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tv   Panorama  BBC News  March 22, 2019 3:30am-4:01am GMT

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a very warm welcome to bbc news — broadcasting to our viewers in north america and around the globe. my name's mike embley. our top stories: —— aid workers are racing against time to get emergency hours of talks, then supplies to hundreds of thousands the european union agrees of people affected by cyclone idai, to give britain yet more time to prepare for brexit, which struck southern africa a week ago. but only if parliament more than 300 people have been passes theresa may's deal. confirmed dead in mozambique and zimbabwe, but the toll if the withdrawal agreement is passed by the house of commons is expected to rise. next week, the european council you're up to date. agrees to an extension until the 22nd of may. time now for panorama. tonight on panorama, the families without security. how landlords can call the shots. 2a hours after she attacked mps, we've got two types of tenants. theresa may now says she understands their frustration. we've got those that agree but she says it's time to end the uncertainty. with me, and ex—tenants. i hope we can all agree we are now at the moment of decision we're with britain's most controversial landlord, and i will make every effort as he evicts hundreds of people. to ensure we are able to leave fergus wilson's mass eviction with a deal and move of tenants to begin next week. our country forward. well, the headline is right. in some streets, every family could be out. we have no say in it whatsoever. no security. it's all perfectly legal,
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because private tenants have so little security. the whole housing system's completely dependent on private renting, and private renting is totally unfit for purpose. we show you one landlord's view of britain's broken housing system. the landlord rules, not the tenant. but i think you've worked that out, haven't you? fergus and judith wilson are inspecting their property empire. these are properties along here which we own. we've got all the houses up here. oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. they own around 300 properties across kent. do you remember that film gone with the wind? yes. that's the story here, isn't it? they've gone with the wind.
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yes, it is. fergus wilson is a controversial figure. romanian tenant there with a mercedes — nothing wrong with that. but now, the wilsons are retiring. they've had enough, after a number of court battles over their treatment of tenants. that's why all these people will be losing their homes, ‘cause we're withdrawing. good morning, mr wilson. good morning to you. so all their tenants could face eviction. we're going to have to sell up, which is terrible for people such as yourself. we were worried. i have to say we were very worried. hello, mr wilson, your landlord. how are you? inaudible i don't think he speaks english. the private rented sector has made the wilsons multi—millionaires.
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we bought this all off—plan. at one point, they owned almost 1,000 properties. ok, so how much is this worth? the uk's housing shortage means that, for many people, renting from private landlords is the only way to get a home. and, um... it'd rent out at £1,200 a month. so £1,200 a month? but basically, it's very difficult for young people now to get sufficient deposit to get going. and they tend to have been very, very upmarket people, who previously would have owned a house, but they can't get the mortgage together now. good for business. good for us, yes, but not so good for them. no. let's have a look upstairs. then there's three bedrooms. like many people who rent, the wilsons' tenants are nearly all on six—month contracts. when that contract is up, they can evict them for no reason, withjust two months‘ notice. if i lived here, would you boot me out? at the end of my tenancy, that would be me out,
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because you want to sell the house? well, essentially, yes, but we would probably do our very, very best to ensure that the tenant had decided to go naturally, and we would then not re—let it. as people have moved out, we haven't replaced, and we've held on to them, because it's far better to put it in an auction empty. right. so, it would be silly to throw people out. so you do a bit of everything. what we have been describing is what i call natural wastage. that's not booting people out but waiting till they go for promotion reasons, another job in another town, or whatever it is. that night, i visited a street that tells a different story. nobody here chose to leave. there are 1a properties here.
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the wilsons own seven. and here is a really good example of the way the wilsons are getting rid of their properties. they told me it was natural wastage, that's how they would end people's tenancies, but that's not what's happening here. let me show you around. over here, these two people, booted out. over here, two properties they owned. they've already gone, he goes next week. over here, another two properties, already gone, and in that corner, he's booted out as well. so seven of the 1a people in here have all been cleared out of the properties. all seven families were sent eviction notices. schoolteacher hannah has a young baby. she got her letter just before christmas. i was devastated, i was genuinely devastated, because i knew financially this was going to, like, cripple me for the next few months, between deposits, moving vans.
