The accidental landlord: making a mess of your house is child's play for tenants

Victoria Whitlock has learned from bitter experience to keep anything breakable a suitably safe distance away from her renters
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You know how you dash around the house frantically moving fragile and valuable items out of the way before your friends arrive with their toddlers, who are guaranteed to break anything that's not made of concrete? Yeah well, you need to do the same for tenants. If you're letting your own home, I would urge you to remove every item of any monetary or sentimental value before they move in.

When I let my house it didn't occur to me to take down the pictures from the walls. The tenant thought it was a good idea to shove them in the loft, where they got smashed. She tried to make amends by replacing the frames (with nasty plastic ones), but the prints were damaged beyond repair.

They weren't exactly works of art, otherwise I probably wouldn't have left them in the house, but I liked them and one or two were of sentimental value and couldn't be replaced. I didn't feel I could ask the tenant to pay for the damage because, really, it was my fault for leaving something so personal behind. I should have realised she wasn't a fan of Sex Pistols posters.

Mum's neighbour made the more expensive mistake of leaving a large — and very valuable —Turkish rug in the living room of her house when she let it to move in with her boyfriend.

She'd wanted to take it with her but decided it was too big for her new house. Her tenants decided it was too big for the old one, so they gave it a trim.

Evidently the living room door kept catching on the corner of the rug, which tended to curl up, so the crazy people lopped a couple of inches off the end. Personally, I think Mum's neighbour should have been grateful they hadn't hacked down the door instead.

Unfortunately, she couldn't claim for the damaged rug on her landlord insurance policy. You can insure against most of life's eventualities, crashing your car, falling ill, losing your purse — even dying, which strikes me as odd as that's fairly inevitable — but I haven't found an insurance policy that will cover you for a tenant's utter stupidity.

Some insurance policies will cover for accidental damage, some even cover malicious damage, but this was neither. It was just plain daft.

A landlord would be within their rights to deduct a portion of the cost of the rug from the tenant's deposit, assuming they had a professional inventory, signed by both themselves and the tenant, which detailed the condition of the rug when they moved in.

However, a landlord can't force the tenant to pay the full cost of replacing an item they damage. They have to take into consideration its age and how much longer it could have been expected to last when working out how much the tenant should pay. So, say this woman had paid £600 for the rug five years earlier and she would have expected to get another five years' wear out of it, the most she could expect would be £300.

As mum's neighbour hadn't bothered with an inventory and the tenants argued the rug was old and worthless before they took the scissors to it, she got nothing but a frayed carpet.

If you are letting your home, I'd stick anything valuable into a rented storage unit. You'll pay from about £25-£35 a month for a space large enough for up to 10 medium boxes, less south of the river or outside the M25. It might seem an unnecessary expense, but think of your tenants as destructive two year olds, then treat your possessions accordingly.

Victoria Whitlock lets three properties in south London

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