The accidental landlord

Victoria Whitlock becomes suspicious of a tenant's elusive visitor
Here I go again, trying to let a vacant room in a four-bedroom property. This is always tricky because not many renters are comfortable moving into a place with people they don’t know, but it has been made even harder this time by the presence of a phantom flatmate.

Two of the existing tenants tell me they’ve seen this woman coming and going but no one knows who she is. “I bumped into her on my way to the bathroom, but when I said ‘hello’ she shot down the stairs,” one of them told me. “She’s been here for weeks and weeks,” the other tenant complains. “She won’t speak to any of us and we haven’t a clue who she is.”

My husband spotted the woman when he went to mend a shower rail. Apparently unaware that there was someone else in the flat, she emerged from one of the bedrooms wearing only a skimpy towel. When she saw my husband she ducked back into the room and slammed the door. Of course the tenants are entitled to have occasional guests staying in their rooms and I don’t expect them to tell me when they have visitors, but what’s odd about this woman is no one has owned up to inviting her.

It’s not hard to work out that she must be staying with the third tenant, as she comes and goes from his bedroom, but when I called him to ask who she was he said he did have a guest, but only for a few days. “Now she’s gone,” he said, firmly. Now he’s gone on holiday, but this woman is still around and he’s no longer answering my calls or texts. I suspect he is sub-letting his room, which isn’t allowed under the terms of his lease. It’s not unusual for tenants to try to sneak an extra person into the flat though — earlier this year I had to turf out a guy who had moved into one of the rooms with his girlfriend without letting me know and I had to speak to another girl whose boyfriend outstayed his welcome.

When a visitor becomes more of a resident than a guest I think I’m entitled to ask them to leave, but in this case it’s awkward because the tenant has gone AWOL - and his guest is elusive. I caught her coming in one day just as I’d finished showing a prospective tenant the empty room, but when I asked her who she was she said: “I no speak English,” and ran up the stairs.

The viewer must have been even more confused than I was by the exchange in the hallway, which probably explains why he didn’t take the room he’d just been enthusing over. One afternoon I had almost finished giving another viewer a tour of the property, which I thought was empty, when we heard the lavatory flush. “So who’s that then?” the guy wanted to know. We loitered outside the bathroom for a while but no one appeared. Not surprisingly he didn’t take the room either.

As I write I am still in the ludicrous position of not being able to give anyone who enquires about the vacant room an entirely honest answer to the question: “Who will I be sharing with?” I suspect that if I say: “Two guys, a girl and a woman with no name who nobody knows,” I won’t have much luck filling it. “You should get the police to evict her,” advises a friend, though I’m starting to think ghostbusters might be the answer.

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