The accidental landlord

Victoria Whitlock gets tough with a tenant but is clobbered by a service charge
A tenant just gave me notice that he plans to vacate his room a few days before Christmas, which is a royal pain in the bum as I can’t imagine a worse time to try to re-let it. I don’t think there will be many tenants flat hunting in late December and besides, I’d much rather be Christmas shopping than showing people an empty room.

I put the kettle on while I stress about what to do. Several cups of tea and many phone calls to friends later, I’ve made up my mind. I know it’s a bit mean, but I call the tenant and tell him he’ll have to go two weeks earlier than he’d planned to give me time to re-let the room before Christmas.

He’s not happy, I can tell, but I’ve given him a month’s notice which is all I’m legally obliged to do. Still, I feel guilty and I have to remind myself that, although this lad is young enough to be my son, I’m not his mother. He has a mother, a very nice lady who paid his deposit for him, so I tell myself he can always go home to mummy for the few days that he has nowhere to live.

I soon stop worrying about my Rachman-like behaviour when a letter from Wandsworth council arrives informing me of plans to refurbish a lift in the block of flats where my rental property is located. My share of the bill will come to a whopping £1,700. I nearly choke on my breakfast. I didn’t even know there was a lift, let alone one that was going to cost a total of £130,000 to refurbish. What are they going to do, fit it with shag-pile carpet and a gilded door?

This is one of the downsides of owning an ex-local authority property where the council remains as the leaseholder and estate manager. You have little control over maintenance issues and hardly any say in how your service charge is spent. The service charge is higher on this property than on another rental flat where I own a share of the freehold and yet the council never responds to my requests to carry out repairs.

And now it seems there’s not enough money in the pot to repair a lift I didn’t know was there and which I’m pretty sure my tenants never use, but which the council has deemed it necessary to "refurbish". Priceless.

On the upside, the four-bedroom ex-local authority flat gives a better yield than my one-bedroom private flat, even though the latter is a far nicer property. The two flats cost roughly the same and yet the ex-local authority place gives a yield of about seven per cent, whereas I barely scrape five per cent on the other. There’s hardly any profit in either of them, as you can see, but the council flat is definitely the better of the two.

Wandsworth council has invited me to an open meeting to discuss the lift repairs but I don’t think I’ll waste my time going along to look at roller bearings and crankshafts. After all, the council owns more than half the flats in the block so I suppose it can do as it likes.

Nope, I plan to wait until the lift is repaired and then I’m going to get my money’s worth by going up and down in it every day. I might even have my lunch in there and I’ll suggest my tenants to do the same. As soon as we find it, that is.

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