The accidental landlord

Victoria Whitlock vows to keep an eye out for the menace of dangerous tenants
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There are enough scare stories in the press this week to make amateur landlords like me want to sell up and retire to a caravan park.

Not only do we have the threat of a 22 per cent hike in capital gains tax (thanks Mr Cameron) and new rules regarding multi-occupancy premises to grapple with, but we’ve also got to be on the look out for a woman who is roaming South London seizing rental properties and trashing them.

Rosa Chimuka, who also answers to the names Emily Mapera, Rose Maetune and Emma Magonna, poses as a housewife and mum-of-three from southern Africa. She’s allegedly rented five family homes in southeast London, promptly turned them into bedsits, sublet them and pocketed the cash while refusing to pay the landlords a penny.

'I've never felt threatened or even nervous, but now it occurs to me that perhaps I should be more cautious'

According to reports in the Daily Mail, she had gone through a letting agency every time. One of the advantages of using an agency is that they are supposed to check tenants’ references, but somehow this woman has repeatedly slipped through the net.

I’m not surprised. Once, when a tenant stopped paying her rent and refused to take my phone calls, I asked the letting agency for contact details for the place where she worked. The telephone number they gave me turned out to be fake; the company didn’t exist, something the agency would have discovered if it had bothered to check her references, as promised, before giving her the keys to the flat.

Far, far more unnerving though were the reports of the sentencing last week of a tenant who stabbed his landlord to death to avoid paying him £600 in rent arrears. Michal Kalinowski, originally from Poland, murdered Peter Berkley when he went to collect the cash.

The story will have sent a shiver down the spine of many other landlords, especially women. Like poor Mr Berkley I let rooms in a multi-occupancy flat, often to young men. I frequently skip along there all alone, occasionally in the evening, to collect rent or to show a new tenant around. I have never felt threatened or even slightly nervous, but now it occurs to me that perhaps I should be more cautious. After all, I’m sure Mr Berkley, a  43-year-old man, never felt vulnerable either.

Comments on the internet following the trial suggest landlords have fewer problems with private tenants than with those on housing benefit, especially since Local Housing Authorities now pay rent directly to tenants, not to landlords.

One landlord claimed that a DSS tenant who had spent his rent money punched him when he asked for the cash. He wrote: “This is the type of risk faced on a daily basis by landlords providing accommodation to young people who have no hope and no future and just hang out in their flats doing drink and drugs.”

All scary stuff, but I don’t think you can stereotype tenants. Mr Berkley’s murderer was a Polish man who had come to the UKto find work. I rent rooms to young manual workers from Eastern Europeand I can tell you, hand on heart, they are the best. They pay their rent on time, keep the flat spotless and never complain. If the washing machine floods they mend it, if a tap spring a leak they sort it out without bothering me.

However, in future I’ll think twice about going to see tenants on my own, especially if it’s likely to be a tricky meeting, and I would urge all other landlords, especially women, to do the same. Oh, and watch out for Rose, Emily or Emma.

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

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