in the borough.

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It could be perfect for the family

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but before Richard and Lisa can proceed

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they'll need to do a routine check

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to make sure the Georges have been looking after their current home.

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If they find any serious damage it could jeopardise the move.

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You know, if we don't take the six-bedroom,

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this is the first one that's come up in...

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I think Richard said over 20 years.

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So this is the opportunity of a lifetime. BOY SHOUTS

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If we don't take it now, we're never going to get another opportunity.

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-So, what, you've got eight boys and a girl?

-Yeah.

-Yeah.

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It must have been a relief when you got the girl!

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Considering what they're up against,

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the whole house looks extremely well cared for.

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First things first. Lisa checks the kitchen for any damage.

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-Are there any repairs issues, all the doors and drawers open?

-No.

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-Apart from putting this internal door back on.

-OK.

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We took it off simply because it's more convenient

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-when you're carrying hot food.

-OK.

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That door's seen better days, hasn't it?

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I'm just going to put "door is worn to wear and tear".

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Your sink's OK, taps work OK. That's fine.

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But it's in the tidy but extremely cramped bedrooms

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that the family's plight really becomes clear.

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Taking into account we've got five kids, I'd say it's in good nick.

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-How many children sleep in this room?

-Five.

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-You've got five in one room?

-Five.

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According to the housing charity, Shelter,

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a bedroom like this is unacceptable,

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as the kids should be sharing a bedroom in pairs -

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not five of them crammed into one room.

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Couples and any kids who are still at home after the age of 21

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are also entitled to one bedroom each.

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But, for Paula and Abna, there just hasn't been the space.

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Bedroom number four, the big bedroom?

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-That'll be ours.

-Wow.

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-We've got bunk beds as well.

-Wow.

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We've always had children in our room,

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the whole seven years we've been here,

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so to have a bedroom on our own, will be like "What?!"

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SHE LAUGHS

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Six bedroom properties are rare, so it's... You know.

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Yeah, we know.

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It's clear to me the family have tried their best

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but they desperately need more space.

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It's now down to Richard and Lisa to make the final decision.

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Coming up...the promise of a new life proves too much for Paula.

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-Lovely, isn't it?

-It is.

-You all right?

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-Very overwhelmed, I think.

-You OK?

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-I'm totally lost.

-You'll find your way.

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'Back in Thanet, Housing Officer Sarah and I

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'are investigating a two-sided complaint.

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'The tenant says damage in the property hasn't been dealt with.

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'The letting agents say the tenant's lifestyle

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'and her partner's bad attitude is making matters worse.

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'Natasha, the tenant, isn't here for our inspection.

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'But her boyfriend, Nigel, is.

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'And Nigel is really annoyed.'

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All these poxy little, petty little things is, you know, to be honest...

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It's driving us to the point where...

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-BLEEP

-it.

-BLEEP

-to it, you know? Let's just go.

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'But, as a trainee Housing Officer, I need to stay impartial

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'and focus on any potential hazards in the property.

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'We've already seen the floor.

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'There's also a problem with the bedroom window.'

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So that hole's on the outside, is it? Of the, um...

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Yeah, on the external pane.

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What was it that happened, did you say?

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Um...I believe...

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There's a stone still in the window there.

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Catapult job, personally.

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'Hm, well, I suppose it's one way of getting someone's attention.

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'As if that wasn't bad enough,

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'it looks like the smoke alarms are out of action, too.'

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So why are they off at the moment?

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Keeps bleeping.

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Burn a bit of toast and, yeah, it will just go off.

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The dogs bark on it. He cowers - Buster cowers on it every time.

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It'll be like five seconds.

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-It'll "beep-beep" and it's a pain in the

-BLEEP,

-so I just take 'em out.

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As many as 250 people die in house fires every year.

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And you're four times more likely to die in a fire

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if there's no working smoke alarm,

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so it's definitely not a good idea to remove them, dogs or not!

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Once the work's been done, I can come back and sign it off,

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but you're happy that they're going to come back

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and replace that window?

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-Hopefully, they show up on the 30th.

-Yeah.

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You know? So I won't hold my... I'll hold my breath on that one.

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'So that's the repairs hopefully sorted.

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'But I'm still keen to get to the bottom of another issue -

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'Nigel's anger.'

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I'm just worried, if I'm honest with you, that...

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-you seem to get very angry.

-Yeah, I do, yeah.

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You know, and I wonder how you think that affects the situation?

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Do you think it...?

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-What? In what situation?

-With the lettings agent.

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Er, how can I explain it?

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You know, don't mug me off.

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-I've had too many... I've been here three years.

-Mm.

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I've had too many people mug me off.

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You know, talking to the letting agent, I think it...

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You know, she's quite... It scares her.

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And you can probably understand that...

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-Tough!

-Yeah?

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Tough. I'm sorry. Tough - that's my attitude, you know?

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Promise, promise, promise, promise, promise -

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you don't give me that. You keep, "Promise, promise, promise..."

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You know, I wash my hands of them,

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and I'm not scared of telling people what I think of them.

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OK, I can understand Nigel's frustration,

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but surely a calm and less aggressive approach

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would get the results he wants?

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You've got rights and you've got people like Sarah

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-to enforce those rights.

-Sure.

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And making that move before you get to that,

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-you know, going off on one isn't... You know.

-Yeah, yeah, yeah.

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I'm just wondering if that means you'll be able to provide

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a much more stable background for Natasha and yourself.

