The accidental landlord: if you get tough, don’t change your mind

After a softly, softly approach chasing rent, Victoria Whitlock confronts a bemused tenant with a barbecue fork
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Today I’m seriously questioning whether it’s possible to be a landlord and retain your dignity and self-respect. This week I’ve lost both and, possibly, my sanity, too.

I’d arranged to let a room to a foreign student for the summer and we had agreed, via email, that he would pay the whole two months’ rent up front when he arrived. However, when he turned up he didn’t have a penny on him. Now, I’m not an unreasonable person, I know how hard it can be to sort out your finances when you arrive in a foreign country, so I agreed that he could move in and pay after a few days.

For almost a week there was no sign of the cash, or the tenant, but finally he shoots me an email saying that he’s got half the cash, but, after talking to the other tenants in the flat he’s decided that he won’t pay the rest until next month. “They pay monthly so I’ll do the same,” he says.

No he bloody won’t, I think.

Unlike the other tenants, this guy hasn’t paid a deposit. I arrange to go and see him to collect one half of the rent and explain to him, again, why he must pay the remainder now.

I really, really don’t want a confrontation with him because in these stressful situations my voice has just two settings — squeaky or hysterical — neither of which is good, so I try to persuade my partner to go instead. He says he’s too busy, which I know means “you’ve made your bed, now go lie in it”.

When I get there, the tenant isn’t home. Now I’m fed up. I call him but he doesn’t answer his mobile. Now I’m irate. I’ll just have to leave him a note, but I don’t have any paper handy. In the kitchen, I find some junk mail addressed to me so I scrawl on the back of the envelope “I will return at 5pm to collect your rent, please have it ready.”

Only after I’ve slipped the note under the door does it occur to me that writing on the back of an old envelope could look unprofessional. Also, the fact that I’ve written the note in capitals might appear a bit aggressive, like I’m shouting.

There’s only one thing for it. I have to retrieve the note, but the door is locked and I’ve shoved it too far into the room to reach with my fingers. I need a long, slim object to pull it out.

Rummaging around in the kitchen drawer I find what looks like a long barbecue fork — I’ve no idea why there should be such a thing in the flat, there’s no barbecue, but anyway, it might do the trick.

Kneeling by the door I slide the fork underneath, but before I manage to retrieve the envelope I hear someone enter the flat.

It’s one of the other tenants. I leap up to confront him, barbecue fork still in my hand. This is not a good look, I realise. Some might even think it looks suspicious.

The tenant gives me a stare that says “mad lady” as I walk, cringing, to the kitchen where I pop the fork back in the drawer before making what I hope is a dignified exit.

Later that evening I get a text from the new guy telling me he had read “the rude note”.

He says he had “an emergency” earlier but he has got all the cash for me now. I tell my partner he’ll have to go and get it while I go and lie in a dark room.

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