They say that changing your job and moving house are two of the most stressful experiences a person can go through in life. Touch wood it has been quite a while since I’ve had to change my job, but the reason for what has been by and large radio silence from this neck of the woods over the last few weeks is that I have indeed been occupied doing the latter.
A week and a half of becoming comfortingly familiar with the smell of cardboard, the satisfying sound of the reel of tape being pulled apart, the relentless swearing as you discover you have lost the scissors YET AGAIN only to realise that you are in fact sitting on them and finally observing that the labelling of said boxes is the only time when expressions such as “bedroom misc” and “bathroom wets” form a standard part of the English language.
No matter how much you survey your living space and visualise it all fitting into two or three well packed cartons, fate always determines that the packing process will take far longer than it actually does and that there will inevitably be certain combinations of items that just will not go together. I experienced this myself last month when dismantling the hi-fi, taking five goes to find a combination of black units that would all sit comfortably in a box together and enable the delicate mechanism of the turntable to rest gently on the top.
This house move was a particularly significant one as it marked for me and the other half a rather belated transition to that particular stage of adulthood known as “property ownership”. For the very last time I waved goodbye to what a former on air colleague used to cheerfully term “rented accommodation” and greeted instead to a world where I can do whatever I want to my interior and walls without reference to anyone else, even if I do now have to take on the burden of responsibility for fixing whatever happens to go wrong.
I’ve been renting rooms and apartments since the age of 23, so that’s 14 years of landlords and landladies of varying quality almost to the week. I think this calls for some kind of retrospective of places what I have lived in.
Frizley Gardens, Frizinghall, Bradford. September 1996 – October 1997
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My first post-university foray into the world of independent adult living, paying £40 per week to a lady called Helen to be her live in lodger in the two bedroom flat that she owned. Found after I responded to an ad she’d placed in the local newspaper, I moved in after a two month delay whilst she did a favour for the daughter of a friend of hers. In certain ways we got along like a house on fire, she was glad of the company and security, let me borrow her car from time to time, invited me to parties at the local rugby club of which she was a member – that kind of thing. Gradually though I began to fall victim to a whole series of neuroses and obsessions that she had, and as time wore on it became clear that whilst she was happy to share her flat with someone, that someone had to conform at all times to a very strict set of rules. Thus Friday evening was cleaning evening, and woe betide me if I didn’t leave the bathroom in the exact sparkling condition she demanded. The kitchen was to be scrubbed spotlessly clean after serving oneself even just a glass of water and to cap it all she was one of those serial re-arrangers with the design and layout of the living room switched around at roughly two month intervals. Having inherited a sum of money from her mother, she spent a good part of the year going travelling so I often had blissful periods of sole occupancy of the flat, the only downside being the short notice I had of her return each time and the urgent need to scrub the entire place clean to her exacting standards.
It reached a stage where I couldn’t relax at home in the afternoon for fear that the door would open and she would find a new way to find fault. After suffering another family bereavement, her emotional state deteriorated and after a screaming row over a saucepan that had apparently not been cleaned to her standards I knew for my own sanity I had to get out of there. A quick scan of the local newspaper threw up an advert for a room in a house just around the corner, and it was there I found one of my favourite ever homes from homes.
Beamsley Road, Shipley. October 1997 – September 2000
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Andy was the landlord’s name. A rather scarily obese 50 year old single man who owned a vast three storey four bedroom house. At the time I met him he was cheerfully long-term unemployed, his ever changing array of tenants providing him with more than enough income to pay the mortgage and allow him to feed the army of cats that patrolled the house. What was clearly a large redundancy payoff from his last job had paid for the house to be done up a treat, so it had a modern kitchen, sparkling new bathroom with whirlpool bath, double glazing throughout and even a gym down in the basement. It was like living in a fun hostel. In marked contrast to my previous residence, cleaning was something left to the neighbour who popped around once a week. Dishes left in the sink were magically washed, bills were all paid by our host and he was happy for cable TV to be piped to all the bedrooms. My attic room was spacious enough for a large double bed (to the joy of many girlfriends), and all the belongings I began to amass – as well as being a playpark for three of the house cats who immediately adopted me as their best friend and spent most weekends napping on my bed.