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I have got a stable background, so, I mean...

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But do you know, otherwise you might find yourself...

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I don't know what you mean, because I do have a stable background so...

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-Yeah, yeah.

-I've got money, do you know what I mean?

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I don't work, I'm on the social but I've got money, you know?

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I have people working for me.

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You don't even, like, know my partner

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and you're saying you're worrying just over a bit of...

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I mean, are you a psychologist?

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-No, I'm not.

-Well, you sound like one.

-I'm not, I'm not.

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Do you know what I mean? Cos I'd tell you to jog on.

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Cos I could be a psychologist.

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-I would never do that.

-Do you know what I mean?

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-Listen, I don't want to upset you.

-No, no, no, no.

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I'm not here to tell you how to live your life.

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When you say "a stable background"

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I'm thinking, "I HAVE a stable background."

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I'm not saying that. What I am saying is....

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-I'm talking about the future.

-Sure.

-Moving on.

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I want to go back to work. Do you know what I mean? Course I do.

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Good stuff. Listen, really nice to meet you, Nigel.

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-Thank you very much for your time. Appreciate it.

-No, thank you.

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It's difficult, isn't it?

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Cos obviously it's totally two different sides of the story there.

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So that's why I say you've got to be completely impartial.

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-Not something that we can get involved in...

-No.

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-..if we're trying to do the job properly.

-Yeah.

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So I'm happy that the work's going to be done,

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so I'll come back and close it down once the window's in

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but I am quite happy with the rest of the condition of the property.

0:15:370:15:40

Let's, er... Let's jog on, shall we?

0:15:400:15:41

'It was a bit tense in there, to say the least.

0:15:410:15:44

'Later, we'll find out if the situation has improved.'

0:15:440:15:47

Elsewhere in Thanet, Housing Officer Andy Emerson

0:15:530:15:56

is going to meet a tenant

0:15:560:15:57

who's complained about damp and mould in their property.

0:15:570:16:00

The best thing is that there's nothing wrong with it

0:16:000:16:02

and the worst thing is there's quite a lot of structural defects

0:16:020:16:06

that are causing the water to come in, which may be an issue

0:16:060:16:09

in terms of getting the landlord to repair the property...

0:16:090:16:14

um, willingly.

0:16:140:16:15

One of the many things I'm learning as a Trainee Housing Officer

0:16:180:16:21

is that disputes between tenants and landlords aren't always clear-cut.

0:16:210:16:25

But tenant Andrew's got quite a list of grievances,

0:16:250:16:29

so there's lots for Andy to think about.

0:16:290:16:31

Mould in bathroom, kitchen.

0:16:310:16:33

Damp in back bedroom under window, damp on ceiling.

0:16:330:16:37

-He's done most of it.

-Oh, has he really? Oh, OK.

0:16:370:16:39

-Literally yesterday.

-That's good.

0:16:390:16:42

Was it the landlord or was it...?

0:16:420:16:44

-Well, it was the landlord...

-A contractor?

0:16:440:16:46

-Yeah, he got people out to do it all.

-OK.

0:16:460:16:48

Before you came out, obviously.

0:16:480:16:50

But they've just painted over it, wiped it with a bit of bleach.

0:16:500:16:52

Oh, right.

0:16:520:16:53

But the damp could possibly be a contributing factor

0:16:530:16:56

to a more serious health problems.

0:16:560:16:59

-My partner's actually got pneumonia at the moment.

-Really?

0:16:590:17:01

Yeah, I don't know if that was anything to do with mould but...

0:17:010:17:04

Cos she's got asthma as well.

0:17:040:17:06

When you've got mould, it doesn't isolate itself to one place,

0:17:060:17:09

because there are spores constantly in the air,

0:17:090:17:11

and they float around, yeah.

0:17:110:17:12

So, obviously, if you've got asthma,

0:17:120:17:14

you're susceptible to chest infections and things.

0:17:140:17:17

-She's just come out of hospital.

-Really?

-Yeah.

0:17:170:17:19

Oh, dear. Nasty.

0:17:190:17:21

Well, we don't know if the damp

0:17:210:17:23

is causing Andrew's partner's health problems

0:17:230:17:26

but it does need to be addressed.

0:17:260:17:28

If you look under here...

0:17:280:17:30

it's all damp.

0:17:300:17:32

It looks like you have got a leak. From underneath the bath, isn't it?

0:17:320:17:36

So that's the damp.

0:17:360:17:38

There's also an issue with the layout of the kitchen,

0:17:380:17:40

which is not only impractical - it could be dangerous.

0:17:400:17:43

They're going to come out and do the boiler.

0:17:440:17:47

We've asked them to move it into there.

0:17:470:17:49

Moving the boiler in there, this'll free up the space.

0:17:490:17:51

-And the cooker going to be turned around.

-Yeah.

0:17:510:17:54

That is massively unsafe, as it is at the moment.

0:17:540:17:56

If you've got a boiling hot pan on there...

0:17:560:17:58

-Yeah, I've knocked handles myself so...

-Yeah, it's...

0:17:580:18:01

And we've got a seven-year-old as well.

0:18:010:18:03

You are cooking stuff over here, you don't have enough space to do it

0:18:030:18:07

and you also need preparation space either side of your cooker, as well,

0:18:070:18:10

-which you just haven't got.

-Nah.

0:18:100:18:13

I mean, that needs to be done pretty urgently.

