But they liked John – a lot. John has been a faithful, landlord-fearing, regular paying tenant for 10 years. He keeps himself to himself and, whilst I’ve been aware of his limitations we keep pretty much out of each other’s way. He fills his time collecting supermarket trolleys, putting out the bins and filling the garden with scary looking 3ft high gnomes. His other activities raise a few eyebrows but nothing which breaks the law.
We’ve been trying to control an outbreak of bed bugs for a few months in a room next to his, but every treatment seemed to stop working after a couple of months. After a bit of surreptitious detective work, we found the bugs’ headquarters in John’s room – in his mattress, his chair, his sofa and even his childhood teddy bear. They had stopped being discreet by only coming out at night and had gone into full on party mode as soon as they sensed a human food source nearby.
I’m not going to go into the science behind bedbugs or how to treat them as I’ve recently covered this in an article for HMO Magazine. Click on the link and the next issue is out soon.
John was devastated and genuinely had no idea he was their host. Out of respect to him, it’s pointless to document what we found when we stripped his bed but it soon became clear that leaving him to his own devices had probably not been the best strategy after all. I sought advice from the experienced, affable Ben Reeve-Lewis who spent his early career battling the bugs in homeless hostels a few decades ago. Inconveniently, the methods he used to destroy the bugs have now been outlawed – presumably the chemicals were later found to harm to humans as well as insects.
We booked a guaranteed, expensive treatment through Thermokil (those boys don’t mess around) and came up with a plan for John: I would meet him at the Council’s offices to investigate long term, supported accommodation and he would give me a spare set of clothes including underwear. I would then wash the clothes at 90°C ready for him to change into once he left the house the following day and Thermokil carried out their work.
Hats off to Eastbourne Borough Council; we must have looked an odd couple – him: 5ft 2in, 58 years old and shuffling around with his carrier bag of clothes, me: 5ft 9in with enough cleavage to charm a housing worker, carrying a S21 notice threatening eviction. They dealt sensitively with John’s lack of literacy skills but became a bit stumped when he couldn’t provide an email address to register, as he’s never been on a computer. We used my email address and began the series of questions which would decide how far up or down the priority housing list he would be placed. I asked if it would help his cause by going forward with the eviction, but the gentleman behind the desk advised he would end up in temporary emergency accommodation where he would be more vulnerable and then suggested that none of us wanted that.
The following morning John turned up on my doorstep at 7.30am. I put him in the shed with his freshly washed clothes, and took the one’s he had left the house in to put in the washing machine. I would have suggested scrubbing him down in the shower but felt that not only was that going too far, but he may have been embarrassed by my teenage girls who are now too experienced by landlording to get worked up about their mother hosing down a strange man in the shower.
Later that day and with the treatment over, John went back to the house. I’ve begun tutoring him in a cleaning regime which included buying new bedding and a new, easy to clean, wooden bed frame, mattress, etc. The teddy bear and other soft furnishings all had to be thrown out and I’m now paying for a cleaner to go into his room every other week. Our lessons have covered vacuuming, changing sheets, washing sheets and how to check for signs of bed bugs.
I pray that this time the treatment has worked. It has cost us cash, an officious German who accused us of poisoning him and his girlfriend with the chemicals used, a new vacuum cleaner and an altercation with a Romanian over weed smoking. (We’re now best friends after I inspected his arms and legs closely for bites and explained my loathing of recreational drugs. To be fair, the bites on his limbs would rival the injection marks of a heroin addict).
John and I are now on the housing list which is exciting. We’re waiting to be allocated a case worker and he’s asked me to go with him to the next meeting. In the meantime, we’ll keep up our cleaning regime and will hopefully move on to budgeting skills to cover why buying garden gnomes which look like trolls probably isn’t the best long term investment.