“I’ve been living in a bit of a bubble,” sobs Marc, a yellow sports car-driving landlord who’s suddenly realised that his pensioner tenant is residing in near-squalor.
The Week the Landlords Moved in is a new BBC life-swap series beginning tonight, which sees Marc and his father Peter relocate to 66-year-old Linda’s two-bed flat on the London/Essex border. At the beginning of the hour, Marc’s gloating about the part he played in increasing rental prices, and cruising along in his mustard-coloured ride informing us, “Some people are saving up for their first house. I’ve got 40!” But seven long, cold nights in his tenant’s home open his eyes to how the other half live, and his resulting empathy is palpable and honest.
Empathy, as it happens, is a rare luxury when it comes to the current rental market – you only need to look to reports of Harry Potter-esque cupboards under the stairs in London that go for £500 a month to see that.
The experts say that we should ideally be spending no more than 30% of our salaries on rent. I don’t know what Linda’s income is, but I do know that her rent costs £950 a month and her weekly budget for food, a social life and everything in between is £54.12. The maths isn’t looking good for Linda. As part of the life-swap experiment, Marc and Peter have to try and live within Linda’s budget. Peter is flabbergasted by this and, much like a contestant on The Island with Bear Grylls, keeps telling us he is in “survival mode” and that he feels “shell shocked”.
Marc and Peter haven’t visited Linda’s apartment for 18 months. Her hob is so broken that the pair of them just marvel at it: “That’s dangerous. That’s knackered. I don’t even know if that’s safe.” Her hot tap is not working, mould is the first thing you smell when you walk into the flat and the dehumidifier is both ineffective and taking its toll on the energy bills. So much so that she can’t afford to heat the bedrooms.
I can empathise with Linda. When I moved into my first student house in Toxteth, Liverpool, my mum entered the building and immediately burst into tears. She then proceeded to frantically, somewhat maniacally, deep clean every inch of it.
Marc won’t be citing the “let it and forget it” mantra again any time soon
My current London home was not professionally cleaned before I moved in, either: I spent the first night in my room scratching chewing gum off the floor with an old butter knife and muttering to myself: “It’s okay. It’s all character building. Everything’s always alright in the end.”
The previous tenants had left a bag of once-frozen chicken bites in our freezer. Due to our landlord’s complete and utter failure to visit the apartment before we moved in, the meat had been left to fester in a switched-off freezer for weeks. When we opened the door the stench of rotting meat was so overpowering and vomit-inducing that we had to escape to the front garden. (Garden is a generous, estate agent term for a weed and cigarette-ridden patch of concrete)
And the hob, kettle and toaster were all broken when we moved in. It made my two housemates and I closer – and thinner – at least. Huddled together in a sinking £2,100-a-month ship.
Linda reveals the broken hot tap
None of this trauma would bestow itself upon Harry Potter girl, Linda, or me if some – not all, I hasten to add – landlords weren’t so far-removed from the houses they own. If they actually knew what was going on.
One interesting issue that the series brings up is the reluctance of tenants to report breakages and mould. It is a fear of rising rents that discourages them from contacting their landlords. This signals a wider reaching issue in the affordability of homes in the UK, and London especially.
My horror stories, and those in The Week the Landlords Moved In, are pretty damning. And by no means are they a universal representation of landlords. But this series should act as a cautionary tale: both for landlords who can actually save money by caring for a place instead of having to splash out on a huge refurb after years of neglect, and for tenants to know their rights and how to avoid a rotting chicken bite saga.
Honestly, it’s ruined McNuggets for me and that is not something I will forgive easily.
The Week the Landlords Moved In begins on Wednesday 28 June at 9pm on BBC1