0:18:130:18:15

A disgruntled tenant and an ever-growing list of problems

0:18:150:18:19

means Andy's got his work cut out here.

0:18:190:18:21

But I've got a feeling there could be more to this than meets the eye.

0:18:210:18:25

Coming up...landlord Ian arrives to give Andy a piece of his mind.

0:18:270:18:32

This particular tenant here,

0:18:320:18:33

he hasn't mentioned to you his rent arrears, has he?

0:18:330:18:36

Most people would've got rid of him.

0:18:360:18:38

Ensuring that we all have somewhere safe and decent to live

0:18:410:18:45

is the job of housing officers right across the UK.

0:18:450:18:48

You're overcrowded, so there's nowhere for your lads to go.

0:18:480:18:51

'In this series, I'm working alongside

0:18:510:18:53

'the men and women who do exactly that.'

0:18:530:18:56

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

0:18:560:19:00

'I'm hitting the streets...'

0:19:000:19:01

Good to see you.

0:19:010:19:03

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

0:19:030:19:05

This is just a breeding ground for rats.

0:19:050:19:08

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

0:19:080:19:11

..is a fit place to call a home.

0:19:110:19:13

This house is starting to send shivers down my spine.

0:19:130:19:16

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

0:19:160:19:19

We got to look at it strategically and the best way to attack it.

0:19:190:19:22

We're in Sandwell and I've just sat down at my desk, um...

0:19:290:19:32

to find this, which is relating to a house in Oldbury.

0:19:320:19:38

There have been a string of chances for a landlord to put right

0:19:380:19:43

some pretty serious defects with this house

0:19:430:19:46

and he hasn't taken those opportunities.

0:19:460:19:48

So this has been going on for...

0:19:480:19:51

nearly six months now. No, OVER six months.

0:19:510:19:55

The situation has reached crisis point.

0:19:550:19:58

Housing Officer Laura Mahiques is running out of options -

0:19:580:20:02

as the landlord has failed to act,

0:20:020:20:04

he's now facing prosecution.

0:20:040:20:05

So these are photos that you've taken there?

0:20:050:20:07

Yeah, so this was on the initial visit,

0:20:070:20:10

so this is before any notices were carried out

0:20:100:20:12

and we were obviously highlighting

0:20:120:20:13

that there were issues in the property.

0:20:130:20:15

I'm joining Laura today to inspect the property

0:20:150:20:18

but, before we go, I want to get a measure

0:20:180:20:20

of what the some of the big problems are.

0:20:200:20:22

What's the main thing that hits you?

0:20:220:20:24

It doesn't appear to have a gutter - it's got no guttering at all.

0:20:240:20:28

-No guttering at all.

-Oh, really?

0:20:280:20:29

so the rain effectively comes straight off this sheet of slates...

0:20:290:20:34

-Yeah.

-And then just, what? Dribbles down the brickwork?

0:20:340:20:37

Yeah, hits right down there.

0:20:370:20:39

And if you've got a damp period,

0:20:390:20:41

-it's not going to get a chance to dry out.

-Exactly.

0:20:410:20:44

'Poor or missing guttering can cause untold damage to a property.'

0:20:440:20:48

There's quite big signs of damp here.

0:20:480:20:50

Now we're after a really very damp winter, a very wet winter,

0:20:500:20:54

-and a fairly damp spring...

-Yeah.

0:20:540:20:57

-This is going to be...

-If it hasn't been replaced,

0:20:570:20:59

-it will obviously have got much worse than that.

-Yeah.

0:20:590:21:02

'And it's not just at the front of the property

0:21:020:21:05

'where the guttering's making the house damp.

0:21:050:21:07

'It's a similar story in the back yard.

0:21:070:21:09

'All of this has led to a stream of requests for home improvements.'

0:21:090:21:13

These are all the actions that you've taken,

0:21:130:21:15

all the chances where you've given him notices or made phone calls.

0:21:150:21:18

-And even reminder letters in between.

-Appointments to meet?

0:21:180:21:22

Yeah, we arranged a meeting but he hadn't met me at the property.

0:21:220:21:25

So it has got to a point now

0:21:250:21:26

where we had to serve the Improvement Notice,

0:21:260:21:28

which the landlord does get charged for as well.

0:21:280:21:31

So he's been served an Improvement Notice

0:21:310:21:32

and understands that if this doesn't get...

0:21:320:21:35

If this doesn't get sorted, then he's going to court, effectively.

0:21:350:21:39

Yeah, potentially could be prosecuted for it.

0:21:390:21:41

Under the 2004 Housing Act,

0:21:410:21:43

a local authority can serve an Improvement Notice to a landlord

0:21:430:21:47

to remove hazards from the home.

0:21:470:21:49

'Laura won't start a prosecution

0:22:030:22:05

'before one final check to see what work has been done.

0:22:050:22:08

'The Improvement Notice was served three months ago -

0:22:080:22:11

'scaffolding was erected at the front of the house

0:22:110:22:13

'and some repairs begun

0:22:130:22:15

'but, according to tenant Roxanne Wesley, not that many.'

0:22:150:22:18

So what work has the landlord done so far?

0:22:180:22:20

Patched the few tiles on the roof

0:22:200:22:23

-and, um, you know the chimney at the back?

-Yeah.

0:22:230:22:26

All he done was patch that, that's it.

0:22:260:22:29

OK, well, I'll have a look at that

0:22:290:22:30

and, obviously, see if it's been done to a good standard.

