The accidental landlord: addicted to renting property

Victoria Whitlock helps a good friend by renting out a flat on her behalf - but it's not an entirely selfless deed
After a sluggish December when it seemed no one was in the mood to think about moving house, the London lettings market has picked up, I hear. Or: “It’s gone mental,” as one letting agent told me.

This is very good news, because I have two flats to re-let within the next few weeks — one of my own and another flat belonging to a friend. I was worried that the freezing nights would put viewers off, but letting agents tell me that January is the second busiest month of the year, after August.

My friend has been letting her three-bedroom flat in south London for a couple of years, ever since she moved north of the river to live with her boyfriend, but the stress of dealing with a rental property and a full-time job has nearly finished her off. So I’ve offered to let it for her.

Admittedly, my partner was incredulous when he heard the news. “Seriously?” he said. “Are you mad?” The thing is, my friend is still emotionally attached to the bachelorette pad where she lived happily for years, so she doesn’t want to hand it over to some anonymous letting agent who won’t necessarily give a damn who lives there. I totally get why she’s finding it hard to let go. When I first let my own house, I had a recurring nightmare that I’d walked in on the tenant sleeping in my bed.

When I moved back into my house 18 months later, I couldn’t bear to see any signs that someone else had been living there. Even the marks on the cupboard doors where a couple had attached childproof locks irritated me and I couldn’t bring myself to use any of the crockery they’d left behind. It all went to the charity shop, even the nice bits that I might have chosen myself. The fact they had belonged to someone else who had been living in my house made me squeamish.

Mind you, my partner doesn’t believe I’m letting my friend’s flat just to help her out. “You’re addicted to property,” he says, and he’s right — I love poking around other people’s homes. Some people have a 60-a-day nicotine habit, my vice is property porn. “Hello, my name is Victoria and I’m a house-aholic.”

Fortunately, my friend’s flat should be an easy let — she’s just spent a fortune putting in a new kitchen and bathroom, it’s in a desirable location, close to good schools, excellent transport links and it’s big enough to suit families or sharers but cosy and affordable enough for a couple. Should be a breeze compared to my ex-local authority flat on an estate where people occasionally get shot.

I reckon we’ll find a tenant in no time and looking after the property should be easy, but I won’t be trying to help my friend with her tax return after the muddle I’ve created with my own. Several readers have pointed out that I was wrong last week when I said residential landlords can’t get income tax relief on the VAT element of any expenditure. I have checked with Arthur Weller of Property Tax Specialist ( and they were right — I was wrong.

I have no doubt that the clerk at HMRC who gave me the incorrect information in the first place is now working in the post room. But my sincere apologies to those who, like me, now have to go back and re-do their tax returns (you have 12 months to change any you’ve already submitted). The good news is, we’ll all end up with smaller tax bills.

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