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couldn't have waited till after christmas, really? couldn't have waited to serve those? you've got millions in the bank, you're evicting people over christmas? they would say, look, we're 70. we just want to cash in our properties. they don't want to manage them anymore, so they want to sell them off. it's, that's a legitimate thing to do, isn't it? it's a legitimate thing to do, but i would query their use of the verb "manage", if i'm honest. not impressed? not impressed. two doors down, radoslaw is the only wilson tenant on the street still in his home. hi, i'm richard from panorama. how are you doing, you alright? yeah, yeah, come in. thank you very much. he leaves in a few days. we have to move out. it's terrible, terrible for us. what did the letter say? why, why did you have to move out? 0h, because — someone sell this house. you work? yes. you always pay the rent? yes. have you ever complained or given them problems? no. have they ever given you a warning, or complained at you? no. but they say you've got to go?
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yeah. everyone received a letter from this area, and everyone must go. radoslaw has found a new place, but the move will be expensive. is that how much you've got to pay when you move in? £2,690. blimey. where are you getting that money from? i saving, yeah? your savings? yeah, savings, and i borrow from my daughter £1,000. and son give me, my son working, my girlfriend, my girlfriend working, yeah. so money from all the family, just to get the next place, because you've been booted out of here. yeah. these short—notice, no—fault evictions, called section 215, are completely legal and very common. 22,000 ended up in
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the courts last year. but that figure is only a fraction of the real number who were forced out by section 21s. most tenants leave before it gets to court. the landlord can just suddenly decide that they can't stay in the property anymore, and the insecurity this creates, particularly for children, it's incredibly damaging. and it's one of the main reasons why we now have about 300,000 people homeless in this country. the leading cause of homelessness is the end of a private rented tenancy. the wilsons' mass eviction is controversial, but that's nothing new for them. they've often been accused of abusing their power as landlords. britain's most hated millionaire landlord vows to evict hundreds of tenants, after first banning "coloured" tenants, claiming they smell like curry. as well as accusations of racism, the wilsons have refused to take
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tenants on zero—hours contracts, single parents, and people on benefits. not everyone on housing benefit is a problem, but every problem is on housing benefit. the problem is they don't get paid enough in benefits from her majesty's government to pay the rent. the problem becomes a financial problem. the stories of people having to leave because they're on benefits always attract the headlines. then you are cast in the role of ruthless landlord, right? how does that feel? i think we're treated unfairly. i'm not all that bothered about it, my shoulders are quite broad. the only thing i think of is, if i go around to the local shop and i buy a loaf of bread, i can't turn round to say, "oh, yes, i'll have that, and i'll pay you next week for it." how many tenants do you think i have who say, "oh, no, i'm not going to pay all the rent today, because i'm using it for something else, but i expect to live in the house"? i have to pay the mortgage company the day they want that mortgage, not a month later, because i am
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having to go and pay this or pay that or pay something else. i don't think many people have a problem with evicting tenants who are not paying their rent. i think the problem comes if they are paying their rent, but they're in a category that they don't fit the bill. sometimes you have to look ahead, and you have to say, is there going to be a problem here, or a potential problem? let's get rid of the problem before it comes. so that is inherently kind of ruthless, isn't it? it may seem ruthless but it's also business. and it's a successful business. the number of people living in private rented in england has more than doubled in the last 20 years, to 10 million. but the private sector doesn't want everyone. four out of five landlords don't rent to people on benefits. fergus wilson says it's mortgage conditions that prevent him from renting to people on low incomes.
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everyone in any town is entitled to somewhere to live. but the problem is the mortgage company prohibits you from renting to people who haven't got a rent guarantee. you choose that mortgage company. you could go somewhere else. not at our age. what you have to understand, and your viewers have to understand, is that the private sector landlord does not have a duty of care. it is the local council has the duty of care. for the wilsons, it's just a business. but their assets are people's homes. here at grice close, near folkestone, the wilsons own every property, and they want to sell all 15 homes. practice nurse ellen lives
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here with her husband and two daughters. she's heard about the big sell—off. we have not had any official notification. all we know is what we've read online, what we've seen on the news. and in that moment, it was, "oh my goodness, what — what are we going to do now?" what is life like, if you're living in the rented sector? it's just uncertainty. you've got no security whatsoever. it doesn't matter what they say, our life depends on whether they sell or whether they stay. we have no say in it whatsoever, no security. the whole housing system's completely dependent on private renting. and private renting is totally unfit for purpose. of course, you know, lots of landlords are great. fergus is an extreme example, i think we should say. but, you know, he is a really good illustration of how easy it is to prevent people in private renting from being able to put down roots and just lead a good life.