0:22:300:22:34

He's put the guttering at the front?

0:22:340:22:36

-Oh, the guttering has been put up as well.

-Yeah.

0:22:360:22:38

But what about the back?

0:22:380:22:40

The back by the bathroom hasn't been done.

0:22:400:22:42

Work has definitely started on the front of the building

0:22:420:22:44

but is it up to standard?

0:22:440:22:46

Laura's keen to put my skills to the test.

0:22:460:22:49

What do you think the potential problem would be there?

0:22:490:22:51

Well, I mean, the gutter's got nowhere to go,

0:22:510:22:53

so it's effectively the same as it was before,

0:22:530:22:56

when you had no gutter,

0:22:560:22:57

cos it's just going to fill up, then it's going to overflow,

0:22:570:22:59

it's going to go down the face of the brickwork again.

0:22:590:23:03

So they haven't really...

0:23:030:23:05

It doesn't look like we've made any sort of improvement there.

0:23:050:23:08

'So not a great start at the front.

0:23:080:23:10

'We need to check on what's happened at the back.

0:23:100:23:12

'And, again, things don't seem to be as good as they could be.'

0:23:120:23:17

It doesn't look like a very professional scaffolding job.

0:23:170:23:20

That was the... That's the issue we had. It's the same scaffolding

0:23:200:23:23

we reported to the Health And Safety Executive.

0:23:230:23:25

There's always concerns about it and it should be checked every week

0:23:250:23:28

to make sure it hasn't been tampered with

0:23:280:23:30

and it's safe for contractors to use.

0:23:300:23:33

'This potentially unsafe scaffolding

0:23:330:23:35

'has, just like at the front, been up for months.

0:23:350:23:38

'However, it looks like there's still a lot to do

0:23:380:23:40

'to make the house watertight.'

0:23:400:23:42

When we're looking at this guttering now,

0:23:430:23:44

apart from the obvious disrepair to it, what's... What highlights?

0:23:440:23:48

Anything that jumps out at you?

0:23:480:23:49

Well, we've got water staining down here,

0:23:490:23:52

so it's clear that it's not water tight.

0:23:520:23:56

-What's it made of?

-That's...what? DULL TAPPING

0:23:560:23:59

What is that? Is that...? Cos that's not...

0:23:590:24:02

I'll give you a clue -

0:24:020:24:03

it would need to be removed by a licensed contractor.

0:24:030:24:05

-So that's asbestos?

-Yeah.

0:24:050:24:07

So you've got asbestos guttering out the back

0:24:070:24:09

and it's...it's sort of peeling and flaking.

0:24:090:24:12

Anything else you think is pointing at you

0:24:120:24:15

that might be giving you a clue that it's not functioning properly?

0:24:150:24:19

Well, we've got, um, you know,

0:24:190:24:22

weeds and grass growing out of the middle of it.

0:24:220:24:24

We've also got here, um...

0:24:240:24:26

a scaffolding joint.

0:24:260:24:28

-Either that was just left there by the scaffolders...

-Potentially.

0:24:280:24:31

..or, more worryingly,

0:24:310:24:33

it's fallen from the scaffolding and lodged there,

0:24:330:24:36

-which is a really...

-Concern.

0:24:360:24:38

That's a really worrying thing, isn't it?

0:24:380:24:40

That means that the scaffolding job has...

0:24:400:24:42

We're starting to suspect it's not a bang-up job.

0:24:420:24:46

'The inspection has shown that the tenants

0:24:460:24:49

'have every reason to be unhappy.

0:24:490:24:51

'Later, I'll discover that the landlord

0:24:530:24:56

'might also have a reason to complain.'

0:24:560:24:58

This is when you get that reaction sometimes from landlords,

0:24:580:25:01

where they're going to say,

0:25:010:25:02

"Have you looked at the inside of that place?"

0:25:020:25:05

Back in Stevenage, after living with nine children

0:25:090:25:13

and various pets crammed into a four-bedroom property,

0:25:130:25:16

social housing tenants Paula and Abna George now have

0:25:160:25:20

the chance to upsize to a rare six-bedroom house.

0:25:200:25:24

Paula is blind and Abna partially sighted,

0:25:240:25:27

so a move into a less cluttered home could prove life-changing.

0:25:270:25:31

If we don't take this six-bedroom, this is the first one

0:25:330:25:36

that's come up in, I think Richard said, over 20 years.

0:25:360:25:39

So, this is the opportunity of a lifetime.

0:25:390:25:42

If we don't take it now,

0:25:420:25:44

then we're never going to get another opportunity.

0:25:440:25:46

Before any offer can be made, though,

0:25:460:25:48

housing officers Richard and Lisa need to be satisfied

0:25:480:25:51

that the family have been looking after their current home.

0:25:510:25:54

They have checked every room.

0:25:540:25:56

That door has seen better days, hasn't it?

0:25:560:25:58

I'm just going to put, "Door is worn, due to wear and tear."

0:25:580:26:01

And now, the verdict's in.

0:26:010:26:04

Couple of little repair issues

0:26:040:26:06

that Mr George is going to sort out himself.

0:26:060:26:10

-Are you happy for me to opt back the offer to them, yeah?

-Yeah, I'm happy.

0:26:100:26:14

If you're happy, we want to make the offer to you for the six-bedroom.

0:26:140:26:16

-So, you're interested, are you?

-Yeah, we want to!

0:26:160:26:19

-So, next Friday at 10:30.

-Yeah, that's fine.

