When his incredibly nutty alcoholic landlady changed the locks while he was on holiday, Matt Williamson had to call the police to get back inside. But by this point, what she did didn’t surprise him.
Through six years of lodging with the 62-year-old former Chelsea party girl in her King’s Road house, the 36-year-old business development manager was used to her more than eccentric habits.
Telling him off, acting up in front of his friends and leaving passive-aggressive notes were all part of life in the house, which he stayed in because of the low rent and sweet location.
“Sometimes she’ll write a note saying ‘Matt, you switch the light switches on too loudly’,” Williamson says. “She’s quite amusing. I might wake up on a Monday, walk down the stairs and see a note that says ‘Matt, you are a massive wanker’. I would love to release a book.”
But despite being funny, Williamson’s landlady was erratic. She would demand furniture back from his room whenever she wanted and once threw his sleeping friend out of the house at 3am.
And then there’s the lock-changing incident that happened when the pair fell out over DIY.
“She was that pissed off with me that she actually changed the locks,” Williamson says. “I had to get the police and a locksmith out. I had to use my driving licence to prove I lived there.”
Williamson’s case is far worse because he lived with his landlady, but things can be just as bad when landlords aren’t there.
Even though she had full front-door access to her “fully furnished and renovated” houseshare in Tuffnell Park, PR Alexandra Thompson, 27, found there was hardly any furniture when she moved in. Or carpets, or a fridge. And the builder lived there there for the first week of her tenancy.
“When we complained, we were assured that it would be sorted ASAP and that our rooms were habitable,” Thompson says. “But it depends what you think is habitable. Half the rooms weren’t complete for months and I didn’t get any discount in rent. I didn’t stay there long!”
But you don’t have to choose between sucking it up or moving out.
Matt Hutchinson, the director of spareroom.com, sees plenty of issues between tenants and landlords. He says it’s best to deal with all the formalities early on. Sign your contract before you move in and make sure you know your deposit will be protected before you pay it.
“All problems would be lessened by anticipating them first. The more things people moving into new properties get straight the better,” Hutchinson says.
But what if it’s too late? “Try to talk to the landlord about what you’re not happy with first, and keep a note of the correspondence you’ve had. If it does get to the point of legal action, you can show you’ve done all you can,” he adds.
Hutschinson believes treating a landlord reasonably will get the best response.
“But if a landlord changes your locks, I wouldn’t hesitate to go straight to the police,” he says.
Before you get the authorities involved, there are other routes. “Some councils have mediation services who will work with landlords and tenants to resolve problems. It’s worth giving yours a call to see if they offer one too,” Hutschinson says.
But even if you didn’t sign a tenancy agreement, or you signed a contract that goes against the law, you can still dispute a landlord’s behaviour.
Housing charity Shelter advises: “Landlords and tenants have certain rights and responsibilities – even if they’re not mentioned in the tenancy agreement. Your tenancy agreement cannot take any of these rights away, regardless of what it says. If a landlord tries to take away your legal rights, they may be guilty of harassment or illegal eviction.”
Cannabis factories and severe damage – sometimes it’s the other way round. Landlord Action supports landlords with difficult tenants. Here are their worst tales.
• One man didn’t pay his rent from the start, despite having an Aston Martin and a Mercedes. He then used his Putney Wharf penthouse to house his mistress.
• Despite believing a tenant was legit and checking her references, a landlord had to pay £30,000 after his property was transformed into a cannabis farm and factory.
• A woman let a house in Barnet to a man who painted odd cupboard doors, took down radiators and ripped out a sink. He then proceeded to dump her furniture in the garden to rot. Charming.
• One landlord discovered a tenant had set up 18 sets of bunk beds in his two-bedroom flat in Victoria, and that a website in China was offering students visiting London a bed for £20 per night.
Words: Clare Vooght