The accidental landlord

While on holiday and in a French hospital, Victoria Whitlock discovers that no good deed goes unpunished
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Sitting in a French hospital with my 10-year-old, who had knocked himself out in a skiing accident, I thought my day couldn’t get any worse. But I had reckoned without my tenants...

One of them texted while I was waiting for the results of a CT scan and asked me to call her asap. Of course, I didn’t ring — whatever her problem was, it couldn’t be as bad as my son suffering brain damage.

A couple of hours later, while I was still waiting in A&E, she rang and, when I didn’t answer, left a message. She apologised for disturbing me during my holiday, but said she needed to talk to me.

I really didn’t need to talk to her so I switched off my mobile. I didn’t feel bad — last time this tenant called me with “an emergency” while I was on holiday it was to tell me that one her flatmates had trodden crisps into the carpet.

It wasn’t until later that night, after finding out that my son had escaped with nothing worse than mild concussion and a broken thumb, that I recalled the phone message.

'This tenant's previous "emergency" was to tell me that a flatmate had trodden crisps into the carpet'

To say that I was tired and emotional at that point would be an understatement, but still I thought that it would be a good time to return the tenant’s call.

She informed me, oh so casually, that although she was supposed to be moving out in a couple of days, her new flat wasn’t ready, so she would be staying on for “another week or two”.

Bloody hell! This tenant had pleaded with me only two weeks earlier to re-let her room at short notice so she wouldn’t have to pay a full month’s rent. Then, after I had bust a gut on her behalf, she had the cheek to say that she’d be staying a bit longer, thanks very much.

“You can’t stay,” I said. “Sorry. The new tenant is waiting to move in, it’s too late.”

She persisted: “Let me call him and ask him to wait a couple more weeks. I’m sure he’ll understand.”

He might have done, but I didn’t care to ask. Remember, I had just spent several hours fretting that I might have to spoon-feed my son for the rest of my life.

“NO!” I snapped. “Go, leave, shoo, adios.”

Still the tenant didn’t get the message. She explained that a letting agency had let her down. It wasn’t her fault and she had nowhere to live. I felt (a little bit) sorry for her, but I’m not the south London branch of Shelter.

Eventually she said she’d stay with a friend but asked if she could leave her stuff in my flat. I agreed she could leave a suitcase as long as it wasn’t in anyone’s way.

Later, I went to check out the flat just a few hours before the new guy moved in and discovered she’d crammed the wardrobe full of boxes, leaving just enough room to hang a T-shirt.

Not only that, but there were more boxes under the bed, bags stuffed under the sofa and chairs, two big suitcases in the kitchen cupboard and her wreck of a bike was gathering rust on the balcony.

I called her to ask her to come and pick up her stuff, but she didn’t answer. Perhaps she was having a bad day and didn’t want to talk to an irate landlord.

Mother-of-two Victoria Whitlock lets three properties in south London.

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