0:26:190:26:23

I'll see you next week.

0:26:230:26:24

It's terrific news for the family.

0:26:240:26:26

We're going to see the house!

0:26:260:26:29

To have a look and see just what a six-bedroom property looks like.

0:26:290:26:33

I've never even seen one before.

0:26:330:26:36

And a few days later,

0:26:360:26:37

Richard and Lisa are off to show them around the new home.

0:26:370:26:41

For me, they are the ones I like,

0:26:410:26:42

-they are the sort of people I want to help.

-Yeah, they are genuine.

0:26:420:26:45

-They've got some issues...

-They've got the green light.

0:26:450:26:47

They try to do the best for their kids. The kids need some more space.

0:26:470:26:51

Well, everybody's in.

0:26:510:26:53

- Hello? - Hello.

0:26:530:26:55

-You all right?

-Hi, Mrs George.

-Hello.

0:26:550:26:57

Right, so, what we'll do is we'll move from room to room,

0:26:570:27:00

we'll talk about what every room is like and

0:27:000:27:02

if you've got any questions, let us know, yeah?

0:27:020:27:04

-Yeah, that's fine.

-Come on, Lewis!

0:27:040:27:07

The Georges' nine kids have spent

0:27:070:27:08

years crammed into four tiny bedrooms.

0:27:080:27:12

But will this six-bedroom house get their seal of approval?

0:27:120:27:17

Who's going to go in this one, Lewis?

0:27:170:27:19

Who's is this room going to be? Yours?

0:27:190:27:21

Ready? Let's have another look. There is your garden down there, look.

0:27:210:27:26

See, there's your garden.

0:27:260:27:28

And Mum and Dad finally get their own bedroom,

0:27:280:27:31

complete with fitted wardrobes.

0:27:310:27:33

That's the thing, it's such a big house, it's going to take...

0:27:330:27:36

-It's a good size.

-It's a nice property.

-It's brilliant.

0:27:360:27:41

What do you reckon, Lewis?

0:27:410:27:43

Look at this!

0:27:440:27:46

Look at the size of that!

0:27:460:27:47

It's clear that having

0:27:480:27:50

so much extra space is going to make a huge difference to this family.

0:27:500:27:54

I'm overwhelmed. It's massive!

0:27:550:27:59

I didn't realise that a six-bedroom house could be so big.

0:27:590:28:02

It'll take some getting used to, but it's nice, I love it.

0:28:020:28:05

You OK? I knew this was going to be emotional!

0:28:080:28:11

-It's lovely, isn't it? You all right?

-Very overwhelmed, I think.

0:28:110:28:14

-You OK?

-Yeah. I'm totally lost!

-You will find your way.

0:28:140:28:18

So, you're going to be able to bring your lovely great big

0:28:180:28:21

dining room and all your chairs and they can all sit down.

0:28:210:28:24

-I can get a new sideboard now!

-You're going to get a new sideboard?

0:28:240:28:27

That's a promise, is it?

0:28:270:28:30

After years of coping with overcrowding, it's great to think

0:28:300:28:33

that the family can now look forward to a much better quality of life.

0:28:330:28:37

What do you think of your house?

0:28:370:28:39

Big house for my monkey.

0:28:400:28:42

-Do you like the big house?

-Yeah.

-Do you? It's lovely, isn't it?

0:28:420:28:46

If only all our houses were like that. Another satisfied customer.

0:28:460:28:51

We can move on to the next one.

0:28:510:28:53

'I'm out with Sandwell Council's Laura Mahiques.

0:29:030:29:07

'We are inspecting a rundown terrace house with damp and mould problems.'

0:29:070:29:11

I was just tidying the kitchen before you've come.

0:29:110:29:15

-The radiator fell off the wall last week.

-Did it?

-Yeah.

0:29:150:29:18

'Rainwater leaking through damaged guttering and drainpipes is

0:29:180:29:22

'causing big problems inside for tenant Roxanne and her family.'

0:29:220:29:25

In terms of health and safety in this kitchen,

0:29:250:29:28

what's your issue with... Anything that screams out at you?

0:29:280:29:32

We've got tiles that are falling off here, straightaway, and you've got

0:29:320:29:36

all of that detritus going straight onto the food preparation area.

0:29:360:29:39

What do you think might have caused this issue?

0:29:390:29:41

That's the asbestos guttering not doing its job on that corner, there.

0:29:410:29:45

Which is roughly where we've got the issue.

0:29:450:29:47

This is... You can tell it's absolutely saturated.

0:29:470:29:49

That's where the tiles are lifting.

0:29:490:29:51

Yeah, they're just lifting and falling off.

0:29:510:29:54

'The landlord has so far failed to complete repairs

0:29:540:29:56

'and could be facing prosecution.

0:29:560:29:58

'What is also clear in this house is that some of the problems

0:29:580:30:01

'have nothing to do with the landlord.

0:30:010:30:03

'In the bathroom, things get worse.'

0:30:030:30:05

Looking around the bathroom here

0:30:080:30:10

and we've got big issues with mould, condensation mould, um,

0:30:100:30:15

but that could be from the way the bathroom is being used.

0:30:150:30:19

Yeah.

0:30:190:30:20

There are big issues here, which are

0:30:200:30:23

-not all of the landlord's making.

-No.

0:30:230:30:25

This is when you get that reaction sometimes from landlords where

0:30:250:30:28

they are going to say, "Have you looked at the inside of that place?

