The accidental landlord

Armed with insect sprays, Victoria Whitlock confronts unwelcome guests
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A foreign student who rents a room in my four-bedroom flat is moving out in a couple of weeks but he’s leaving behind a nasty present. Bed bugs. Ugh. The tenant texted to say he was vacating the flat a week earlier than planned, adding at the bottom of the message, as if it had almost slipped his mind, “btw the flat’s got bed bugs”.

I thought these little critters died out halfway through the last century,
but apparently they’re enjoying a renaissance in the UK. And apparently a few of them have set up home in a bedroom in SW19.

None of the other tenants has spotted creepy crawlies of any description, but one of them tells me, conspiratorially, that all of the other flatmates - including the guy who is leaving — have had lots of guests sleeping on the living room floor, which is right next to the infected bedroom.

I’m surprised. Not that bed bugs may have come into the flat in someone’s bag or sheets or clothing. Apparently that’s quite common. No, I’m surprised that guests are sleeping in the living room. It’s tiny. There’s barely room to sit in there, let alone lie down. They must have gnomes for friends.

I check on the internet and stumble across a Rentokil site with a scary video about bed bugs which leaves me all itchy. I deduce from this that it is more than likely the bugs have come into the flat in someone’s suitcase.

As I’m watching the video I get another text from the departing tenant: “Please fumigate the flat, I’ve been bitten.” Rentokil’s website warns: “Bed bugs are very difficult to find and treat and for this reason we recommend that you do not try to get rid of a bed bug infestation without professional help.”

I call Wandsworth council’s pest control department for said professional help. It quotes me £279 for two treatments. The tenants will have to wash and bag all of their clothes first, clear out drawers and cupboards and empty the rooms of all personal belongings.

I text the flatmates to say they’ll have to pay — after all, the flat was bug-free when they moved in. The departing tenant responds immediately: “Don’t fumigate the flat. I don’t wanna pay.” Which leaves me in a tricky situation. I can’t force any of the tenants to cough up because I don’t know which one of them was responsible for bringing the bed bugs into the flat. They’ve all got separate tenancy agreements, so they’re not jointly responsible for any costs as they would be if they’d rented the whole flat together.

On the other hand, I can’t ignore the problem. Even if the tenants would rather risk being bitten in their sleep than fork out for treatment, it would be irresponsible of me to do nothing.

A letting agency on Twitter responds to my tweet for help — “@ffields” of Pimlico recommends I try the Rentokil sprays, available from chemists or DIY stores. The tweeter says they have used them and they have worked after two or three applications.

I decide to try this cheaper option first, especially as only one room in the flat appears to have a problem. If it doesn’t work I’ll just have to pay for the full fumigation service. I guess this is the downside of renting flats by the room. You get more rent but more costs and more hassle.

That night I’m home in time to tuck my daughter into bed. “Goodnight,” I start as usual, “sleep tight, don’t let the bed bugs… ugh.”

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