The accidental landlord

A jilted boyfriend can't cover the rent, so Victoria Whitlock has to
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There’s just one week to go until the warring couple occupying my one-bedroom flat move out and, although I’ll be relieved to see them go, I’m stressing that I’ll be left with an empty property and an expensive mortgage. I’ve been unable to re-let the place because the woman is flatly refusing to give the letting agent access.

Then, out of the blue, I get a call from the male tenant offering me a small olive branch. He apologises for his estranged girlfriend’s unreasonable behaviour, telling me the strain of their failed relationship sent her ‘a bit crazy’. He says that as she moved out unexpectedly early over the weekend he is happy for agents to start showing people around.

Also, he would like to stay on in the flat until it is re-let. Great, but there’s a catch. He can’t afford the rent. "And what about the rent arrears?" I ask. He confesses he can’t afford to pay off the £1,100 he and his ex-girlfriend already owe me.

What a cheek! His ex, a well-paid doctor, has slipped off owing me money and now this guy, who has a good job as some sort of engineer, wants to stay on in the flat while wriggling out of his legal obligation to pay the full rent and the arrears. It’s not like this couple have fallen on hard times, they’ve simply fallen out and they’re expecting me to pay the price of their failed relationship.

I ask the tenant how much he can afford to pay. He offers me half the rent until the flat is re-let and suggests I take his share of the arrears out of the deposit. Hmmm, I suppose something is better than nothing. "Okay, it’s a deal," I sigh.

A chat with John Midgley, a partner at Londonlaw firm Seddons convinces me I’ve done the right thing. "Sometimes it’s not worth the time and the expense taking tenants to court, especially over relatively small amounts," he tells me. "Your legal fees might be more than the rent you’d recover."

I call the letting agent and urge her to start pushing the flat as hard as she can, but tell her not to show it to any couples. "Well, at least not any touchy-feely ones," I tell her. "Only married, worn-in types who won’t split up in six months."

Thankfully she finds me a new tenant straight away, a single guy with a job in the City. "Does he have a girlfriend?" I ask the letting agent, but I sense she thinks I’m a little paranoid.

The old tenant agrees to move out immediately but, surprise surprise, he says he can’t afford to have the place professionally cleaned, as per the tenancy agreement, so we agree that he can clean it himself. "I’ll do a good job," he promises.

When I go to hand back the remainder of his deposit my heart sinks. Only if you looked at the flat through squinty eyes would you consider it to be even ‘man clean’. There’s a tide mark around the bath, limescale on the taps, cobwebs on the walls and grease on the extractor fan. The inside of the washing machine is moldy, the fridge door is dented and one of the kitchen cupboard doors is hanging off.

I didn’t have an inventory drawn up so I can’t prove he’s responsible for the dirt and damage, and even if I did I suppose he’d argue about it. I hand the guy his cash, roll up my sleeves - and pray that the next tenant is a good ‘un.

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

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