The Accidental Landlord

Victoria Whitlock advises a businesslike approach to letting - or there'll be trouble The Accidental Landlord
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It doesn't pay to be a Mother

A survey by the National Landlords Association (NLA) has revealed that what tenants are looking for in a landlord is "a mothering and empathetic nature". What they want is a stand-in mummy.

I'm sure they do. Then they can behave like truculent teenagers and trample all over us, their surrogate mums and dads.

On releasing the survey, the NLA's chairman, David Salusbury, said: "The role of the landlord is evolving and it can no longer be just about business if you want to succeed. There now has to be a level of emotional investment on the part of both landlord and tenant."

What rot. Sorry if I sound a little harsh here, but I've learnt from bitter experience that the "let's-be-friendsand-get-along-famously" approach to renting properties doesn't work.

Adopt a "this is business" attitude towards tenants from the outset and you're fine; make like you're their friend and they'll walk all over you.

Take Alexia, a bubbly twentysomething Kiwi who rented a room in one of my flats, which she shared with three other tenants. We used to chat, swap life stories and we got along great - until she told me her boyfriend was moving in.

When I told her the flat wasn't big enough for five people she had a teenage tantrum, then sulked, refusing to respond to my emails or take my calls. I offered to free her from her tenancy agreement so she could find somewhere with her man, but there was no response.

Her stubborn silence continued for weeks, then one day while she was at work I had to go into the flat to let a maintenance man replace the TV aerial. We had to go into Alexia's room because the cable passed through her window - and who should we find in bed but her boyfriend. It turned out he had moved in the previous month.

Knowing that she was busted, Alexia did what every teenager would do when caught red-handed, she tried to switch the blame and sent me a text lambasting me for entering her bedroom and invading her privacy. Then there was Sofia, a 25-year-old Greek designer who rented a room in my house. Shy and emotional, she would often burst into tears in the kitchen over some slight trauma… very soon I was sitting up until the early hours giving her advice on boyfriends, work and friendships.

One day she asked if an Aussie friend could move in while he was househunting. I said no, she cried, I said yes. Of course I said yes, because I felt like every parent feels when they deny a child something they want.

The next Saturday my husband came home from a run to find her Aussie friend in the living room with his feet on the coffee table watching Sky TV - and three of his friends drinking cans of lager and standing in our kitchen.

Mr alusbury of the NLA says: "[Tenants] expect to invest in a landlord who will understand their life pressures, offer emotional support and practical support and, in some cases, become a friend or 'stand-in' mother."

Well, I've got my hands full with two children of my own. I'm not going to mother any more of my tenants and I would urge landlords to learn from my many mistakes. And don't take this survey too seriously - after all, number five on the NLA's list of "Dream Celebrity Landlords" is Bob the Builder. Be fair, of course; be friendly, sure.

But be firm and, above all, be professional with tenants. You're NOT their mummy. They are NOT your kids. You are their landlord.

Victoria Whitlock is a mother of two who lets three properties in south London

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