Anyone who has ever thought about renting out a property is surely aware of the potential for the very small percentage of “nightmare renters” – people who might have no intention of paying rent or who indulge in antisocial behaviour such as annoying neighbours with loud music and parties, or who will perhaps even trash the property itself.
Yet in some ways these examples of out-and-out roguish behaviour can be far more straightforward to deal with than more nuanced issues involving far more reputable and sympathetic renters.
For example I once had a very tricky, psychologically-taxing situation with a renter who was a perfectly pleasant person and who unfailingly paid the rent on time. In fact, the discovery that there was any “problem” at all only manifested itself somewhat by chance.
The renter had been living for many years in a flat in a building I had recently acquired and was such a good tenant that for quite some time I left him to it while I concentrated on refurbishing and modernising the rest of the building. Only when everything else in the block had been quite finished was it suggested to him that we might refurbish his spacious, duplex flat and would he be prepared to move temporarily into another flat while we carried out the works?
Always polite and accommodating, he kindly agreed to do so, nor did he contest a proposed rental increase when the modernization works were completed. It was all perfect respect and contentedness on both sides...at least until it came time to move into the temporary accommodation and an unexpected hitch manifested itself.
It became clear that the renter had so many possessions in his flat that it was completely impossible to move them into his temporary home. In fact, my staff – who were helping with the move – reported back that they had filled up every last inch of space in the temporary flat, so much that you could barely squeeze past the boxes, and yet the old flat was still teeming with possessions.
What only became truly apparent at this relatively late stage was that the tenant was a hoarder. Even after supposedly “moving out” of the old flat, the built-in wardrobe of the bedroom was piled up with nothing but shoe boxes, seemingly of every shoe he had ever owned.
In addition, the ensuite had been turned into a wardrobe with suits hung up in the shower cubicle. Another room was so crammed with belongings that you literally could not put a foot over the door – in fact it was only later that we realised this room was actually another bathroom but the shower cubicle and toilet were completely submerged under possessions and blocked out of sight.
The wide internal stairs of the flat were piled up to head height with boxes permanently stored there and a hatch to the communal loft inevitably revealed a mountain of boxes and belongings. It all felt like a considerable fire risk. What would happen if a cigarette was carelessly tossed into the midst of all those cardboard boxes and their flammable contents?
From a practical point of view, this issue needed to be addressed both for the tenant’s own safety and for everyone else in the building. Yet addressing the issue of hoarding with a tenant has to be approached with the utmost care and sensitivity. It’s easy to come across as an interfering, meddlesome landlord making judgements on private living arrangements that should have nothing to do with anyone but the resident.
One person’s “clutter” is after all another person’s relaxed attitude to things; and one person’s “hoarding” is another person’s lifetime of treasured possessions. I’ve not conducted research on the psychology of hoarding, but I think it is pretty obvious that it is an immensely emotional issue to the people who engage in it.
The issue was so delicate I didn’t feel I could simply delegate it to my staff to “have a word” and so decided that I should go and discuss with the tenant in person, though I rather dreaded doing so. I imagined him looking at me in shock and outrage at the slightest suggestion that he might be engaged in “hoarding” and might need to seriously reduce the volume of possessions before moving back into the flat.
The issue rather pressed on my mind, but for a few days I put off doing anything about it while I mentally turned it over, but then received a heaven-sent reprieve. The tenant showed up one day at the office and apologetically informed us that he had actually decided not to move back into the flat as he had found a larger house to move into instead. We breathed a collective sigh of relief.
There was only one problem. The new house would not be ready for another six weeks. Could he move back into the new flat just for that period? We agreed he could, but suggested he keep all but his essential belongings in our storerooms so as to be ready for the move. For six long weeks, a huge storeroom became the latest place to be completely clogged up and impassable with scores of boxes of belongings.
In the end, I didn’t psychologically resolve the issue, it simply moved elsewhere and I was liberated from having to think about someone else’s compulsive relationship with their belongings. A perfectly pleasant tenant can sometimes tax your own psychology quite as much as an unruly and unpleasant one.
- Damian Flanagan is a UK-based property developer, writer and critic.