12:08 PM, 6th December 2011, About 10 years ago 11
Probably like many readers of Property 118, I watched Landlords from Hell on Channel 4 last night with a mixture of annoyance and head shaking depression.
I feel partly responsible as having appeared briefly in September’s follow up to the first programme, I stayed in touch with the production company and provided a lot of technical information about things that enabled them to make last night’s edition. As usual with these things the programme you think they are going to make is a bit different to what is actually made.
The investigation this time centered largely on Dave Wells, a notorious Bournemouth landlord who I had heard of all the way up in London many years back. The second subject was an African guy and an Asian woman working out of Croydon – in fact I know both B&Bs that were featured in the programme.
Mostly it concentrated on property conditions. As you would expect the examples they gave were truly bloody awful. Shocking to people who don’t see these kinds of conditions on a daily basis but for people in my line of work however it was a case of “another day another dollar”.
The fact is property conditions like that are very common in many areas. Also, every area has its own Dave Wells, especially in inner cities. The programme makers could have made a quick call to any TRO or Environmental Health officer and made the same programme out of the list of usual suspects supplied.
It’s not new news for those of us who work with PRS housing and landlord/tenant disputes but I appreciate that it is more shocking for everyone else and the problem needs highlighting more widely. Good on the programme for that and good on Shelter for keeping the ball in the air.
Having said that, what irked and depressed me was the almost clichéd approach that underpinned the whole programme where the other focus was on lack of action by enforcement bodies. The “What is the council doing about it?” theme. Suggesting that Dave Wells and his kind do exactly as they like because the council either doesn’t care, is totally ineffectual or, as was the case with the Croydon landlords suggesting that the council are somehow in on it.
I would like to see a balancing programme (which I know they will never make) showing the daily work of Environmental Health and Tenancy Relations Officers. What the programme would reveal is committed and hard working staff with a comprehensive knowledge of what these characters get up to and the debilitating and dispiriting mountain of rules, regulations and procedures that government see fit to dump on us that means we rarely get anywhere near putting them out of action.
While we are busy gathering evidence that will stand up in court or allow us to serve a notice of some kind to restrict action, these true rogue landlords plough on regardless of laws that are far too unwieldy to be of much use.
The particular problem with HMOs is the residents as witnesses. HMO tenants are typically far more transient in their lifestyles so just getting them to make statements and maintain contact as witnesses is nigh on impossible.
Last month we discovered a serious fraudster agent ripping off tens of thousands of pounds from landlords and tenants alike. Both myself and trading standards took statements from disgruntled tenants in preparation for our individual enforcement powers and we are going to have to let it slide because a) we can’t correctly identify the names of the perpetrators because of a variety of alias’s used and b) none of our complainants are answering their phone and it appears we have lost them as witnesses. This is fairly typical.
I appreciate that a TV programme can’t show everything that is going on and has to focus on a simple element, but I feel these programme makers aren’t actually interested in presenting a fuller, more complex picture. Hook people into a gasp of breath and cries of “shame!!!” and then cut to advert.
Of course these true rogue landlords need exposing and TV is a great medium to do that but even in my rough arsed area they are small in number compared to the vast majority of landlords who are in the business.
I tried to watch the programme afterwards about empty homes but I couldn’t hear it because Frazzy was on the phone to her mate and despite my employment of a variety of lewd and lascivious behaviours, I couldn’t put her off her stride.
I did manage to see the action-man presenter scaling the walls of an empty home to expose the scandal. All very well mate, a nice tele-visual gesture but you try using cumbersome and unhelpful legislation on a daily basis to actually deal with it.
I have come to the conclusion that TV is about making TV and no more than that. It can raise awareness of issues -and does so very well- but an outraged public aren’t really informed about the whole picture, it’s what I call ‘Misery Porn’. Point the camera at some rubbish properties, demonise all landlords and in the process paint enforcement teams as lazy and indifferent.
They can shout “This is an outrage” and everyone, including me agrees but they then move on to “What’s happening to our care homes?” or “Scandal of Britain’s tax cheats”, leaving the housing world to plod on with its daily work and last night’s programme to become tonight’s fish and chip paper…..yes I know that isn’t technically possible.
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