The accidental landlord

Tenants who swipe the batteries out of smoke alarms could end up as toast, warns exasperated London landlady Victoria Whitlock
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Annoying as it is to have to keep popping round to my flat to collect rent from tenants incapable of setting up a direct debit, at least this gives me an excuse to let myself in and have a good snoop - just to make sure everything is in order, you understand, not because I'm a nosy cow.

Usually, it's only little maintenance issues that I notice - drippy taps and the like - but recently I flipped when I discovered something more serious: someone was smoking in there.

It wasn't the stench of the cigarettes that bothered me, or the fact that the décor and the furnishings would deteriorate faster as a result of having a smoker in the flat. No, what freaked me out was the thought of a carelessly discarded cigarette causing a fire and all the tenants being burned alive.

Possibly a bit OTT, I know, and I admit I've been paranoid about house fires since setting my kitchen alight cooking a Christmas pud - I nearly choked on the fumes before I could get the back door open. The pudding survived, but it was a nasty shock.

Now, at parties, I loiter near the exit in case a cigarette is dropped and the place goes up. I'm a lot of fun.

I'm especially worried about a fire in my flat as the smoke alarms don't work. Now, before you all yell that I'm an irresponsible landlord, I should point out that I have installed fully functioning alarms - of course I have. But the tenants keep removing the batteries to stop the row kicking off every time they burn toast.

I've already replaced the batteries twice, but as soon as I've left, the tenants have taken them out again. It's like a game, but one that could have catastrophic consequences. You know, you're twice as likely to die in a house fire if you don't have a smoke alarm and yet only landlords with Houses of Multiple Occupancy are obliged to provide them. I think every home should have at least one.

So, when I smelled the cigarettes and spotted the smoke detectors had been raided of their batteries once again, I'm afraid I lost the plot. After telling the young smoker that it was absolutely forbidden to light up inside the flat, I ranted about the dual dangers of smoking in bed after disabling the smoke alarms. I think she stopped listening after a while, but she did promise to take her cigarettes out on to the balcony in future.

Before leaving I rummaged in the kitchen drawers, found the batteries to put back in the smoke alarms and left a note warning the tenants not to remove them on pain of death.

A few days later I stumbled on an article on the web that alerted me to the fact that not only is it risky for my tenants to smoke in the flat, it's illegal. The Smoke-free Regulations, which took effect in 2007, outlaw smoking in common areas of a shared property where the tenants rent individual rooms, rather than the whole place.

In these circumstances tenants can only smoke in their own bedrooms, but if the landlord forbids it then they'll be in breach of their agreement.

Concerned that it might be down to me to enforce the law, I printed out the regulations to stick up in the flat. When I entered the hallway I was greeted by the sight of the cover to the smoke alarm gaping open. The batteries were gone.

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