The accidental landlord

Victoria Whitlock tackles a Speakergate scandal and learns a very tough lesson
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For three exhausting weeks I had a succession of enthusiastic letting agents from a well-known London agency striding through my house, dragging decidedly less enthusiastic prospective tenants around the place.

One day an agent in skyscraper heels came wobbling over the threshold, without a tenant in tow. "I'm new to the job so I've just popped along to familiarise myself with your stunning property," she cooed.

Weary with traipsing up and down, I left her to look around on her own. Big mistake. I was in the living room when I heard a loud bang from the master bedroom. "It's all right," shouted the agent, "don't worry!" Seconds later she came scurrying downstairs, mouthed a goodbye and staggered out.

I went straight to the bedroom to inspect. Everything seemed fine until I spotted, to my horror, a sickle-shaped gash down the side of one of a pair of floor-standing speakers. There was also a tear to the fabric at the front. I concluded that the agent had toppled off her stilettos and knocked it into the hearth.

I called the branch manager to complain about the damage and the fact that her colleague had skedaddled from the house without 'fessing up to the accident. I thought it unlikely that she had failed to spot the gash and the tear.

'It's scary that homeowners hand over keys to agents who may not be insured for damage they might cause'

The manager promised to call me back when she had spoken to the agent. I rang again the following day when I hadn't heard anything, only to be told by the manager that the agent denied all knowledge of the accident and that, anyway, the agency would not be held responsible for any damage. "You can always claim for a new speaker on your own contents insurance," she told me, a little too glibly for my liking.

Unfortunately, my insurer refused to pay out because my cover didn't include accidental damage. I went back to the lettings agency but they claimed they weren't insured for accidental damage either. "We aren't insured for the sorts of things that should be covered on a householder's insurance," they said.

I was gobsmacked. I mean, isn't it a little scary to think that homeowners regularly hand over their keys to estate agents, giving them the freedom to come and go as they please, and yet agents are not necessarily insured for any damage they might cause? Would anyone ever allow agents in if they realised this was the case?

I went in person to the agency's office and kicked up a fuss. I was impressively angry and told them to pay up. I threw phrases like "public liability insurance" and "duty of care" into the conversation without really knowing whether these were things agents were supposed to have, but feeling very strongly that right was on my side. Eventually we agreed a compromise: the agency would knock the cost of replacing the speaker off its fees, if it managed to let the property.

The agency, fortunately, did find a new tenant; unfortunately, the manager conveniently forgot her promise to reduce the fees. When I called to query her bill she developed amnesia and referred me to her head office, where I had to start the argument all over again.

The Speakergate scandal has still not been resolved, so I would urge anyone selling or letting their property to make sure that any agents they use are adequately insured for accidental damage. Oh, and insist they take off their high heels at the door.

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

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