The accidental landlord: when keys are stolen, who gets locked into a costly situation?

Victoria Whitlock finds that landlord insurance isn't always the solution when you've got a security nightmare
An alarming message one morning from a new tenant: during a party in London the previous evening, her bag was stolen with her keys to the flat inside. Thankfully, she wasn't locked out that night — one of her three flatmates let her in — but she wanted to know if I could replace her keys.

However, as her stolen bag also held her wallet, which in turn contained so many different forms of ID that I felt it entirely possible the thieves could easily work out where she lived and use the keys to burgle the flat, I told her the locks would have to be changed.

The poor girl was in a bit of a flap so I arranged to meet a local locksmith at the flat, which involved me sneaking out of work a bit early — but I left my cardigan on the back of my chair so no one realised I'd gone (clever, eh?). Anyone juggling property and paid employment needs tricks like this up their sleeves.

Unfortunately, it wasn't just the two front door keys that were stolen but also the key to the balcony and the one to the girl's bedroom door too, which meant a lot of locks had to be changed. Also, we had to have five sets of keys cut for the two exterior doors — one for each of the tenants and spares for me. Both the tenant and I gulped when we saw the bill.

I had hoped the cost would be covered by my landlord insurance, however, after rummaging through filing cabinets and drawers for the policy (during which time I found a camera which I thought I'd lost on holiday) I discovered it was less use than a chocolate teapot.

It would only cover the cost of replacing the locks if the keys had been stolen from me, not from the tenant, and only if they'd been pinched from my house or office. I guess this is because it's insurance for the landlord, not the tenant.

I didn't relish telling the tenant she would have to pay the cost of replacing the locks, unless she had taken out any insurance of her own that might cover it. She hadn't. Not surprisingly, she was pretty gutted.

I felt bad for the girl, but even if my insurance had covered the cost of the locks, the excess was so high it would hardly have been worth making a claim. This is the problem with insurance, especially the cheaper policies (like mine) — it's only worth having in the event of a real disaster, such as a fire.

Still, you need it because you never know when disaster might strike. Total Landlord Insurance, a specialist in this field, told me they once had a claim from a landlord whose tenant had driven a scooter through the patio doors of his property. Fortunately for him, he had malicious damage cover, too. I don't, as it happens, but my tenants don't own scooters so I think I'll be alright.

Total Landlord Insurance also had a claim from a landlord after a pigeon flew into a chimney pot and knocked it through a neighbour's roof. Like I said, you never know when (and how) disaster might strike.

Another landlord tried to claim for a flea infestation in a mattress, presumably thinking that this would be covered by the "FLEA" clause in his insurance. Unfortunately for him, this actually refers to damage caused by Fire, Lightning, Explosion and Aircraft — but I can see how the confusion arose.

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