I’ve just returned from a funeral of a tenant who rented a room from me 18 months ago and although his story is sad, it’s not uncommon. Before I went I was going to write a jokey blog about tenants dying on you but now, possibly sobered by seeing his coffin, I’m going to attack this subject sensitively.
Duncan came to me after a friend begged me to give him a home as he’d suffered alcohol addiction for years and was moving to our town to start afresh. His sister in law found him a job and accommodation and he seemed resigned to the plans made for him. Six months later, after a drunken full on fight with another tenant at 2am (a fire alarm had been set off) he decided to progress to a one bed flat – helped out financially by his family. On moving day, I found him in bed with a girl he’d met the night before completely unaware it was move out day and, returning at 6pm that Saturday night, he was confused and couldn’t remember where he’d left the car. The following day I sought help from his family only to be told “it’s your problem”. Kid gloves were removed and we had a man to man talk. A year on and despite rehab and great accommodation paid for by his family last week he had a heart attack at 44 years old – too young.
Now, I’m proud to say that I haven’t had a tenant die under one of my roofs, yet. Last year I housed another alcoholic (didn’t know it at the time) and, as the year progressed it became clear he was very ill. I got a text from his housemate to say she’d had to call an ambulance for him at 3am but no one knew what had happened and could I check up? I contacted the hospital and discovered him in MAU (Medical Assessment Unit) and visited. Looking frail, he said he’d been in touch with his next of kin and could I find him some personal items from his room. “Oh, sorry, it’s a bit of a mess”. THAT was an understatement, but being charitable kind of girls Nicky (the housemate) and I tackled his room with Marigolds and disinfectant as he’d clearly been living in his own mess for weeks. We sorted out the bed, bought clean sheets, pjs, etc. from the charity shop and I went to see him again clutching new toothbrush and pants from Primark. Surprised not to find any relatives had been, the nurse sent him home with me in hospital issue pjs. We sat in the car park, both feeling that the professional bridge of landlord/tenant had been crossed and I simply didn’t know what to do with him as he stunk, was frail and just wanted to get home.
Two months later and the calls started again to say that the toilet was filthy and he hadn’t been seen. When I visited him to collect his rent it was clear that he was desperately unwell but wouldn’t phone his next of kin and said he’d “sort it out”. I’m not medically trained but even I could see his body couldn’t hold out much longer so contacted Adult Social Services. They were just fantastic and visited him with me and tried in vain to get him the help he needed as his organs were slowly shutting down due to alcohol. By the time the ambulance was called we learnt that he was an alcoholic drowning out the pain of Crohn’s disease and failed marriages. As he was wheeled off he did the decent thing and gave me his rent for the month. Three days later the hospital asked me to come in at 6.30am. Several cups of tea and “we’re doing everything we can” later I realised that he’d made me next of kin and I was watching a dying man take his last breaths. The responsibility was too great to bear so, ignoring his wishes, I contacted his daughter – the family had to have the choice whether or not to see him. They came to the hospital and he was just coherent enough to let go of my hand and register relief at seeing his children. Two hours later he died and the family called me with the news – there is no place to hide in a school playground while you’re sobbing your heart out.
The housemates and I were all gracefully invited to the funeral and listened to what a wonderful man he had been – London firefighter, father, husband, keen gardener. Lots of family and friends turned up to honour his name and yet he hadn’t had a single visitor at the house in all those months and had lost so many mobiles. The embarrassment on their faces when they found out that we had prevented his having an inhumane, lonely death in a rented room was palpable.
After taking the house back this year for my family to live in, his bedroom is now my bedroom. I thought it would be creepy and unsettling after seeing the state of it and watching his children’s disgust as they went through his belongings. It’s been completely gutted and I feel completely at peace with his spirit.
I have another near death experience to tell you but have decided to deliver that story another time with the lightheartedness it deserves as the tenant is still alive and making the lives of those in contact with him hell!
So, Harry and Duncan. RIP to you both and I hope your demons have now been chased away. This is one landlady who would like to have done more.
Be very aware that if your tenant dies during his/her Assured Shorthold Tenancy, the tenancy passes to the next of kin or deceased’s estate. Luckily, none of Harry’s family wanted to rent a room.