Best of all however was the company my new friend kept. For reasons I was never able to quite figure out, he was best mates with pretty much ever stripper in Bradford. As a result the kitchen was a daily parade of glamorous women who would pop round for a cup of tea and a chat. I grew a new circle of fascinating new friends with the special added bonus that I had seen all of them naked at one time or another. Many of them had been lodgers themselves on occasions in the past, and the local taxi firm whom I engaged to convey me to work on the radio at 5am every morning were quite shocked that I had ended up there. “You live here?” asked my driver one morning shortly after I had moved, “this no possible, this house with girls with big tits.”
Over the course of three years I had an entertaining array of different housemates. First there was Paul, the local TA Sergeant who had custody of his young son once a month but who spent the rest of the time seducing the strippers, there was Colin the trainee accountant from Glasgow whose need for conversation led to him spending most evenings in everyone else’s room in turn to drone on about his day and who I later discovered was the scariest driver on the planet. There was Katy the croupier from the local casino whose working hours dovetailed with mine in an entertaining way that led to us often fighting for control of the bathroom at 4am – her as she was going to bed and me as I was just getting up. Finally there was Dave, an affable and rather heavily built engineering wizard whose big claim to fame was an appearance with two university friends on Robot Wars which we all gathered round to watch with glee, only to see their robot blow up after 30 seconds. He had a girlfriend of similar stature who would visit from time to time, one visit managing to scar me for life after I lay in the bath one Sunday morning and was forced to listen to them noisily copulating on the ceiling above.
Truly I could have lived there forever, and it was only the call of the big city and a job-enforced move to London that meant I reluctantly packed up my possessions (now numbering enough to be loaded into a rented Transit) and headed off for a brand new life in the capital.
Greenfield Road, Tottenham. October 2000 – June 2003
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This will scarcely come as a shock to anyone who has gone through the experience, but for the uninitiated let me tell you that finding somewhere to live in London is the most painfully soul-destroying experience on the planet – particularly when you are a complete newcomer to the city and are groping your way in the dark about which are the good and bad areas to try to set up home. A week before my new job was set to start I came down to stay with my sister and battled against the odds as I scoured the pages of Loot every day for shared houses that were within my budget and in places where I was less likely to die. I spent several days touring cupboard rooms in grotty garden flats, walked for 20 minutes from railway stations to knock at a door only to find the room had been taken five minutes earlier, and spent one particularly enjoyable evening in the company of a group of people in a shared mansion in West Hampstead only to spend the next 24 hours feeling miserable as they never called back to invite me to move in with them.
Still homeless, I started my first week in a new job sleeping on the sofa of Cheeseford only to discover that all good things come to those who wait – an advert on the Tuesday took me to the South Tottenham terrace and the front room bedroom that would be my first London home. They say your first London rental should only ever be a short term one, but I stayed there for three years, content with the reasonable rent, short walk from Seven Sisters tube and the relaxed quiet atmosphere in the house. Flamboyant intellectual Marina (a PHD, as she was forever reminding us) owned the house but only seemed to spent brief periods there, either living on the other side of town on work assignments or researching overseas for the books she was forever writing. The only constant housemate in all this time was Sudhir whose means of support during his studies for a sound engineering qualification were never clear to me but who was always happy to share his pizza when he accidentally ordered too much.
The idea of living in Tottenham seemed to horrify many people I spoke to, but I embraced it with a combination of wide-eyed innocence and genuine emotion. On my first Saturday evening there I wandered down West Green Road, almost enchanted by the array of barber shops operating as social hubs, foodstores and greengrocers with exotic looking produce spilling out onto the streets, fried chicken shops competing side by side with all-night bagel vendors and what seemed like an endless parade of Greek and Turkish diners. Maybe if I had known to look harder I would have spotted the barely disguised drug dens, the emaciated looking prostitutes and sensed the air of suspicion that my innocent looking white face always prompted. Quite simply though I had little reason to care. I had a home, I had an exciting new life and I had gone from a small boy at a tiny farm village school to someone who took the tube to work every day.
Greenfield Road may well be the only residence that I actually outgrew. My salary increased as my career in London media progressed. I could afford bigger and better and it was time to take the step to the area I’d coveted for so long.
Barrier Point Road (I), Royal Docks. June 2003 – August 2007
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Living in a posh Docklands flat had always been my dream. Even on my very first day of househunting in the capital I’d phoned up in response to an advert from a man advertising a docklands flatshare. I took his blunt response that the place had been taken already as a signal that I was not yet worthy of such a status symbol and considered it no further. In the intervening time I would sometimes spend weekends riding the DLR out to exotic sounding places such as Mudchute and Prince Regent and stare wistfully at the rows of buildings that it seemed I would never quite be able to enter.
