The accidental landlord

Victoria Whitlock seeks the perfect heating contract – and a man who never sleeps
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Another week, another faulty boiler. I’ve only got three properties and yet this is the second boiler to spring a leak in three months. Fortunately, I spot the drip when I pop into the flat to pick up the monthly rent and my lovely heating engineer comes out straight away.

It’s not a serious problem — just a loose pipe — but as the boiler is now two years old and no longer under the manufacturer’s guarantee, I’m wondering if I should take out an extended warranty. However, my subsequent lengthy research leads me to the conclusion that it’s probably not worth the expense.

As a landlord, what I want is a comprehensive maintenance contract that covers all faults and offers a 24-hour call-out service, but that doesn’t seem to be an option. I can buy an extended warranty that covers faults but doesn’t offer an emergency service, or cheaper insurance that promises a swift response, but only covers total breakdowns.

My boiler manufacturer recommends Domestic & General’s boiler protection, which quotes £11 a month for boiler and central heating cover. That isn’t too bad when you think that a single repair could cost hundreds of pounds, but D&G takes up to five days to get an engineer out.

Five days is a long time to leave tenants with a dodgy boiler. My tenants have just asked for a rent reduction after a few days without an internet connection, so God knows what they’d do if they had to go almost a week without hot water.

Also, if I’d waited five days for someone to repair this latest leak, it could have caused a lot of damage. Regular readers of this column will remember that after Christmas I had to replace a boiler when a leak had gone unnoticed for so long that the damage was irreversible.

British Gas HomeCare cover is better, I think, as it says its engineers aim to deal with faults within 24 hours, but this is not a guarantee, and at £14 a month it’s quite pricey.

The AA offers boiler and central heating breakdown insurance for £8.99 a month (£7.99 for existing AA members), and it is the only one I find that offers a same-day call-out. However, this policy only kicks in when the boiler conks out totally. It wouldn’t have covered my leak.

HomeServe offers insurance at a discount (but the offer only stands until tomorrow) of £8.99 a month, which includes problems with drains, plumbing, dripping taps, leaking pipes, pest infestations, roof and security emergencies, as well as your central heating. However, there is a £50 excess for each call-out and, like the AA option, it doesn’t cover non-emergencies.

HomeServe also offers specific landlord cover, which provides all of the above, plus an annual boiler service and gas safety inspection for £31.25 a month, but without the excess. There’s a minimum 10 per cent discount for landlords with two or more properties.

None of these is perfect. I’m so frustrated that I can’t find a maintenance contract that also provides emergency cover.

After a lie down in a darkened room I decide my best option is to stick with my trusty heating engineer, who I can rely on to arrive quickly in an emergency. Sure, I might have a hefty bill to pay when things go wrong, but I won’t have to shell out upfront for a service I might never need.

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