0:30:280:30:32

"Why should I bother improving it when they treat it that way?"

0:30:320:30:35

But equally, landlords have the powers,

0:30:350:30:37

if they are not happy with how the property is being treated,

0:30:370:30:40

they should be regularly inspecting the property,

0:30:400:30:42

and they should be able to say that

0:30:420:30:44

this is not in the terms and conditions of the tenancy agreement.

0:30:440:30:47

'The place is damp, yes, but it's also filthy,

0:30:470:30:50

'and that must be the fault of the tenants.

0:30:500:30:52

'I want to find out from Roxanne and her partner, Paul,

0:30:520:30:54

'what has been happening between them and their landlord.'

0:30:540:30:57

Do you think the relationship with the landlord is beyond repair?

0:30:570:31:01

We've tried to do our bit to keep it tidy and that,

0:31:010:31:03

-but he's not bothering...

-He's just not bothering

0:31:030:31:06

doing anything.

0:31:060:31:07

Do you think part of the problem,

0:31:070:31:09

or part of the challenge with this, is to get yourself organised a bit?

0:31:090:31:13

Do you think you could do with some help with that?

0:31:130:31:15

Um...

0:31:150:31:18

Possibly, it would help.

0:31:180:31:19

We're at the stage now, obviously,

0:31:190:31:21

where sufficient time has been given,

0:31:210:31:24

a legal notice has been served,

0:31:240:31:26

he hasn't carried out the work in the legal notice,

0:31:260:31:30

so this is obviously an offence under the Housing Act,

0:31:300:31:33

what he hasn't carried out.

0:31:330:31:34

-I've got to fill that in today...

-Nice to meet you, mate.

0:31:380:31:40

And you, mate. No problem.

0:31:400:31:42

Let's be honest, Paul and Roxanne could probably be doing

0:31:420:31:45

a better job of looking after the house.

0:31:450:31:48

That is a separate issue to the landlord's

0:31:480:31:51

responsibility to keep this house in good order.

0:31:510:31:55

That's why it looks like he could be going to court

0:31:550:31:59

and could be prosecuted. And then, after that, who knows?

0:31:590:32:06

But there are a lot of issues to sort out right here.

0:32:060:32:10

'Later on, we'll find out if the threat of court action

0:32:110:32:14

'motivates the landlord to get the jobs done.'

0:32:140:32:17

'Back in Thanet, housing officer Andy Emerson has been dealing with

0:32:200:32:24

'a complaint from private tenant Andrew.'

0:32:240:32:27

If you look under here, it's all damp.

0:32:270:32:31

'Amongst other things, he is claiming the landlord isn't dealing

0:32:310:32:35

'with the damp in the property

0:32:350:32:36

and isn't providing a safe kitchen area.'

0:32:360:32:39

If you've got a boiling hot pan on there...

0:32:390:32:42

I've got a seven-year-old, as well.

0:32:420:32:43

That is massively unsafe, how it is at the moment.

0:32:430:32:46

'Inspection over, landlord Ian turns up, keen to show Andy that he

0:32:460:32:50

'is addressing the tenant's issues, starting with the damp.'

0:32:500:32:54

-Let's get the issues...

-Let's deal with my tenants and what they are.

0:32:540:32:57

-We've put in some new windows.

-Yeah, that's fine.

0:32:570:32:59

And when the guys complained, it is in the middle of winter, isn't it?

0:32:590:33:03

-It is.

-And you must agree, it is the wettest winter we have had.

0:33:030:33:09

'Fair enough, but there is also the issue of the kitchen.'

0:33:090:33:13

Just the fact that if you've got boiling hot pans on here,

0:33:130:33:16

regardless of where they were...

0:33:160:33:18

And the other thing is to put the kitchen in there,

0:33:180:33:20

but that's up to him, isn't it?

0:33:200:33:23

Well, it's your house, so you can do whatever you want.

0:33:230:33:25

Of course, I could see if I could sell it, which is

0:33:250:33:28

quite tempting when you get a day like this.

0:33:280:33:30

It's probably better to inform you, and we'll give you an improvement

0:33:300:33:34

notice, that maybe gives you a certain amount of time to do it.

0:33:340:33:38

'Outside, Ian is keen to point out

0:33:380:33:41

'the improvement work he HAS done so far.'

0:33:410:33:43

-Up there, where he's had new windows, that was done before Christmas.

-OK.

0:33:430:33:49

And that's where his problem was, and that's why the water

0:33:490:33:52

getting in there is what has caused the problem upstairs.

0:33:520:33:56

'Landlord Ian has some other important points to raise.'

0:33:560:34:00

You need to listen to me, because, you know,

0:34:000:34:02

we tried to do work here last week and they weren't available.

0:34:020:34:05

The place is like a pigsty when you go in there normally.

0:34:050:34:08

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

0:34:080:34:11

-do you know what I mean?

-That's not what we're doing at all.

0:34:110:34:13

Obviously, we have to respond to a complaint.

0:34:130:34:16

And there are always two sides to a story. We know that.

0:34:160:34:18

And it's important that both sides are listened to.

0:34:180:34:22

It is a housing officer's duty to deal with each case objectively.

0:34:220:34:25

Ian is not convinced that his own struggles

0:34:250:34:28

as a landlord are being heard.

0:34:280:34:30

I don't think they quite understand how hard it is sometimes to

0:34:300:34:33

work with these tenants.

