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MARTEL MAXWELL: Neglectful Dundee landlords are unforgiveable

Martel has seen her fair share of squalid, mouldy properties in her TV career but she was horrified to read about conditions closer to home.

Martel Maxwell grimacing for the TV cameras inside a house with walls covered in green mould while filming for TV's Under the Hammer show.
Martel Maxwell inside another house of horrors on Homes Under the Hammer. Image: Martel Maxwell.

When it comes to mould, you name it, I’ve seen it.

Green mould, black mould, mossy, furry, purple mould.

In my seven years visiting hundreds of properties sold at auction on Homes Under The Hammer, there’s been a lot to see.

For the first six months I assumed no one had lived in these premises for years. Surely no one could live in such conditions.

It wasn’t just mould either. I’ve seen rain pouring through roofs; daylight poking through walls. And don’t get me started on the smells.

The writer Martel Maxwell next to a quote: "Taking someone's money in return for neglect? That's unforgivable."

In one London semi, foxes had made themselves at home. And I had to do many pieces to the camera as I retched between takes.

But I soon realised that, all too often, people had lived in these rotting houses. Often just weeks before.

Some were squatters but others paid rent. Actually handed over money to live in hell.

It happens all over the country and Dundee is no exception.

Mouldy home ‘unfit for human habitation’

Just ask Mark Ford.

He spoke to The Courier for a recent investigation into the state of rented properties in the city.

Mark Ford standing next to a window which is surrounded by black mould on the sill and walls.
Mark Ford and the black mouldy walls of his home in Dundee. Image: Mhairi Edwards/DCThomson

Mark said he felt like a ‘mink’ (for anyone reading the online version in Australia, the rough translation is a person with little money or hygiene) because he was living in a private flat with serious faults which, he claims, his property manager had failed to fix.

It was only after Dundee City Council intervened that his home was declared unfit for “human habitation” and the landlord started finally taking action to rectify the issues.

We’re not talking about a wonky washing machine or noisy pipes here. We’re talking about someone living with no running hot water and facing a wall of black mould when he tries to get to sleep.

Making a lovely home for someone else is a privilege not many are afforded

What is wrong with these landlords? People with enough money to buy an ‘extra’ property- and in some case several more – than their own homes.

In return for rent they surely (if not legally then morally, although it should be legally) have a duty of care to provide a safe environment in which to live.

And yet, they often get away with pretty much everything.

Martel Maxwell grimacing for the camera in front of an interior wall covered in green mould.
Martel filming in a mouldy house on Homes Under The Hammer.

It’s only fair and balanced to point out that tenants can be the problem too. There will be plenty of horror stories about unpaid rent and mistreatment of someone else’s property.

I see this squalor regularly – from food left for months to attract vermin to carpets thick with pet hair and urine. And sometimes, despite months of unpaid lodgings, tenants refuse to move out.

But taking someone’s money in return for neglect? That’s unforgivable.

Mouldy home let to tot’s death

Property problems aren’t just aesthetic either. They can be extremely serious.

Bannisters missing from stairs can lead to falls. And the tragic case of two-year-old Awaab Ishak, who was killed by mould in a social housing flat in Rochdale, proved it can be lethal.

And Mark is not alone in Dundee.

Toddler Awaab Ishak, smiling in a yellow shirt in a park.
Awaab Ishak died from a respiratory condition caused by his family’s mouldy rented home. Image: Family handout/PA.

A recent special investigation by The Courier found a growing number of private tenants across the city were living in homes with disrepair.

It also revealed a Dundee City Council scheme to root out bad landlords had failed to carry out a single random property inspection for years.

The only criticism ever put to me by fans of Hammer (generally there’s such warmth around the show) is that it can feature buyers who have multiple homes and are pricing first-time buyers out of the market.

That’s not my experience though.

Landlords and tenants can build better communities

Usually I see derelict houses, which few people would touch, being made into lovely homes to rent or buy. Often it’s the case that people are renovating their own dream home.

Marrtel Maxwell in stripey top, standing outside a red brick bungalow.
Martel on location for Homes under the Hammer.

They make a difference and take pride in the homes they create. And always, they tell me they renovate to a standard they would be happy to call their home.

The word community is overused and under-practised.

But a landlord can take responsibility for their own community by caring for their tenants.

And tenants who are looked after are more likely to respect their home and look after it all the more.

Making a lovely home for someone else is a privilege not many are afforded.

The minority of landlords whose moral compass is lacking need to get working on their properties and give their tenants the homes they deserve.