The accidental landlord: don’t let car parking get you in a spot

When the parking gets difficult, Victoria Whitlock devises a cunning plan to fool the local traffic warden
There must be easier places to be a landlord than London, where just trying to find a parking space when visiting your properties can be a major headache. Sounds trivial, but I’d suggest you think about parking issues before you invest in a buy-to-let.

I have a flat on a red route and the nearest place to pay and display is half a mile away. There are a couple of free parking spaces much closer, for stays of up to 20 minutes, but they’re almost always taken. There’s also a loading bay on the red route outside a row of shops, but you can only park there if you’re actually loading something.

One day last week I arranged to meet a gas engineer at my flat to carry out the annual safety check. Normally I’d go on my moped, which I can park on the pavement, but it was so cold I would have got brain-freeze, so I took the car instead.

When I drove up to the flat I was relieved to see, oh joy of joys, that one of the free parking bays was empty so I zoomed in. Seconds later a man in a hard hat tapped on the window and suggested I should move as workmen were lobbing heavy objects from the top of an adjacent building.

I got out of the car, peered up at the workmen above and asked the hard hat chap how likely it was that my car would be hit. He looked at me as if I needed to be sectioned. Very likely, he said. Still I hesitated, weighing up the cost of a dent to the roof of the car versus the hassle of finding somewhere else to park.

I moved the car to the pay and display half a mile away, where the damn machine swallowed my three pounds without fulfilling its side of the deal and issuing a ticket. I didn’t have any more coins so I sprinted quarter of a mile to the nearest shop where I bought a packet of sweets to get change from a £5 note, and rushed back to the car just in time to see a traffic warden preparing to slap me with a ticket.

He let me off the fine — I think it helped that I clutched my chest, as if I was about to have a heart attack — but said I’d have to pay at another meter. But where? “Along the road, turn right, turn left, go straight, left again, second right and there’s a meter a mile up the hill.” At least, I think that’s what he said, but he was mumbling through his helmet.

Anyway, there was no time to find another meter — I was already late for my appointment — so instead I stuck the car in the loading bay close to the flat, then had an anxious wait for the gas engineer. He rang after 10 minutes to say he couldn’t find anywhere to park.

On leaving the flat, I spotted a traffic warden striding towards my car so I grabbed an empty box that was poking out of a wheelie bin in someone’s front garden and pretended to stagger under its weight towards them. “Just loading,” I shouted, as I opened the car boot and, just to be extra-convincing, I groaned as I “heaved” the box inside.

It worked and I avoided yet another fine, but I can’t guarantee the “empty box trick” will fool traffic wardens everywhere. Which is why I say, check out the parking options before investing in a property.

* Victoria Whitlock lets three properties in south London

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