My casual search for new digs, one that I was embarking upon with no pressing need to, led me to make a posting on a flatmate matching website. Amongst the many invitations from people needing warm bodies to help pay the rent came one from a lady who had a room near the Thames Barrier that she thought I might be a perfect match for. A bedroom in a barely three year old luxury block not far from Canning Town, it was glamour far beyond my wildest dreams. I had a balcony, a private bathroom, a sparkling new kitchen and even an onsite gym. I remember rushing away from the viewing and texting Mila, at that time due to come and stay for a fortnight that summer, telling her “I have found us an absolute palace”.
To start with this flat was indeed perfection. A glamorous location, newly developed transport links, gorgeous furnishings and a laid back flatmate who would sit on the balcony and strum on his guitar whilst I sat and surfed the net in the evening. I would catch myself walking up the drive and joyfully muttering “I live HERE” in wonderment. I appeared to have reached the stage in life where I was “allowed” to life in such a palace.
Then in the new year things changed a little. The aforementioned flatmate got a new job elsewhere and moved out, leaving me with the run of the place for a few weeks. At that exact time, the lady who would one day become my wife had made the decision to up sticks from her home country and come to live here with me. Not necessarily wanting a change of scenery, I tentatively asked the landlady if I could move my lady into the room with me, offering to pay more rent for what was theoretically more wear and tear on the place. She happily agreed, and even assured me that I didn’t have to do any work finding a new tenant for the spare room, as she would do the looking. To cover the change in rent she sent me a new tenancy agreement to run from the start of the year and all seemed well.
Weeks rolled by with no sign of any new resident forthcoming. Then one day in early spring a letter arrived from the landlady. She advised she was struggling to let the second room on the basis that it would be sharing with a couple and had decided to start from scratch. On that basis she was giving us notice to leave, no hard feelings, just circumstances. Sad though we were to leave The Palace (as it had now been Christened), we accepted that this was just the way things had to be. As luck would have it a newspaper ad led us to a flat in the same building into which we could move with a couple of weeks to spare.
It became clear that my landlady (still to remain nameless) wasn’t all that skilled at this property rental thing after all, and had little idea of the way to behave towards tenants departing on good terms. The agreement we had signed was a boilerplate document clearly sourced online and contained a great many quotes about how the property was to be left at the end, with all manner of industrial level cleaning of carpets, curtains, bathrooms and furniture mandated to take place. In a sense this was a little unfair as I had arrived at the property as a replacement tenant under an existing agreement. It was only circumstances that meant I was leaving as the sole resident, yet under the letter of the agreement I was required to polish the flat up to a standard far above that in which I had found it (when I arrived for example, the toilet had not been cleaned for months, the living room was cluttered with unwanted furniture and I never did receive the promised wardrobe for my room, making do with a hastily provided steel clothes rail). Nonetheless I had until this point always been a good tenant and so made sure that the things that did need cleaning were indeed scrubbed to perfection. My mother and I spent an entire weekend polishing every fitting in the house and a professional cleaner was invited along to steam clean the cream sofa as per instructions.
It was during the last week that things began to go a little weird. We had handed over the spare set of keys to the landlady so she could show prospective tenants around, but it became clear she was randomly entering the flat to check on progress. Furniture was rearranged, notes were left from us about things she wanted doing, and this culminated in our final week with our arriving home to discover the entire flat had been rearranged, our few remaining possessions tidied into a corner and worse still some personal documents tampered with, our copy of the tenancy agreement from which we had been working having now gone missing. Mila was so distressed by this invasion of privacy that she refused to spend another night in the place. Thankfully by then we had the keys to the new flat, so we stripped the bed, marched through the underpass car park and installed ourselves in the new place a day or so earlier than planned.
The landlady’s cavalier approach to the quiet enjoyment of her tenants was demonstrated one last time during that weekend of final cleaning when the door flew open to reveal a rather startled estate agent, there to show some potential tenants around and who had no idea that there was anyone still living there and with access. This was clearly a detail which our increasingly deranged had omitted to mention. He was incredibly apologetic, knowing full well he was in breach of the law, but just as I had been through the entire process I was co-operative and friendly and allowed him in anyway.
