The accidental landlord

Victoria Whitlock feels the heartache when her tenants' relationship hits the buffers
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Tut… just as I predicted, the loved-up young couple who moved into my one-bedroom flat six months ago have split up. Of course neither of them wants to stay on in the flat so they've given me just three weeks' notice.

I'm sympathetic and tell them I'll do my best to find new tenants but remind them that they signed a 12-month contract, so if I can't re-let the flat in such a short time they'll still have to cover the rent.

The woman tells me, coolly, that the lease has a six-month break clause, which lets them off the hook. It doesn't. I pointed out to them when they signed the contract that it was for a full year, with no break.

"Well my copy has a break clause," she tells me, "You wrote it on in pencil." For a split second I think she's joking, but no, she's deadly serious. Someone wrote it on. No worries, I think, the flat will be easy to re-let. I call a letting agent to ask them to market it asap.

I ring the agent a week later to find out how the viewings are going. "We haven't done any," she says. "Your tenant won't let us in."

The agent explains that the tenant, who is a doctor, has told her she's working nights and sleeping in the daytime so viewings can only take place after 8pm. The agent knocks off at 7pm.

To make matters worse, a quick call to my bank reveals that the tenant and her boyfriend skipped last month's rent. I'm furious, but not surprised. Ever since they moved into the flat the woman has behaved like a petulant child and told one lie after another.

She and her (now) ex-boyfriend had only been living there for two weeks when they broke a radiator and wrenched a light fitting from the wall (which she denied was their fault); once she woke me at 1am to complain that she was locked out and demanded I drove over with the spare keys, and she had a tantrum over the phone at 10pm — repeated at 7am the next day — when the shower went on the blink.

After taking some deep breaths I call her to ask, very nicely, if she will let the agent carry out some viewings this Saturday.

"Actually no, I'm working nights for the next two weeks," she replies tartly. "And I don't appreciate the fact that you've just woken me up. Don't call me again." I think my head will explode. I tell her, through gritted teeth, that there is a clause in both copies of the lease that says she must give letting agents access to the property during the last two months of her tenancy. "Well my lawyer tells me I don't have to and if you ring again I'll sue you for harassment."

This woman is not only unreasonable but also unhinged. I'm glad I'm only her landlord, not her patient.

Unlike my tenant I don't have a lawyer I can call my own but I ask my son's friend's mother, who is a solicitor, for some advice. She tells me I'm right to insist on agents gaining access to the property, but she says it's unlikely I'll be able to deduct re-letting fees or rent for any void period from the tenants' deposit.

Apparently it doesn't matter what is written in the contract, I have to be "reasonable" and that means allowing tenants to walk away from their obligations because they've had a tiff. Next time I let a flat to a couple I'll insist that they've had relationship counselling first.

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

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