The accidental landlord: faulty tap is a hot issue

Victoria Whitlock is wet behind the ears when it comes to DIY – and finds that sometimes there’s no substitute for common sense
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Here’s some good advice: remember to turn off the water supply before fiddling with a faulty tap, especially if it’s the hot one. And while we’re on the subject of health and safety, make sure your tenants are out of harm’s reach before attempting any DIY — and that includes tampering with taps.

Of course, I’m slamming the stable door after the horse has bolted. As you’ve probably guessed, I didn’t turn off the water supply before attempting to repair the tap, or warn my tenant to get out of the way. To be fair, I wasn’t expecting the handle to come off in my hand — and how was I to know the water pressure was strong enough to spurt into her face?

When the tenant reported earlier in the day that the tap had “seized up”, I thought it would be easy to repair it myself. No need to call a plumber, I’ve done a DIY course — it’s probably a bit of limescale. I popped round, the tenant demonstrated that the tap would open only slightly, so I tried to force it further, which is when the handle burst off. Now you know why I’m the “accidental landlord”. A scalding fountain of water shot out in three directions, hitting us both. Fortunately I knew where the stopcock was — unfortunately it was under the kitchen sink. I gritted my teeth and held a towel over the end of the tap while the tenant struggled to turn off the water. Should she turn it to the left or the right? Was I sure it was righty-tighty not loosey-lefty, because it wouldn’t budge? Turning it left didn’t stop the water so it must be the right, I reasoned. By the time the flow finally began to ebb, my hand was threatening to blister.

I suppose it’s better that it was my hand and not the tenant’s. She might have tried to sue me for causing injury through stupidity, and I’m not sure my public liability insurance would have covered the claim, given that I caused the accident!

Anyway, the tenant was wet and shaken but not seriously hurt and my hand, although swollen, didn’t require amputation. And it wasn’t nearly as painful as the discovery that the tap was beyond repair and would have to be replaced — by a bona fide plumber — at a cost of almost £150. That made me cry.

All in all, it’s not been a good week. After the tap was sorted the tenant pointed out that one of the bedroom doors was hanging off its hinges. How it got in that state I don’t know, but I wasn’t able to screw it back in place and had to call out a handyman to rehang the door by shifting the hinges. Ker-ching.

Then the tenant reported that the kitchen strip light had broken. She’d replaced the bulb but it still wasn’t working. Now, there were was no way I was going to play around with electrics so I called a friendly sparky, who was kind enough to point out that I probably just needed to replace the screw-in starter.

This time I approached the job with great care. I turned off the electricity (see, I’m not totally daft), put on some rubber gloves (not sure why), told the tenant to stand back, and carefully replaced the starter, which was as easy as switching a bulb. And, ta-dah, one working strip light.

Victoria Whitlock lets three properties in south London

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