The last day of the tenancy arrived and the landlady and I met face to face for the first time since I had moved in, not that I really had any choice in the matter – when I arrived at the flat on the penultimate day before the tenancy expired I discovered she was already there, assembling new furniture in the bedrooms and placing items of whose ownership she was unsure outside the front door. Technically the place was still mine for 24 hours but details like this clearly were unimportant to her. She gave the flat a cursory look around, reassured herself that all seemed to be in order and took the final set of keys off me and read the electricity and gas meters in my presence, promising to forward on the final bills.. A week or so later I tentatively emailed her to ask when I might be seeing some of my £750 deposit again. Her reply was nothing short of extraordinary, which is why I’ve kept it to this day:
Further to a closer inspection on Sunday 30th May, please note the following points that need to be sorted:
– Dishwasher is not working – Needs to be fixed
– Oven not professionally cleaned as requested – This needs to be arranged
– Oven hob needs to be replaced due to use of a scourer on this
– Oven extractor fan not cleaned, has marks all over where dirt/dust has become engrained in the material
– Kettle – Lid is broken and Kettle not descaled
– Iron missing
– Saucepans missing
– Scissors broken
Other stuff that was not cleaned and needs to be sorted:
Freezer to be defrosted & then cleaned
Drawers not cleaned
Cupboard by freezer not cleaned
Washing Machine not cleaned
Sink not cleaned – Still has brown stains
Toaster not cleaned
– Mould on windows needs to be removed properly (due to lack of cleaning)
– Carpets not professionally cleaned
– Mirror not cleaned
– Lightbulb not replaced
– Marks on bedroom wall need to be cleaned
3) Shower room
– Shower not professionally cleaned (as requested) Still mouldy and bad limescale (due to lack of cleaning)
– New Ikea circular white bath mat missing (was in cupboard)
– Sink & Bath not cleaned (had a film of dust on!!)
– Mirror not cleaned
– The sofas have been damaged during the professional clean.. Can you please advise full name of company, contact & telephone number of cleaners – as they need to come back and re-clean. The cleaning has made the fabric extremely hard and they have not cleaned the undersides of the cushions.
– Carpets not professionally cleaned (as requested)
– Curtains have come off hooks
– Glass table top has come off the actual table – Need to get new suckers
– 2 x Lightbulbs not replaced
– Marks on walls under pictures need to be cleaned
If you can get back to me with regards to the sofa asap, that would be great.
You also need to confirm payment for the Gas / Electricity & Telephone. Can you please advise who the Gas supplier is.
Can you also let me know about the missing Iron / Saucepans etc..
In the meantime, I will contact TDI cleaning company to arrange for all the things not professionally cleaned as requested i.e. Shower, Oven & Carpets (the curtains in your bedroom look OK), as well as clean up all the other things not done.
I then need to find out the cost of replacing and fitting the oven hob and fixing the dishwasher.
Finally, I need to organize silly little jobs like replace lightbulbs, get curtain hooks etc…
That’s it for now and I look forward to hearing from you.
I should explain here that when I moved in, nothing in the way of pots, pans or utensils had been supplied. Nor was there an iron or ironing board save for that owned by my housemate and was even accusing me of removing items that she clamed she had put in the flat before I left (without my knowledge or consent naturally). Whilst quibbling over little details such as lightbulbs is par for the course for any picky landlord, she appeared to be completely ignorant of the concept of “fair wear and tear”, indicating as you can see that I would have to pay for a completely new cooker hob as she believed it was badly scratched (it wasn’t, and she failed to ever prove that it was). Furthermore she was no claiming that items such as bath mats which she believed she had put in the flat the previous week during her illegal entries had been blatantly lifted by myself. In essence I was now accused of stealing property I didn’t even know existed. I sent a reply, rebutting many of the points she had made and indicating where was was in error. Her response was to escalate matters further and to effectively accuse us of trying to wreck the flat totally:
The flat in your occupation
On a number of occasions that I visited the flat, I was disgusted to see the way that you and Milla lived. Throughout your tenancy, you violated clauses no. 2.11 and 2.12 On at least two of the occasions that I visited – at 8 months and 9 months pregnant I had no option but to clean the flat myself. (I spent 3 ½ hours on one occasion and 2 ½ hours last week – Again this will be charged back to you). My 3 year old flat, had looked like a 30 year old flat. The lack of cleaning anywhere, was disgraceful and your neglect has been the only reason that I have lost out on 4 months rental for the other room whilst you were living there – This is why it was necessary for me to give you a notice on the flat.
You even admit yourself and I quote you in your email 1st June 2004 “having spent a great deal of effort and enlisting the support of most of my family to ensure the apartment was handed back to you in a presentable state…….”