0:34:330:34:34

We've always tried to be fair, and do bits and pieces as they need doing.

0:34:340:34:39

You know, we've got several tenants, some of them are really good,

0:34:390:34:42

we get on really well with, and others are not quite so good

0:34:420:34:45

and we try to work with them,

0:34:450:34:47

but that sometimes becomes impossible.

0:34:470:34:49

Ian says he is dealing with a tenant who isn't always paying his way.

0:34:490:34:55

This particular tenant here,

0:34:550:34:57

he hasn't mentioned to you his rent arrears, has he?

0:34:570:34:59

And he won't contact me because he knows that when he contacts me,

0:34:590:35:03

he also needs to address rent arrears.

0:35:030:35:05

Now, admittedly, we've done the windows

0:35:050:35:07

and he has made a small attempt to pay his rent arrears.

0:35:070:35:09

But they have been consistent rent arrears over five or six years.

0:35:090:35:12

Now, most people would have got rid of him.

0:35:120:35:14

When they've reported any problems, we have carried out the work,

0:35:140:35:17

but also there is routine maintenance to do in my own house.

0:35:170:35:20

If you get a bit of damp occasionally...

0:35:200:35:22

We have just gone through the wettest winter on record,

0:35:220:35:25

you do have to maintain the place.

0:35:250:35:27

We're not renting them serviced apartments.

0:35:270:35:30

It's true that a tenant has the responsibility to keep

0:35:300:35:34

a property in good order.

0:35:340:35:35

It seems to me that, for whatever reason, there has been

0:35:350:35:38

a communication breakdown here between the tenant and landlord,

0:35:380:35:42

and now it's Andy's job to ensure work is carried out

0:35:420:35:45

to everyone's satisfaction.

0:35:450:35:47

Basically, it seems like the tenant has complained to the council

0:35:470:35:51

without going to the landlord first.

0:35:510:35:54

Which is always a problem.

0:35:550:35:57

Obviously, the landlord was a little bit aggrieved about that,

0:35:570:36:00

but he seemed quite happy and he understands what he needs to do

0:36:000:36:03

to rectify the problems that we found when we were there.

0:36:030:36:08

Happily, after Andy's inspection,

0:36:080:36:11

it didn't take landlord Ian long to address the issues.

0:36:110:36:14

The damp is being tackled and a new boiler is on order,

0:36:140:36:17

which should free up more kitchen space.

0:36:170:36:20

Andy is making top-up payments to make up for his rent arrears.

0:36:200:36:23

Hopefully that means tenant

0:36:230:36:26

and landlord relations will now get a bit better.

0:36:260:36:29

I'm heading to Stevenage in Hertfordshire,

0:36:350:36:37

'and this time I'm teaming up with housing officer Richard Mitchell.

0:36:370:36:41

'We are on a mercy mission.'

0:36:410:36:43

The lady we are going to see, she's a 27-year-old lady.

0:36:430:36:47

She has a three-year-old daughter.

0:36:470:36:49

She's living in private rented accommodation,

0:36:490:36:51

but the landlord has asked her to leave.

0:36:510:36:55

So she's desperate for rehousing.

0:36:550:36:58

Single mum Nicola Stagg has been on the council housing register

0:36:590:37:02

for the past six years.

0:37:020:37:04

I've been in a bedsit for about 18 months.

0:37:040:37:07

Me and my daughter have got to share a bed.

0:37:070:37:10

It's full of mould, damp, and I really don't like it any more.

0:37:100:37:14

There is no security, nowhere for my daughter to play.

0:37:140:37:17

It's getting to the point where it's affecting her development.

0:37:170:37:20

So my priority is to get her out and give her a life, really.

0:37:200:37:24

'Despite her long wait, Nicola's deteriorating living conditions

0:37:240:37:27

'mean she's now a priority for rehousing.'

0:37:270:37:31

Most councils moved to, like, an estate agent approach, really.

0:37:310:37:35

They call it choice-based lettings, where we advertise the property

0:37:350:37:39

on a website that belongs to us,

0:37:390:37:41

it's open for a week, people get allocated points

0:37:410:37:43

and they have their number, they bid on that property.

0:37:430:37:46

So it feels like you're making a choice,

0:37:460:37:48

rather than being given something, or allocated.

0:37:480:37:51

Yes, it's just a different mindset.

0:37:510:37:53

I know that my life will improve 100% if we had a stable environment

0:37:540:37:58

to live in, knowing it won't affect your health,

0:37:580:38:01

and your daughter could smile,

0:38:010:38:03

just be happy and play with her toys in a garden.

0:38:030:38:05

I'm hoping today could be good news for Nicola.

0:38:050:38:07

She's recently made a successful bid on a council house,

0:38:070:38:10

and it's now my job to show her round her potential new home.

0:38:100:38:14

So tell me, what's the best thing that could happen today,

0:38:160:38:19

with this young woman?

0:38:190:38:21

The best thing that could happen to this lady is she's really

0:38:210:38:24

happy with the property.

0:38:240:38:25

That's the keys to the property.

0:38:280:38:30

-Hello. How you doing?

-I'm fine, thank you.

-I'm Richard.

0:38:300:38:34

-I work in the lettings team.

-I'm Matt.

-Hiya. This is my mum.

-Hello.

0:38:340:38:38

-How do you do? I'm Matt.

-I'm Richard.

0:38:380:38:40

'So, under the watchful eye of Mum,

0:38:400:38:41

'it's on me to show Nicola her brand-new home.

