The accidental landlord

Victoria Whitlock is steaming when she discovers that her poor paperwork and a false economy have left her with a useless boiler
Boilers always wait until the coldest night of the year before deciding to leak, explode or throw a steaming fit. This, of course, is to the delight of heating engineers who are keen to remind you - as they quadruple their rates - that you really should have had it serviced in the spring. And so it was that a boiler packed up in one of my rental flats during what was surely the coldest week on record.

My tenant called to say the hot water and heating weren't working when she returned after a long Christmas holiday and when she checked the boiler there was a pool of water in the cabinet. She said she had been "fiddling about with it", but to no avail.

At first I wasn't too worried - to be honest I was a little smug - because I had taken out an annual guarantee with the boiler manufacturer which promised an engineer would be dispatched as soon as possible. When I called the manufacturer it confirmed that I did indeed have a warranty... but I'd cancelled it more than a year ago.

I checked and sure enough I'd cancelled the wrong warranty when I'd had an old boiler removed from another property. Obviously I'd got the two mixed up, so now I was without cover for the malfunctioning boiler and had also been paying for one I no longer possessed. Damn.

The manufacturer wouldn't send an engineer to carry out the repair because it was too busy handling calls from sensible customers with valid contracts, but recommended a local heating engineer.

Intriguingly, when I called the number the woman initially sounded doubtful she could fit me in. But when I explained the boiler was in a rental property her tone swiftly changed. "Ahh, you're a landlord are you?" Kerching! "That'll be £295 for the labour, plus parts, plus VAT," she snapped. "No way," I spluttered. "Yes way," was the curt response.

It was only then that I remembered I knew a lovely heating engineer, the guy who usually carries out my annual gas safety checks and who has never, as far as I'm aware, ripped me off. I rang and to my enormous relief he said he would come the next day.

But this story has an unhappy ending. When we got to the flat we found that water was, quite literally, pouring from the boiler. A quick inspection revealed a washer had perished, allowing water to escape which had corroded some of the key parts and soaked the electrics. As the tenant had been away from the flat for a few weeks the leak had gone unnoticed, until it was too late.

I didn't need the heating engineer to tell me the fault was fatal, I knew the boiler was beyond repair. I spent a good 10 minutes kicking myself for not having had the boiler serviced regularly, and buying a cheap one in the first place.

As the heating engineer put it, it was the old adage - you get what you pay for when it comes to boilers and, in my case, I'd paid for one with a lifespan of considerably less than five years.

On the upside, the heating engineer managed to fit a super-duper new boiler within a couple of days, which I'd call a bit of a result at this time of year. It cost a painful £1,640 - so top of my list of new year resolutions is to get all of my boilers serviced straight away.

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