It is interesting that the day after you have moved out, that people who were shown around the flat are now wanting to move in on a 12 month contract, yet I have been advertising for 4 1/2 months and couldn’t find anyone – what does this tell you about the condition in which you kept the flat?
It was a viewee that alerted me to the condition in which the flat was in – as I had described it as ‘luxury’ in the ad and he stated it was anything but luxury.
Therefore when you mention things are down to general ‘wear and tear’, this is absolute rubbish. All the things I have mentioned are due to your neglect.
For the record – The previous ‘incumbent’ tenant that you refer to was a co-owner of the property and the flat was kept in a great condition as I was there myself a few days before you moved in to show you around. I also seem to remember you saying what a wonderful flat it was when you moved in and that it will be a pleasure to look after – so to say now otherwise – again is utter rubbish.
I was starting to conclude that she was either barking mad or a little paranoid. The only time she had seen the inside of the property during the entire time I was living there was during the final week of our residency, during which time it was covered with dust and cardboard boxes as we packed everything and moved out. Understandably the place was a tip. Moving out kind of does that to a home. Barely two months earlier when being given notice we had been given the option to stay if we had ourselves found a tenant for the spare room, yet now apparently the reason the place was unlet was because we were apparently smearing faeces over the walls (precisely 2 people visited the flat during this time, both rejected it because they didn’t like the location).
Other parts of her letter (too long to reproduce here) included her belief that we owed her for her time as she had run around cancelling electricity and gas accounts (a job she volunteered to do, presumably not trusting me to do this) and for the times she visited while we were out to rearrange things to her tastes. To this day I simply cannot understand why she suddenly flipped like this. Never before (or indeed since) had any landlord had any issue with the way I treated their property and the state in which it was left. Her pursuit of me even extended to leaving threatening telephone messages, such as the one left a few weeks later where she accused me of re-entering the flat (which I no longer had keys to) to remove a clothes drier and that any further trespass would involve calling the police.
I took a deep breath and replied as kindly as I could:
I am writing in response to your email of June 5th continuing the dialogue about the termination of my rental contract with you. Please excuse the delay in responding. It is now clearly time for this dialogue to come to a end, however in a spirit of good will and in a wish
for clarity about the issues you raise, I am relying point by point and with some general considerations at the end.
There appears to be some confusion over the state of the dishwasher, particularly as your assertion that it was dysfunctional contradict your claims that “recent food remains” were to be found inside. I confirm that at no stage was the dishwasher used while I was in residence. Your comments about the risk of mould are without foundation. It is my understanding that a dishwasher finishes all programmes on a drying cycle and hence the conditions for mould simply do not exist. I would also reiterate that repairs to a fixture such as a dishwasher are the responsibility of the landlord. I am sorry that you have discovered that it appeared to be out of order but you are fully appraised of the circumstances.
We will clearly continue to disagree over what constitutes fair wear and tear of the oven hob. The only way to avoid scratches on the polished surface of a hob would be not to
use it – clearly not the intention of any provision by a landlord. Having now moved into an identically funished apartment in the same development as your own property I am in a position to confirm that the oven hob here is covered in many small scratches as a result of use and cleaning. Your complaints as to the state of the equipment at 164 Barrier Point road are I’m afraid without merit.
I am pleased you have sorted the kettle. We are all aware of the inconvenience of hard water in London. Previous kettles I have used have lasted often less than one year and indeed we were tempted on many occasions during our tenancy to replace the kettle but were reluctant to discard your property without consultation. It is entirely appropriate that you have made your own arrangements.
Iron, Pans and Scissors. Thank you for accepting my points on these. I have always taken great care to replace supplied items such as these in my tenancies and would never remove such things.
I refer now to your comments regarding the bedroom. Of course a room in which the only means of ventilation is by leaving the patio door ajar and which has no hopper window, is badly designed. Hence my new comparable flat has had an external extractor fan installed (but still has a mould problem). There were only one or two spots of mould left at the base of the windows. As they were not free of these black marks when I moved in, the room was left in a better state at the end of my tenancy.
I’m afraid we cannot agree about the carpets. These were regularly vacuumed (using the top of the range cleaner which we were pleased to find you had supplied) and as we usually removed our shoes when entering the flat, they remained in excellent condition. My contract only required for cleaning to take place if it was necessary to return the carpets to the state they were in at the start of the tenancy. In the absence of any dirt or stains I would regard any professional cleaning as unnecessary and indeed would almost certain be detrimental to the condition of the furnishing. It is my understanding that flat 164 is one of the few properties in the development to retain its original carpeting, most landlords and owners having discarded of it in favour of their own in very short order. Its excellent condition is a tribute to our care.
