The accidental landlord

Victoria Whitlock tries to keep calm as she hears about a stranger in her flat

Shopping keeps me grounded in times of crisis


The thing is, I shouldn't be here. I should be on a mini break somewhere exotic with no mobile phone reception, but the god Vulcan showed me - by grounding my flight - that there is no escape from the life of a landlord.

I'd only just begun to digest the news that my flight had been cancelled due to dust, when a tenant called in a bit of a flap to alert me to a potentially far more serious problem. Was I aware, she wanted to know, that there was a strange man living in my flat? I confessed that I didn't know there were any men living there. She had one of the rooms and the others were let to three other girls, or so I thought.

She told me that one of the girls was "hiding a man in her room". He'd been there for more than a week and had been spotted by the other tenants only once. "Who is he?" I asked. She didn't know. "Didn't you ask him?" She hadn't. She wanted me to call the other tenant and find out.

"Do you think she's kidnapped him?" I was only half joking as I realised at that point that I really don't know much about any of these tenants at all. This particular girl had seemed nice enough when she came to look at the room, and so I hadn't even asked her for a reference.

As the other tenant didn't think the man was being held under duress, I pointed out that I couldn't very well call up the girl in question and demand to know who she was keeping in her room.

I deduced he was probably a friend who was in London for a holiday. I suggested to the tenant she tactfully ask her flatmate how much longer her "guest" would be staying and to let her know directly if his presence was causing the other tenants any inconvenience.

Afterwards I considered sacrificing a couple of sheep to the gods in the hope that the volcano would pipe down long enough for me to escape these calls, but instead decided that as I couldn't go on holiday, and a friend who was over from New Zealand couldn't fly back home, we'd cheer ourselves up with a trip to Ikea.

My friend, who owns a couple of rental properties in Auckland, got ridiculously excited as we wended our way past sofas, tables and kitchens. Landlords in the UK were so lucky to be able to get, and I quote, "cheap yet stylish" furniture, she gushed while cramming cushions and curtains into a yellow sack.

She said she wanted to go and "check out the bidding". Bidding? Ah, she meant bedding, obviously, so I went off to find a lamp to replace one broken by a handyman a couple of weeks earlier.

When I met my friend at the check-out she was queuing with a floor lamp and an enormous grin on her face. "What. Is. That?" I asked, picturing her staggering on to the plane with it under her arm.

"It hasn't got a box so I'm gitting (sic) it half-price," she said excitedly. "It's a quarter of the cost of one in New Zealand."

I felt it prudent to point out that the lamp wouldn't fit into the overhead locker of any plane I'd ever flown in. However, she'd already decided she was going to air freight heaps of stuff for her rental properties back to New Zealand. If flights had never resumed, she'd bought enough stuff to make it worthwhile investing in a London property.

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

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