The BBC’s latest fly-on-the-wall documentary made for some compelling TV last night, but does the series have anything new to say about renting in modern Britain?
Trading Places, the classic 80s comedy with Dan Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy, tells the story of a Wall Street broker and a homeless street hustler who find their positions reversed as part of an elaborate bet.
It’s a conceit loved by documentary films makers, from Back to the Floor to Undercover Millionaire, and the format has been revamped by the BBC for a new 10-part documentary series The week the landlords moved in.
The set up this time challenges a successful landlord to spend a week living in one of their own rentals, on their tenant’s budget, to see life through their tenant’s eyes. At TwoBlue, we’ve been talking to the production team behind the series for several weeks now – the BBC has commissioned extra episodes and the hunt is on for landlords and tenants to take part.
The programme has its moments of high drama – at one point it looked like 66-year old Linda (who holds down three jobs caring for kids with special needs) would have her tenancy terminated after our landlord discovered he could charge a couple of extra hundred quid by doing up the flat and moving her out and a young professional couple in.
Our first landlords are father and son team Peter and Marc. We discover that Dad, Peter, is now a millionaire, quite by accident, after building up a portfolio of 40-odd properties, let to mostly young professionals. Second landlord is Milton Keynes-based HMO landlord and relentlessly optimistic Paul.
By the end of the week the mould and the rats and the generally miserable conditions have reduced Marc to tears. And (spoiler alert) there’s a fantastic reveal at the end of the show when Linda (desperate to stay in her home) returns to find her flat has been given a facelift and she’s being offered a two year lease.
The personal journey for Paul is less transformational, although he now seems to understand that his ‘HMO units’ are, to his tenants at least, home.
Over the hour-long programme we discover that, while landlords are not all utter bastards, private buy-to-let landlords are amateurs and ill-suited to the job of housing Britain’s 11 million renters.
In recent years, we have seen numerous reports and studies (and even a White Paper) about the housing crisis and the need for a professionally managed build to rent housing market. This one hour show did more to make the case for an institutionally owned and operated rental housing market than all that has gone before.
Against the backdrop of Grenfell, a newly-militant Labour Party, and millions priced out of the housing market, could The week the landlords moved in be our generation’s Cathy Come Home TV moment?
This is TV everyone in the property industry needs to watch.
Photo BBC/Freemantle Media UK