I maintain that the bathroom was left in a pristine condition and between us we appear to have restored it to a satisfactory condition.
There appears to be some confusion over the issue of bath mats and I do not know how we resolve this issue amicably. There were two sets of mats, each consisting of a floor mat and pedestal mat. Both sets were washed and dried prior to my departure. When I entered the master bathroom to place the set from there back in place, I observed that you had left a new mat in its packaging on the side of the bath. I am aware of no others that you had either supplied at the start of the tenancy or placed there prior to my departure and you can be assured that none are in my possession.
In arranging for the sofas to be professionally cleaned, I believe I have fully fulfilled my tenancy obligations in this respect. In my experience, such cleaning never restores furniture to its original ‘feel’ and further cleaning my cause the fabric to age more rapidly. I would suggest that you leave well alone, but any further cleaning is your responsibility and at your expense.
I have nothing to add constructively to your comments on the glass table. You were the
first person to have moved it as I was able to clean underneath without needing to do so.
The mattress protector was the subject of some debate amongst ourselves when preparing the property for departure. In the light of many of your other comments I suspect had I discarded it I would have found myself accused of its theft. For the record, I am not in possession of any new protector that you claim to have left in the property. I’m very much afraid you are mistaken in your belief that there was one present in the room we occupied.
I will of course let you have the window key or any other item if I come across it. However having, as I stated before, never had cause to open the windows in the living room it is highly unlikely that this will appear amongst my possessions. I note that you did not raise the issue of window keys with Mr Platt upon his departure, even though none were present at that time either.
I’m sorry there has been some confusion over utility bills. Your unwillingness to believe my constant statements that the gas account had been left in credit has meant that I have now received a notification of its closure from British Gas and a cheque for £1.74 as a refund of this credit. I hope you feel that this was a worthwhile exercise. When you took a final electricity reading in my presence I was left with the impression that the closure of the account was something you were keen to take charge of yourself and I am pleased to say I have now paid the final bill which has been sent to me and which was in line with my expectations. I’m sorry you feel inconvenienced by any lack of action on my part but it is apparent that any action I took would have been simultaneous with your own.
It is a matter of some deep regret that you felt the need to pepper your previous correspondence with many insulting statements. I consider this to be most unworthy of you.
May I remind you of the extensive goodwill that we extended towards you in the final months of our tenancy, not least of which was our acceptance of the notice you gave at the end of March. Had we wished to object we had strong grounds to do so as you were in breach of the tenancy agreement by giving notice before sixth months of the January 2004 contract had elapsed. We were also happy to accommodate visits by prospective tenants and conduct them on a tour of the premises on many occasions when you were unable to fulfill your duties as landlord and conduct the visits yourself. I make particular reference to the events of April 29th 2004 when at short notice you advised that you were unable to keep an appointment with a prospective tenant for the property and despite the inconvenience this caused us, Mila and I made arrangements for him to gain access.
I regret that I must also issue you a reminder of the laws concerning the rights and privacies of tenants. I have reason to believe a serious breach of these rights took place on Thursday 27th May when we arrived home to discover that you had not only entered the property without prior notice but had interfered with our personal possessions, in the process removing from amongst them an original copy our of tenancy agreement. These activities caused my partner Mila so much distress that she felt unable to spend any further time in the property and we made arrangements to sleep elsewhere for the remainder of the tenancy. Myself and my companions were also witness to a further breach on the afternoon of Sunday 30th May when we arrived at the flat to discover you had entered some time earlier, had placed many items whose ownership you confessed to be unsure of outside the front door and were in the process of assembling new furniture in the bedroom. All this despite the fact that our tenancy did not expire until May 31st and the right of occupancy of the property remained ours.
I must also take issue with the offensive telephone message that you left on the morning of Thursday June 4th which accused me of trespass and theft. Despite returning the call immediately to point out your error, I note with some regret that you have not felt an apology to be in order.
It would be better if we could end our business relationship on good terms. From experience I know that I am a good tenant as other owners I have dealt with know. I treat owners with the respect, honesty and trust that I would expect if I was the owner myself, fully aware of the financial risk and anxiety experienced by owners of property to let. I’m delighted to hear that you were able to let the property in short order. This is I believe a tribute to the immaculate and first rate condition in which it was kept.
