I don’t mind admitting that the thought of a TV programme presented by Matt Allwright (of Rogue Traders) and based upon lifting the lid on the work of UK housing officers filled me with dread. Would ‘The Housing Enforcers’ be the ‘Benefits Street’ of the private rented sector? Who would Mr Allwright be directing his anger towards? Would a motorbike be involved? However, after the first episode, I feel rather more positive. Instead of simply cataloguing a whole list of tenant failings (my fear), this programme endeavoured to take a balanced and somewhat broad approach to the issue of how sometimes the places people live in are just not up to scratch.
Those inadequate properties featured in this episode covered a wide range. From an unventilated, unsafe room with questionable status through to an unoccupied mid-terrace house in such poor condition that neighbours’ safety was put at risk. In the middle we saw some privately rented properties in dire need of repairs and upgrades and varying landlord responses to this and we observed some tenant behaviours which seemed to make a bad situation even worse. Ultimately, though the most impressive feature of this programme was the feelings it portrayed.
The interplay between the places we live in and feelings we have about them was a recurring theme. The need to feel safe; the sadness at the thought of being forced to leave a property for whatever reason; the emotional effect of respect or lack of it in the relationships inherent in making a home: landlord-tenant; neighbour-neighbour; tenant-council. Of these, it is the issue of respect in relation to landlord and tenant which was of most interest to me.
Not much respect when the landlord who felt installing fire alarms in his ‘lodger’s’ ‘room’ was unnecessary as the law said that was okay. Not much respect there for the person you rent a room to. Not much acknowledgement of your responsibilities to them.
Much more respect when the housing officer spoke to and about Mark in Margate. With his rented flat with serious life-threatening issues, a tardy landlord, and depression, things were not good for this tenant. He felt his landlord appeared not to care so he had given up caring too. Easy to judge in a situation such as this when it might be claimed that conditions were worsened by the tenant’s attitude. However, the housing officer was at no time authoritarian or dismissive of the feelings held by the tenant in relation to being ignored for years by his landlord. He realised that feelings have a profound influence.
As a tenant in the PRS I know that housing officer is right. Those in this sector need a respectful relationship with their landlord and acknowledgement from legislation that as a first step the power imbalance needs to be addressed. That need was reaffirmed once again by watching ‘The Housing Enforcers’.