Landlords from Hell 2 – a personal musing

Landlords from Hell 2 – a personal musing

12:08 PM, 6th December 2011, About 13 years ago 11

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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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19:19 PM, 6th December 2011, About 13 years ago

Hats off to you for trying, Ben. You're right in that showing what TROs are doing about it wouldn't be nearly as much fun and pulling out the old cliches, dusting them off and throwing them to the wolves that is the British TV audience.

We all love a good grumble about "what is the world coming to" but I suspect these issues of rogue/terrible/greedy landlords (can't think of any original adjectives) have been around for a very long time, in fact before TV was invented, and will continue long after our demise.

Like poverty, gambling, and love of chocolate there are just some things we can't eradicate, People will always take advantage of one another and we just have to learn to wear a helmet when banging our heads against a brick wall!

P.S. Hope the production company took you out for a drink as reward for your technical expertise?

Mark Alexander - Founder of Property118

21:22 PM, 6th December 2011, About 13 years ago

Excellent blog Ben, at least you can vent amongst friends here 🙂

Can I share that picture now?


Ben Reeve-Lewis

8:27 AM, 7th December 2011, About 13 years ago

@ HMO Landlady. No they didnt. I have decided, 2 days later, that the fault is mine in being so naive as to think that TV is about telling 'Your story'. They always tell their's as a million disgruntled reality TV particpants write all the time.

I know someone who works on Big Brother and the tales she tells of how the editing takes place is enough to make you laugh at the term Reality TV.

Years ago I watched an award winning documentary about 2 families trying to deal with the homelessness unit. The whole thing was filmed from the perspective of the poor family who were in the cold, sitting in bus shelters. Not a single reference was made about the work of the council, it just concentrated on the emotional plight of the poor family. But I knew the poor family and the reason they were sitting in a bleedin bus shelter was because they had been chucked out of the temporary accommodation for smashing the place up and terrorising the other residents. The TV programme conveniently left that out and won an award for telling 'Sensitive human drama' haha

@ ya cant LOL

7:26 AM, 8th December 2011, About 13 years ago

One word to describe the programme: sensationalism!

Ben Reeve-Lewis

8:40 AM, 8th December 2011, About 13 years ago

I think the style is certainly sensationalist Barry but I dont think the subject matter is. Property standards and rogue landlord behaviour is a huge problem and largely unknown outside of housing. I have no problem with them highlighting things but I wish they would give a more rounded picture.

It all ends up being a bit Daily Mail, scandal shock, horror in tone.

Last night I watched that Phil Spencer programme on empty homes when he raced to do up an empty property and let it to a street homeless guy. Made for heart warming Xmas TV but the fact is with January's HB cut to under 35s the likelihood is he wont be able to afford the bloody rent on it next year - wonder iof theyr'll do a follow up when he gets into rent arrears?

Thousands of people like me work in this area and we do hard, not very exciting work. We dont scale the outsides of buildings, we dont rush to do up a property for a homeless guy and when the programme makers move on to their next expose in search of a BAFTA we'll still be here doggedly plodding through the mountain of paperwork and distinctly un-exciting policies


12:07 PM, 8th December 2011, About 13 years ago

I thought another weakness is all three programmes was they failed to go into the detail of *why* so many houses are empty and why it's so hard to identify them and turn them around. As a small developer I've discussed this with my local council's Empty Homes Officer and there are a myriad of reasons for a property being empty: a school leaves its caretaker house empty because the current caretaker already has a house, and the school doesn't want to risk letting it to someone who might be a health and safety or CRB risk. A development company is seeking planning permission and doesn't want to risk letting the site to a nutty tenant. A business is seeking to demolish some houses and build new premises for itself, but can't persuade the last freehold-owner on the site to sell up. Or as seen on George Clarke's programme, a council or housing association has run out of Pathfinder money - though I still don't see why they can't let the properties out, offering tenants a reduced rent in exchange for their free labour to fix them up.

And that's just the company-owned or public-sector houses where we're allowed to see the ownership. The Empty Homes Officer couldn't tell me about the many more empty homes owned by private individuals, at least those he knows about, either because the owner is claiming council tax exemption or where council tax is being paid but the utility companies and electoral roll is recording no occupant. The reason he can't identify empty private houses is "data protection".

George Clarke claimed 88% of long-term empty homes are owned by private individuals, and said he wanted a change of the law to make it easier to identify empty homes, but the programme was frustratingly lacking in detail about why it is so hard to identiy the houses and then, even harder, to persuade the owners to do what is necessary to make them capable of occupation. They have multiple, sometimes bonkers reasons for keeping the property empty, and I can see why councils don't want to get involved with trying to get them to change their mind and incur all the stress and hassle of funding the refurbishment and finding a tenant or new owner.

Ben Reeve-Lewis

12:49 PM, 8th December 2011, About 13 years ago

Thank you Tony, you have hit the nail squarely on the head, both in your analysis of some of the complex procedural problems involved and the shortcomings in the programmes.

To be fair an hour's documentary covering the sorts of details you describe would have peple turning over to Desperate Housewives in droves. Far more interesting to watch action man scale the wall of a house or disgruntled gentrified residents of an otherwise run down (but upcoming) area setting up furniture on a pavement.

The reality of dealing with empty homes is fraught with legislation and procedural obstacles, not really the stuff of exciting TV..............well, I wouldnt bother watching anyway

Ben Reeve-Lewis

13:10 PM, 8th December 2011, About 13 years ago

Incidentally our empty homes officer, who was filmed for last nights programme but ended up on the cutting room floor told me a big problem he encounters in uncovering empty homes is complicit silence from neighbours who are happy to leave a vacancy rather than risk unruly neighbours.

He literally cycles around the borough searching for them, which is probably why he was edited out. Maybe if he got a motorbike to do the same job with a woman in a bikini on the back they might have left him in, even given him his own series

Mark Alexander - Founder of Property118

13:32 PM, 8th December 2011, About 13 years ago

Yep, that would work for me 😉

Ian Ringrose

13:33 PM, 8th December 2011, About 13 years ago

I think an issue with empty homes, is that letting is seen by many people as too great a risk and too match stress. So if you have a single property empty waiting to be sold (when you have moved for a new job), or for probation issues to be sorted – it is very tempting to take the easily option and not let. (An hour on the phone to your mortgage company is enough to put a lot of people off, then there may be a freeholder {and management company} that each wishes to charge you a lot to be able to let, as well as lots of stories about agents running of with your rent, as well as tenant destroying your pride and joy).

Remember becoming a landlord when you own a single empty property is not an easy option for someone that had not done it before.

I have also seem some properties on the market for 6 months before being let, as agents tent to miss-lead people on what they will be able to sell for. The properties are then empty and back on the for-sale market for a few months as soon as they become vacant with the first customer moving on. This happened to the home we rented in Stockport while looking for a place to buy, it is now let again after being empty for some time.

There is no practical way to let a property that is on the “for sale” market and still be able to sell to anyone apart from a BTL landlord – buyers have so many empty home to choose from, so no buyer will consider a property “with issues” without a big discount. I personally would not be willing to even make an offer until a tenant had moved out, unless I was planning to let.

So tenant “rights” may be part of the problem…., but yet we do need to protect tenants...

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