It is now time to agree the level of deposit that you must return to me. Please remember that this money and the interest it has earned that you have held as a safeguard is legally my property and I require your assurance that it has been properly managed and is instantly accessible.
I look forward to your response
Her response was not to offer a sum of money for the deposit return but to actually send back a set of calculations to demonstrate that actually OWED her money. To whit:
James, throughout your tenancy you have violated a number of the clauses within the Assured Shorthold Tenancy Contract which I must bring to your attention. Clauses you have ignored include: 2.11; 2.12; 2.13; 2.14; 2.15; 2.1.6; 2.20 and 2.25. I have been extremely tolerant, hence why I gave you 2 month notice period as agreed in the Contract and had to bite my tongue in fear of any repercussions whilst you were in occupation.
In the last 2-3 months of your occupation, the flat has been in an unacceptable condition and through your neglect, things like the oven hob, windows and shower were damaged.
Also through your neglect, the flat had not been in anyway in a presentable condition in order for the other room to be let out and because of this, I have lost out on over 4 month rental income and I feel that it is necessary for me to make the following deductions from your deposit.
1). Cleaning flat on 6th May 2004.
Due to your neglect of the cleanliness and tidiness of the flat, I must charge my time spent cleaning, as the flat was in a filthy state (please see pictures taken on 6th May):
I arrived at 1.30pm and left after 5pm.
I cleaned the following:
Limescale & brown stains off the sink & draining board – 1hour
Oven door (thick with grease) – 1 hour
Kitchen outer cupboards & radiator (removal of stains) – 20 mins
Shower sink plus mirror (removal of limescale & weeks of dirt) – 20 mins
Bathroom Sink (removal of limescale & weeks of dirt)– 15 mins
Bathroom toilet (removal of brown stains)– 20 mins
I have called a number of cleaning services who charge £25 per hour, which I think is a fair price for my time. I will therefore charge you £75.
Amount to be deducted: £75.00
2) Cleaning flat on 26th May 2004
Again due to your neglect of cleanliness and tidiness of the flat, I must charge my time spent cleaning the flat in order to bring the flat to an acceptable condition for a potential viewing:
I arrived at 12.15 and left at 15.00 hrs.I cleaned the following:
Shower room: Sink, toilet & Mirror & hoovered.
Kitchen: Scrubbed sink & draining board, cleaned all work surfaced and made tidy, hovered and scrubbed kitchen floor, emptied rubbish.
Lounge: Hoovered, cleaned all side tables, dining table, cleaned part of mould off windows in lounge.
Bedroom: Made tidy & hoovered (so the viewees could see the floor)
Amount to be deducted 2 ½ hours at £25 = £62.50
3) Your neglect = Unable to rent other room
Due to your overall neglect and lack of cleanliness in the flat, of which you did not rent in full, I have been unable to rent the other room out at a cost of £520.00.
Because of your neglect, I have been unable to rent the other room out and I have lost out on £2080.00.
4) Oven hob
A white substance found on the Whirlpool Oven hob (it looks like paint) means that I need to install a new hob. The cheapest price I can find is £155.99 plus a fitting charge of £55.00
Amount to be deducted: £210.99
I will honour the cost of fixing this. Therefore there is no charge.
6) Other items
Curtain hooks £1.54
Replacement lightbulbs 2 x £2.24 £4.48
New Ikea Bath Mat taken £2.90
New Debenhams Mattress Protector taken £19.99
Professional Carpet Clean (30 sq meters) £75.00
Professional Shower Clean & Oven clean £40.00
Amount to be deducted: £145.91
6) My time
Letter 1st June x 1 hour @ £15 £15.00
Phonecalls to utility companies x 1 hour @ £15. £15.00
Letter 3rd June x 2 hours @ £15 £30.00
Fuel cost to flat to sort problems on 3rd June £15.00
Journey time to & from Surrey Approx 2 hours @ £15 £30.00
Cleaning for 3 hours@ £25.00 per hour £75.00
Cleaning mould of bedroom windows
Marks on bedroom walls
Defrost & clean freezer
Clean kitchen sink / washing machine
Clean & Empty toaster & 4 x drawers
Amount to be deducted: £180.00
Therefore according to my calculations you owe me approximately £2,754.40. Can you please confirm how you propose to re-imburse my losses. I look forward to hearing from you.
