A major difficulty that those seeking to improve public health in the UK faced was the reluctance of landlords to improve their property.
When there was no legal obligation for landlords to improve their properties it was very unusual for improvements to be made voluntarily. Our group found that even when landlords were compelled to make improvements by the local authority they were extremely reluctant to comply.
Throughout the Corporation minutes we found reference to the issuing of notices for a range of improvements such as constructing drains and water closets. This seems to have been done systematically, street by street. These were clearly ignored in many cases, and were followed by further notices. Above you can see an example of the issuing of an order to construct water closets, notices having been issued and the parties listed having failed to carry out the work. The Corporation would then carry out the work and charge the costs to the landowner.
Landlords often fought to avoid these responsibilities. We found examples of landlords complaining that they did not need to build a water closet as the property already had a privy and one case where a water closet was constructed but was kept chained shut so that tenants were unable to use it. You can find out more about slum landlords by reading our case study featuring William Acklam, who owned a number of houses in Sunderland.