If there’s one thing this profession has taught me it’s “Don’t judge”. Along with stopping smoking and cutting down the alcohol, it’s a resolution I’ve made myself New Year after New Year and, becoming a landlord has forced me to uphold the “Don’t judge” one. When I tell anyone who’ll listen about my tenants they look aghast that I’d even consider letting a room to someone with a dubious accommodation history, erratic/non existent work CV and long periods in their lives that even they can’t remember which planet they were on. I admit that when I started, I was naive and daft, tried to see the good in everyone and then was royally “bitten on the bum” by the ones I gave the most help to.
Tom was different and I count him as one of my best, most loyal tenants who, I admit, I have a rare fondness and affection for. Perhaps it’s because he can tuck a set of drawers under one arm and a mattress under the other or perhaps it’s because he’s helped me out of a few scrapes over the years and shown me a different side of life (we’re the same age). A homeless referral from the Salvation Army he appeared sporting a massive bruise across his face which he assured me was due to a wardrobe falling on him whilst he’d been helping them out. Ex- Army, he was guest of Her Majesty for GBH, in numerous custody suites for letting his fists get out of control and claimed to have attended AA meetings on a regular basis but due to his binge drinking, I very much doubt this. Big, fierce and scary looking he is, but he’s honourable and will only bite if provoked – a friendly rottweiler if you will. He doesn’t mug passers by or break into people’s houses, is kind to animals and children and would defend me and my family at all costs to himself – providing he were sober enough. (He found and refurbished a remote control helicopter for my son last month).
He became my hero three years ago when Adam took a room in the same house as him. Affable bloke, nice girlfriend but it soon became clear that he had problems which I later found out to be excessive weed and gambling on the slots. After weeks of trying to get him to speak to me over rent arrears he finally answered his door with a knife in his hand and showing me his bloodied wrists which were “all your fault for chasing me for rent”. Luckily, he didn’t know how to do any real damage to himself and had used a fairly blunt kitchen knife. I admit I was scared as he was clearly irrational and kept waving the knife at me so there was no way that we could have a sensible conversation about his tenancy – he was beyond that and was begging to be sectioned. Looking back, I think I made him worse as I was furious at having spent hours trying to find him, annoyed that he’d told me the other tenants had stolen his rent, incensed that he was using emotional blackmail (never a good move with me) and cross that I was going to have to buy a new set of kitchen knives. On top of all this I was in the first throes of gastroenteritis and desperately trying not to throw up.
Tom heard the commotion and beckoned me away from the door. It was Friday night and he just said “Go home, I’ll sort this”. I was dubious and he promised not to hit him but I felt so ill and was clearly in a situation I didn’t know what to do. If I’d called the police he would have been sectioned and then I’d never have been able to serve Section 21 on him personally. (Top tip, if a tenant goes to prison/hospital or any institution it’s my belief that the Section 21 notice has to be served on the Governor or person running that institution – good luck!).
On the Sunday, Tom called to say that Adam had taken the last of his belongings in a plastic carrier bag, given back his keys and left peacefully. He’d promised to get some professional help and sent his apologies to me for being such a pain and leaving rent arrears of £600. They’d even cleaned the room together! From that day on, Tom became a bit of a hero for me and I realised that being bossy and officious isn’t always the best way to deal with people but with a little gentle persuasion and empathy, whole mountains can be moved.
New Year’s Resolutions – CONQUERED!
There are other stories where he’s saved my middle class, sometimes pompous, ass and prevented me from throwing my Orla Kiely handbag around. There are even more times when he’s crossed the line as a tenant and let the drink impair his judgement for which he gets a yearly bollocking from me. In the meantime, I’m proud to say that I’ve upheld the other resolutions – recently kicked the smoking and, reluctantly, the drink (for they go hand in hand) and remind myself when I meet someone new “Don’t judge – you may just need them someday”.