The accidental landlord

Victoria Whitlock reconsiders her all-inclusive rent deals as her tenants' energy bills start to burn a hole in her pocket
Was it a little rash of me, I wonder, to include energy bills in the rent on my four-bedroom flat as, since it’s turned chilly again, the tenants have cranked up the central heating at my expense. I made the rent all-inclusive because the rooms are let individually and tenants don’t want to bother sharing out the bills among themselves. Plus, it made the rent more attractive a year ago when properties were hard to let.

But I’m kicking myself now that I didn’t think to put a limit on the gas and electricity bills, especially since I’ve discovered that one of the tenants works from home, another is a student (do they EVER go to lectures?) and the third has just lost his job, so they’re all hanging around the flat pretty much the whole time with the heating on high.

Also, I’ve learned that a couple of them have installed mini fridges in their rooms (why, I have no idea) and they’ve all got their own TVs and laptops. I know none of these small appliances is draining the National Grid on its own, but it all adds up, doesn’t it?

I also pay for the TV licence but I recently discovered that it only covers the set in the living room. As all the tenants have individual tenancy agreements for their rooms, each of them needs a separate TV licence. If they were all on the same tenancy agreement, they would only need one for the whole flat, which is all that they have got.

As the tenancy agreements state that the rent is all-inclusive I wonder whether I’m responsible for buying them each a TV licence? As that would cost me an extra £727 a year, I decide not. After all, I only provided one TV so I reckon I should only be responsible for one licence.

I’ll write to the tenants warning them to make sure they each have a licence for their individual sets, or else they’ll have to drag their TVs into the living room if they get a suspicious knock at the front door. The phone bill has also been creeping up over the past few months. A while ago I signed up to TalkTalk’s global evening and weekend package and for about £20 a month the tenants get wi-fi and free evening and weekend phone calls to landlines pretty much worldwide.

The service has proved useful in attracting new tenants, who all seem to expect internet access. I used to worry that viewers would be put off by the lack of a dishwasher or microwave, but tenants seem happy to overlook these omissions as long as the flat has broadband. One of the first questions they ask, almost without fail, is: “Have you got wi-fi?”

The free phone service has also been a good selling point, especially as many of my tenants have come from Australia, South Africa and eastern Europe. It’s great for them to be able to call home for free. However, my latest tenants often make calls to mobiles and international calls of longer than an hour, which aren’t free, so I get billed.

Trouble is, the calls only cost a small amount each so, although it’s all adding up and eating into my tiny profit, it would be just too petty of me to go round and ask each of the tenants to cough up their share. No, first I’ll stick a piggy bank next to the phone with a list of charges for non-inclusive calls to see whether they take the hint.

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