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so we're down in grice close to look at 15 houses which have received some attention in the media, some good, some bad. the standard of the housing appears to me to be excellent. hello, how are you? fergus wilson says the tenants here don't have to worry about evictions. you're my tenant there, are you? yeah, yeah. nice to meet you. what's happening at the moment, we are negotiating with somebody to buy the whole 15 in... 0h, 0k. ..grice close, and retain the tenancies. that is why you have not received a notice to quit, which is what we call... right, 0k. ..a section 21. he says nobody will be forced out.
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but the family at number ten have already been told to go. they received an eviction notice the day after making a complaint. they say it's a revenge eviction. at first, we got confused why we got the eviction notice, and then we realised we sent that e—mail the day before, and we put two and two together. why do you think you're being evicted ? don't know. they complained because the wilsons put up the rent. now, they were happy to pay, as long as some minor repairs were made. but the wilsons evicted them for complaining. how did that make you feel?
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why? wayne and charlotte both work, but now they're having to move back in with his mum. they said to you, "we don't mind paying the rent but can you come and do these repairs?" and then you booted them out, section 21, and they were gone. now that's a revenge eviction, isn't it? no. i gave a section 21 because, from years of experience, if people complain about a rent increase one year, they complain again the following year,
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they complain the year after that. we'll have this again and again. it's a straightforward retaliatory eviction, isn't it? you didn't like the fact that he wanted repairs sorted out, so you saw him on the street. i took the decision, rightly or wrongly, you can go rabbiting on if you wish to about retaliation, but the truth of the matter is it was just an economic decision. let's deal with it now, rather than in the years to come. section 21s allow you to be pretty brutal, don't they? yes. i suppose the truthful answer is, "yes, i can do what i like." you don't want me to lie about it and dress it do you? no, but that is difficult if you're a tenant, isn't it? you can do what you like. the landlord rules, not the tenant. but i think you've worked that out, haven't you? tenants are supposed to be protected from revenge evictions, but the law only helps in very specific cases.
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it's estimated there are more than 115,000 revenge evictions a year. to be clear, most private landlords do a good job, and the average tenant stays in a property for four years. but the problem is, tenants are reliant on a landlord's goodwill and the availability of properties. we used to own about 25% of park farm. whatever we charge in park farm, whatever we buy for, whatever we sell for, we control the prices. basically, we've got two types of tenants, those that agree with me, and ex—tenants. thomas! mr wilson, your landlord. you remember me? yes. that's been done. 0k. fine. we won't bother you with it then. the wilsons say they've provided homes for more than 10,000 tenants
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over the years. did you tell me you came from ghana or kenya? i am from ghana. ghana! ghana. yeah, not kenya. nice having met you again. it's the second time i've met you, isn't it? yes. yes, that's right. we have got tenants here who've been here for many years and i'm assuming that they're happy with me as a landlord because if they're not, then you should vote with your feet and go. here we are now, we're about to turn in. the wilsons' rental empire started in 1991 with this buy—to—let property near maidstone. i'm not about to carry mrs wilson over the threshold. no. and i didn't when we first purchased it. but, come in now and let's see what we got for our money. well, the windows actually open. that's something. they bought it for £35,000. they're now selling it for ten times that.
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they've evicted a family so they can put it on the market. um, they've had to go so that we can sell the property. they've moved into a flat. very, very nice, charming people, but i rather fancy they would have preferred to have stayed here. yours at 2 million and 75. lot 28 now is bishopswood in kingsnorth, ashford. and nearly 30 years after that first house, the whole empire is up for sale. sitting down, is against you on the left. it's yours, sir, and your number, please. it's auction day and the wilsons are about to collect another million. they were offering 195. i've said, "no." and he is going back, and i've said, look, if they go over 200, i said we would consider it. so that's what he's looking at.
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well, it will have to be 200. sold. it's yours, sir. £134,000. how was that then, for you? good day, bad day? it was a good day for us, and it normally is a good day. we normally make a million each auction. so i suppose you've got to say, by any standards, that's a good day. third and final time, at £200,000, i'm selling. this is a landlord who has made his fortune by ruthlessly using his power. remember, he has said no tenants on benefits, no zero hours workers, and to use his words — "no coloureds". we' re not interested in the colour of the skin, the size or shape of the people, we are interested in the colour of money. you did say "no coloured people", didn't you ? you did send a letter saying, "no coloured people." we sent an e—mail, which is almost the same thing, and has the status of a letter, in fact. yeah. well, what happened was it was a bit of bantering, larking around.