0:38:410:38:45

'I mean, what could possibly go wrong?'

0:38:450:38:47

Is it this one? LAUGHTER

0:38:480:38:51

That was a test, wasn't it?

0:38:520:38:54

'Yes, we'll brush that one under the doormat. Second time lucky.'

0:38:540:38:58

-I tested you.

-And I failed.

0:38:580:39:00

There you go.

0:39:030:39:05

-Thank you.

-Tell us what you think.

0:39:050:39:07

This is a new kitchen.

0:39:070:39:09

Not actually new, but it was installed in the last 12 months.

0:39:100:39:15

-Have you seen the garden?

-I know.

0:39:150:39:16

I have fallen in love with it, to be honest.

0:39:160:39:18

I can't believe what I've got. It was worth the wait, you know?

0:39:180:39:22

I've waited that long, I'm like, "Finally!"

0:39:220:39:25

'Nicola's reaction is just what Richard and I were waiting to hear.

0:39:250:39:29

'It's clear this house could genuinely transform her life.'

0:39:290:39:33

-What's your daughter's name?

-Isabel.

-How old is she?

-She's three.

0:39:330:39:37

What she asked for Christmas was a garden and stairs.

0:39:370:39:40

So I can now finally give her her Christmas present, as such.

0:39:400:39:43

She's got a play area. Somewhere safe.

0:39:430:39:47

-Is your mum doing all the measuring?

-I can hear that tape going.

0:39:530:39:57

This is the master bedroom.

0:39:590:40:01

-It's lovely.

-It's quite big for you, isn't it?

0:40:010:40:05

Cupboards over there.

0:40:050:40:08

This is...my flat.

0:40:080:40:10

So your whole flat is this big.

0:40:100:40:12

-Yes, this level is bigger than my flat.

-And look at this.

-Oh, wow!

0:40:120:40:18

Nicola's housing history has been a long and rocky road.

0:40:180:40:22

'It's clear from talking to her mum the lengths

0:40:220:40:24

'she had to go to to secure this home are dramatic,

0:40:240:40:27

'to say the least.'

0:40:270:40:28

So there was a stage when Nicola

0:40:280:40:30

and her daughter were staying at your place.

0:40:300:40:33

Yes, for about a year.

0:40:330:40:34

And you actually had to formally evict her.

0:40:340:40:37

Yes, I had to give the council a letter to say

0:40:370:40:41

-I couldn't house her any more.

-That must feel strange.

-It's not nice.

0:40:410:40:45

There's no kind of ill will or feeling,

0:40:450:40:49

it was just a process you had to go through to get here.

0:40:490:40:52

Yes, my mum didn't want to do it - I guess it's harder for her

0:40:520:40:55

to have to do it, but it's the only way I could move.

0:40:550:40:58

I'm so pleased for you.

0:40:580:41:00

I'm delighted. I really can't believe it.

0:41:000:41:03

I feel like I've won the lottery.

0:41:030:41:05

And I'm happy to report, just 1½ weeks later,

0:41:080:41:12

Nicola and Isabel finally moved into their new home.

0:41:120:41:16

-Are you closing your eyes?

-What's new in here?

0:41:160:41:19

-We've got the new curtains, haven't we? And blinds.

-New sofa!

0:41:190:41:23

And the new sofa!

0:41:230:41:25

-What room are you in?

-The pink!

-This is her bedroom.

0:41:250:41:29

We've managed to get pink on the wall,

0:41:290:41:33

and were going to be doing the wallpaper on there.

0:41:330:41:35

Pink and white.

0:41:350:41:37

NICOLA LAUGHS

0:41:370:41:40

You make Mummy laugh! You are well happy now, aren't you?

0:41:410:41:45

Are you happy we're in our new home?

0:41:450:41:47

Yes!

0:41:470:41:49

And that's not all the good news.

0:41:500:41:52

'We revisited tenants Roxanne and Paul, to discover

0:41:520:41:55

'that their landlord had finally made progress

0:41:550:41:58

'on the crucial repairs.'

0:41:580:41:59

They've done the damp stuff, they've done the tiles in the kitchen,

0:41:590:42:03

sorted out the bathroom...

0:42:030:42:05

They put the radiator back on the wall and it started to come off.

0:42:050:42:08

They're waiting for someone to come and do the chimney breast.

0:42:080:42:11

The landlord has done nearly 70% of the jobs

0:42:110:42:14

and has so far avoided prosecution.

0:42:140:42:16

Laura's been working closely with the family to make sure

0:42:160:42:19

they get the support they need.

0:42:190:42:20

I've got a new-found respect for guttering now!

0:42:200:42:23

And last but not least, in Cliftonville, Kent,

0:42:230:42:26

there's been a surprising turnaround.

0:42:260:42:28

Since our visit, repairs have been done to the property,

0:42:280:42:31

and tenant Nigel has had a change of heart.

0:42:310:42:34

I actually had a visit this morning from the tenant's partner,

0:42:340:42:38

who decided he was going to bring me a gift of a pot plant to say

0:42:380:42:42

he was terribly sorry and should never have spoken to me

0:42:420:42:45

the way he spoke to me, and wished to make amends and move on.

0:42:450:42:48

Nice one, Nigel.

0:42:480:42:50

That's it for today's show.

0:42:540:42:56

Join me next time, when I'll be learning more about what it takes

0:42:560:43:00

to be a front-line housing officer.

0:43:000:43:02

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.