Frustrated by the amount of time it was taking to find new tenants for my two-bedroom flat, I decided to advertise it on Airbnb to earn some extra cash while it was empty. Little did I know that my flirtation with the holiday lettings market would end with a visit from the police.
I received a booking late on a Friday evening from a family who were planning to arrive the very next afternoon. Excitedly, I rushed around on Saturday morning buying pillows, sheet, towels, coat hangers and pots and pans.
The fridge and food cupboards got stocked with essentials and I even put some posh hand-wash, shower gel and shampoo in the bathroom to make sure the family had all they needed. By 3.30pm, the agreed check-in time, I was satisfied that my flat was looking tip-top, but when the family arrived, more than two hours late, the reaction was not what I was expecting.
Rudely ignoring the hand I was holding out in greeting, the dad barged past me, sniffed the air dramatically and growled: "We can't stay here." His wife entered, clamped her hand over her nose and shook her head. "It smells so bad," she cried.
I was bewildered. The strongest thing I could smell was the takeaway curry they'd brought with them and left in the hallway. "You should have told us you had decorated," the woman wailed, "we would never have come. The smell of paint is dangerous for our children." Ah yes, there was a whiff of paint. All the walls had been given a fresh coat of emulsion the previous week, but I hadn't realised it would bother anyone and I certainly didn't realise it could be harmful to children.
Nevertheless, I said they could cancel their booking with a full refund. "We're cancelling, we want our money back, " the man said, then shoved his kids into one of the bedrooms and snapped at me to turn the heating up. I was baffled, why weren't they leaving?
He said they were going to eat their curry first and they might leave that evening or stay just one night. "You can go now, just tell me where to leave the key," he barked. Then he ordered his wife to take the curry into the bedroom.
"Oh please don't eat in the there," I said, worried they would drop food on the newly laid carpet. His wife flew at me, screeching: "We'll eat where we like, what does it matter to you?" She waved her arms: "Go, leave us alone." I was alarmed, and angry. I knew I had slipped up not mentioning the recent redecoration, but I thought they were overreacting.
I told them if they weren't going to stay and pay, they must leave immediately so that I could lock up behind them. The man laughed in my face. "We'll go when we like," he said. "Now give me the key."
When I refused, things went from bad to awful. He dialled 999 and told the operator I was throwing their bags on to the streets, even though I hadn't touched anything, and nor had I threatened to do so. Two officers arrived within 15 minutes. I was sheepish, but they assured me I wasn't the first landlord to have a run-in with holiday lettings guests.
Within minutes the police officers had persuaded the family to leave, swiftly ending what was turning into an entertaining drama for the neighbours.
I have used Airbnb successfully in the past, but this experience taught me that it's important to be specific in your property description. Plus, it's also important to vet your guests thoroughly before accepting a reservation.
- Victoria Whitlock lets four properties in south London. To contact Victoria with your ideas and views, tweet @vicwhitlock