The accidental landlord

Agatha Christie eat your heart out. You won't solve this one
My flat has been burgled. At least, the lady who owns the flat above mine calls to tell me that she is absolutely sure there's been a break-in because the flower pots have been knocked off the sill outside my first-floor bay window, which is still slightly open. And now she thinks about it, she's sure she did hear a commotion the previous night.

A young couple rent the flat but the lady is too afraid to go and see if they're home. She wants to call the police instead. I ask her to hang on until I've spoken to the tenants. Unfortunately they're not answering their mobiles so I have little choice but to schlep over there to take care of things myself.

The timing is bad. I'm supposed to be working and I'm due at my son's school in a little over an hour to see him play Hamlet, but I tell myself that work can wait as this is an emergency. Of course my son will never forgive me - I've told him once too often that "mummy was dealing with important stuff " - but, oh well, I'll just have to foot the bill for his therapy.

When I get to the flat my heart sinks at the sight of shards of terracotta, clods of soil and tubers of begonias strewn across the grass immediately below the living room window. It does indeed look like a break-in.

My hand is shaking as I put the key into the lock and let myself in. I've never been burgled before but I have heard horror stories from friends who have, so I'm expecting to see smashed furniture, drawers tipped over, bins emptied onto beds, food smeared across walls... and worse.

The flat is tidy. Nothing appears to have been disturbed and it doesn't look as if anything has been taken. The plasma TV is still there, there's a Bose iPod player on the sideboard next to a pile of loose change and the wardrobes are still stuffed with clothes, shoes and handbags.

"What about passports and jewellery?" asks the lady from upstairs, who has appeared. "That's what they will have been looking for." She might be right (and I suspect she's enjoying this a little) so I call the tenants again. Finally one of them picks up.

Anxious not to cause undue alarm I tell her that it looks as if someone might have broken into the flat, but quickly reassure her that nothing seems to have been taken. "No, it won't have," she says nonchalantly. "We haven't been burgled."

She explains that her boyfriend locked himself out the day before so borrowed ladders from the basement flat to let himself in through the living room window. I'm relieved but there are two things wrong here. Why was the window left open in the first place? And why didn't her boyfriend clear up the mess he'd made? I suggest to the tenant she might want to lock the window in future, after all, this area has one of the highest burglary rates in the country. "Then how will my boyfriend get in when he leaves his keys behind?" she asks, somewhat testily. She then tells me not to disturb her at work again and hangs up.

I clear up the mess and race to my son's school, arriving in the hall only a few minutes late. The play has started but my son spots me and I get a big grin. So that's therapy averted for a few more years then.

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