The accidental landlord

Our accidental landlord Victoria Whitlock goes on a campaign to educate tenants who don't know their rights
Some landlords are feeling a bit miffed about a new initiative by homelessness charity Shelter, because although the aim is to "out" rogue private landlords who harass tenants and rent out disgusting properties, good landlords think the campaign makes everyone with buy to-let property look bad.

Personally I'm all for getting rid of dodgy landlords, largely because the house next door to mine is owned by some of these rogues and it's a disgrace. The gutters are blocked, drainpipes are broken, the walls are damp, the window frames are peeling, the fence has collapsed into my garden…. Oooh, don't get me started.

Like many tenants, my neighbours appear woefully unaware of their rights. Having failed over the years to persuade the landlords to carry out repairs, they're struggling to maintain the property themselves with limited funds and zero DIY skills. When they finally got their hands on some cheap emulsion they haphazardly repainted the exterior and I now live next door to a vomityellow house that looks even worse than before.

A few years ago I contacted the landlords to point out that their gutters were overflowing and causing damp inside my house where the walls adjoin. I also pointed out that there was a foul smell at the rear of the property, which suggested the drains were blocked. These landlords, who own thousands of rented properties, told me the house was due for an overhaul within six months so I would just have to be patient.

I asked if the garden fence could be repaired in the meantime as there was no longer any boundary between my property and theirs. "Ha," they laughed. "Garden fences are at the bottom of our list of priorities."

I replaced the fence myself at a cost of about £500, but the landlords refused me permission to mend the gutters on their house to prevent damp getting into mine. "Be patient," I was told. "We'll get round to it."

Six months later, when nothing had been done, I called yet again to ask when the work would begin. "Be patient," they said again. "We'll do it in about a year."

One day the stench from the back of the house was so bad I went into the garden to investigate. Foul-smelling water and sheets of toilet paper were seeping underneath the (new) fence from the neighbouring patio. When I went round to alert the tenants to the fact that their sewer was overflowing, they just shrugged. "What can we do?" they said, "the whole house is a mess."

I called the landlords who blamed me for not reminding them about the smell from the blocked sewer. "You told me to be patient," I yelled. I threatened to call "Health and Safety" unless they sent someone round to unblock the sewer by 5pm that day. I've no idea if there is an organisation called "Health and Safety", or, indeed, whether it has a phone, but my threat did the trick and the sewer was repaired within a couple of hours.

Since then the gutters have also been replaced, but the tenants are still waiting for the drainpipes to be repaired, so rainwater continues to gush down the walls.

Shelter wants to see all local authorities offering landlord accreditation schemes so tenants can make sure they don't end up with landlords like these. There's just one problem — the landlord who owns the house next to mine IS the local authority — so maybe Shelter should look more carefully at social housing before it decides to have a go at the private rental sector.

Victoria Whitlock lets three properties in south London.

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