The conclusion virtually everyone I spoke with about the whole sorry saga came to was that the burden of servicing the mortgage on the flat (originally co-purchased with a boyfriend and now owned outright by her) was close to crippling her. She had clearly spent the original deposit (illegally) and was now attempting to claw back whatever money she could. My only dilemma was how to proceed. Logically the way forward was to file a small claim for the money, safe in the knowledge that any judge with a brain would throw most of her arguments out of the window and award me my cash back. Clearly I’d be stung for some deductions (she continued to insist that the cooker was ruined, as you can see) so it really came down to how much of my time I wanted to waste on the saga given that I was never going to get the sum back in full. My decision was helped thanks to something that technically I was indeed at fault for. Her lack of competence at managing the property meant that in all the time we lived there she had never advised the council that there were now tenants living at the premises and she was no longer liable. Thus we never received a council tax bill, and she clearly never dealt with any of the correspondence that may or may not have reached her on the subject. I discovered that three months after we had moved out there were bailiffs hammering on the door of the puzzled new tenants demanding hundreds in arrears from their landlady. I calculated that the amount of tax I almost certainly should have paid, plus perhaps the cost of replacing the cooker, was actually more than the deposit. Taking her to court would be something of a pyrrhic victory given that anything she was ordered to return I would probably have to pay out anyway – and as you might guess, after ignoring her demand quoted above we never heard any more about the matter. Putting it aside as an unpleasant memory, I moved on. Literally.
Barrier Point Road (II). June 2004 – August 2007
In contrast to previous experiences, this particular residence could not have gone any smoother. A one bedroom flat in exactly the same development, it had more or less exactly the same layout as our previous flat only this time it was owned by someone who knew what they were doing, a professional landlord who just happened to own a business that supplied furnishings for rented properties. Thus anything we needed for the flat, any appliance that needed replacing, we simply phoned up and he supplied it without demur.
I threw parties in that flat, got married and played host to two sets of parents and various sofa-surfing homeless mates for short periods. I even learned some elementary gardening skills, thanks to a particularly vicious weed that had taken root amongst the stones on the balcony, fed by the rainwater that never quite seemed to drain away as fast as it should. In truth I could quite happily have lived there forever, but for the fact that after three years of not bothering us, the landlord requested to increase the rent and wanted to do so by such a large amount that we felt it best to try to find somewhere else.
We left with a great deal of goodwill and with the place looking spotless. Although I had to nag, the deposit for the flat was returned in full within a few weeks of us moving out. Clearly in three years we had somehow managed to “neglect” this flat less than we had the previous identical one in the space of a few months.
Wards Wharf Approach. August 2007 – August 2010
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Staying in the same area wasn’t really a deliberate plan, happy as we were there, and indeed during the two months of our notice period at the Barrier Point place I’d viewed flats as far flung as Stratford, Catford and Hither Green. After starting to despair of ever finding something as nice as the place we were currently occupying, and after putting down a deposit with an agent for a flat close to the centre of Canning Town only for the owner to announce she had found her own tenant instead, I contacted an independent agent via an online ad and was shown a series of flats – one of which just happened to be in the development across the other side of the park from where we lived.
Moving day must have been the strangest job the man with a van I booked had ever undertaken. We carted all our worldly goods down four floors in a lift, drove 2 minutes down the road and then unloaded them again into another lift. This new place although having only been built a few years before was showing a few signs of wear and tear. The people it had previously been rented to had clearly not shown it too much love. The carpets had stains, the oven needed about five cleans before it was deemed fit for human cooking and the dishwasher was completely knackered after several years of being clogged up with grease. A little bit of work however (via a trip to Ikea for a new cover for the sofa and various other household implements) and it became a home as well. Even if by this time one bedroom docklands flats were clearly slightly too small for the amount of what is best described as “personal crap” myself and the other half were accumulating.
We lived there until this summer when we finally stepped onto the property ladder properly and bought a three bedroom house. Once again moving out was a breeze. The flat was cleaned to a far higher standard than it had been when we arrived (no gruesome stains in the toilet for a start) and after a few clicks online the now £1200 deposit was returned in full, the cash neatly paying for the pair of sofas that now grace our new living room.
I don’t doubt for a minute that the time will come when my life ends up in a set of cardboard boxes once again, but barring any serious financial accidents in the future I think I can safely say I’ve dealt with my last landlord. I’ve had the good the bad and the crazy over the last 14 years, but with one particular exception I don’t think I’d change a single moment of it.