Perhaps I accidentally gave my tenants the impression that I have magical powers because they seem to think that I can — and should — solve all their household problems, regardless of whether or not I am the cause.
A year into his tenancy, one guy, a foreigner, asked me if I could get rid of "all the little flies" that had recently appeared in the flat, as if I could prevent insects from flying in through the windows.
He showed me one of the "little flies" in the bedroom. It was a tiny moth. I told him to buy some moth traps but he seemed to think I ought to have provided these. I wonder if he would have liked me to provide wasp spray and maybe some ant powder, too? Some other tenants called me in a panic when they spotted a mouse in the kitchen. The presence of said mouse wasn't surprising, given that the tenants were in the habit of leaving the remains of last night's dinner and that morning's breakfast on the kitchen table every day when they went to work. Far be it from me to criticise anyone — I'm so slovenly myself that my son asked if we were having guests when I got out the vacuum — but if tenants' poor hygiene attracts vermin... well, I'm not the Pied Piper.
I got Rentokil Pest Control round to make sure there were no holes in the walls where mice could get into the property, but as the critters can squeeze through a gap no wider than a Biro, we had to explain to the tenants that it would be hard to keep mice out if they left food for them.
I have been asked to clear a blocked lavatory after one of the tenants in a shared flat dropped a loo roll down the pan and thought the sensible thing to do was to try to flush it away. When that failed, instead of rolling up their sleeves and fishing it out, they got out their mobile and called me. Another tenant called me in a rage after she had blocked the sewer with nappy wipes and her household waste was spilling all over the patio. I arranged for Dyno-Rod to sort out the mess, but she had to pay.
And the latest SOS? A couple of tenants complained the drain in their shower was blocked, which they were sure was down to "dodgy plumbing". When I went to take a look, I fished out almost an entire head of long blonde hair from the plughole. The women couldn't understand why it hadn't "just flushed away".
A rock-solid, water-tight tenancy agreement should spell out the landlord's and tenant's duties so that each party is clear about their responsibilities. In particular, it should make it clear to tenants that if they do anything to block the pipes, including the sink, bath, shower and loo, they will have to pick up the bill.
However, clearly many of them don't bother to read the fine print of the tenancy agreement, so now I have made a list of "dos and don'ts" to hand to them when they move in. It includes: don't scrape food down the sink — that's what the bin is for — ditto oil from frying pans; clear out the plughole after every shower, and don't leave a food trail for mice unless you want them as pets.
Some tenants might not like being told how to behave, especially in their own homes, but a polite note from a landlord at the start of the tenancy is better, I think, than an irate tenant, an irritable landlord and an expensive repair bill.
Victoria Whitlock lets three properties in south London. To contact Victoria with your ideas and views, tweet @vicwhitlock.
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