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now, during the correspondence, you know, me larking around with the lad, i said to him, "just as well it wasn't some indians with curry." so i made this comment about we're not going to let two south asian people, and then it all got a wee bit confused. what mr wilson actually did was write to his letting agent to say, "no coloured people because of the curry smell at the end of the tenancy." 205. do you see why that, in part, will make people say, "he's a racist landlord, he doesn't want people in"? well, my reaction to that is very, very simple. that when we were taken to court over it, the people prosecuting me were the equalities and human rights commission, who made the point, "we are not saying mr wilson's racist. we are just saying he mustn't do it." the equalities and human rights commission won an injunction to stop his racial discrimination.
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done. it is not the only time the wilsons have been in court. this council block is where leanne and mike holmes live with their two children. they used to live in a wilson property, until their boiler stopped working in the middle of winter. richard. how are you doing? despite repeated complaints, it wasn't being fixed. it was during a cold snap of about minus seven. i spent my time just trying to keep my pregnant wife and my daughter warm. having your one—year—old daughter walk up to you, shivering, "mummy, i'm cold", nearly in tears, and there is absolutely nothing
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you can do about it. is it still quite emotional for you to talk about it now? yes. yes, it was... it was a horrible time in our life. i'm sorry. the dispute escalated and the family had to move out. they ended up spending 19 weeks living in one room in this homeless shelter. 0ur youngest daughter was born homeless. we were still at the unit when she was born. it might seem trivial because we're not there now, but you never get that back. that time when your baby's about to arrive is meant to be a joyous time and that was taken from us. and it gets worse. during the dispute, the council took the wilsons to court and they were ordered to pay mike and leanne £1200 compensation. shall i rock it for you? go. but, because a prosecution case against the wilsons was later dropped, they are now
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demanding that cash back. so the wilsons are suing leanne and mike, and have added almost £30,000 in legal costs to the bill. it's mortifying, to tell you the truth. 0ur solicitor, luckily, is pretty confident that we can get rid of it. but if we can't, i mean having to pay nearly £32,000 off, that we just simply haven't got, it's got the potential to ruin our entire future. so, we are fighting it and we're not letting them do this to us, and not to our kids. there's a family. their boiler goes. they end up losing their home because you asked them to leave, and then the compensation that you were told to pay, you then go to court to get that back off the family. yeah. that seems ruthless, fergus. firstly, there was a
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problem of no hot water. i've seen the e—mails. leanne is saying it is freezing. i am pregnant. i have a small child. well, hold on. it was to do with hot water, not freezing. she had heating, emergency heating, delivered by the agent. she had heating. that is why there was no issue over heating when we went to court. we all know boilers shouldn't break down, but the reality is they do. their boiler went, you boot them out of the house, and then you go after them for 30 grand. why did you do that? they have had some compensation, which was paid in error, if you like, unjustly, it was unjustly awarded. in your opinion. no, no, not in my opinion. it was unjustly awarded. the council actually withdrew the matter so, therefore, if they've withdrawn the matter, there's no conviction. it seems vindictive, fergus. they're the ones that you're pursuing. they're the ones that you're asking for £30,000. that will ruin their lives. pardon? £30,000 would ruin their lives. they haven't got that.
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well, i can't help that. well, why have you gone after them? all that they've done is complain about a boiler that didn't work. they've got the money, and common sense tells you they've got to pay it back. it's only a few weeks since we started filming the wilsons' property empire, but already lives are being changed. radoslaw and his son are moving out. no, it's not fair. i am still very angry. i believe, yeah, i stay in the next house long term. not like this. not like this house. that's it. wayne and charlotte are now living with his mum.
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fergus wilson is getting ready for his retirement, and britain's most controversial landlord is unapologetic. fergus wilson is getting ready for his retirement, and britain's most controversial landlord is unapologetic. if i had my life again, i would do it exactly the same. we like to help people, we've helped an awful lot of people. i think some of my critics tend to forget that. i smile sometimes when people say you shouldn't be selling all these houses because people have got nowhere to live.
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it was only a few weeks before they were shouting, "you've got too many houses, get rid of them." so, you can't please all of the people all of the time. sometimes i don't think i can please them any of the time. with more and more people renting, the market is stacked in the landlord's favour. there are many good landlords but they all can pick and choose tenants, take revenge if people complain, and evict families for no reason. for millions, the security of their home is at the mercy of their landlord.
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