Better The Devil You Know

Okay, this is quite a tale; it was a little bit weird and certainly one that neither I nor my wife will ever forget – still gives me the creeps thinking about it now!

Before I start, you might want to get a cup of coffee and settle in for this one!

Back in early 2001 I had just completed on my first buy to let property; a one bed apartment that had the potential to make approximately £350 pcm.

The property was outside the city centre [although it had good transport links and was 10 minutes away by bus] and I assumed that the apartment would suit someone working in retail, clerical or potentially a student.

I was excited and set about advertising for a tenant in the local evening newspaper. I didn’t really expect that I would have to wait too long before the phone began to ring, and sure enough, two days later when I returned home after running a few errands, my wife delivered the good news.

We’d had two calls from potential new tenants, and my wife had set a time with them both on the following day, to meet them at the property.

We would meet a young girl in her early 20’s at1pm; followed by an older guy at1:30pm[I suspected that he could be a mature student].

So the next day we jumped in the car and set off for our two appointments. As we drove I explained to my wife that we needed to be friendly but professional and almost wear our ‘poker’ faces. Now my wife’s a bubbly person by nature, but after explaining the problems that occur when landlords become over familiar, she reluctantly agreed.

We arrived at the building [a large old Victorian factory type conversion] and saw a young girl parked out front who waved as we got out of the car. I reminded my wife of our earlier conversation – ‘poker’ faces before we wandered over to meet her.

The girl who I’ll call Suzy – explained that she was leaving home and wanted a place of her own [she worked in a Womenswear boutique in the city – I’d been right, bingo!]

We showed her around and she liked the place [it was on the sixth floor, but she didn’t mind] and wanted to move in as soon as possible. She produced an envelope with a wad of cash for her deposit and said that she wanted to take a 6 month tenancy, but she wouldn’t be able to pay upfront – it would have to be month by month. My wife explained that we had another person to show the apartment to, and we’d need to see some references anyway before we let her move in. She seemed a little taken back by this [first place of her own, a little naïve] and burst into floods of tears.

My wife stood her ground, but I was a sucker for a sob story. So when she went on to tell us that her Mum had recently remarried and her she really didn’t get on with her stepfather, and she had to get out asap, I folded like a deckchair and agreed that she could move in as long as we got a couple of references as soon as she could get them [my wife looked unimpressed with me, but then, that’s nothing new!].

Suzy thanked me, hugged me [wife was impressed again!] and handed me the money, before telling us that she would let us know when she could arrange for transport of her things and move in etc.

The time had gotten away from us, and it was now1:45pm– but there was no sign of the other guy. There was however just enough time for my wife to give me a piece of her mind, before there was a knock at the apartment door.

I opened it and there stood the guy who I’ll call Darren.

It was mid January, and bitterly cold outside, so I thought nothing of the fact that he wore a long black woollen over coat, a black knitted beanie hat, scarf, matching black leather gloves and heavy boots.

He said hello and stepped inside. I explained that unfortunately, he was too late and we’d already ‘let’ the apartment. He didn’t seem phased by the news and carried on looking around the place quite nonchalantly, I thought.

He seemed to ignore most of what I said, but made charming small talk with my wife, who seemed a little enamoured by his shtick. He spent a few minutes with his back to us and seemed very interested in the view from the window. He said that he would have liked to have rented the place for 12 months and his ‘people’ would have taken care of a years rent upfront!

My wife looked at me, but I quietly shook my head – besides he seemed very aloof and I didn’t like him. We apologised for wasting his time, and as my wife showed him to the door, he handed her something and said goodbye.

After more cross words with my missus, it seems that he’d handed her a card with his name and contact number, and asked that we contact him when it became available – anytime!

Suzy moved in the week after, and all was going smoothly. For the first five months, she paid her rent two days early, by direct debit and I was chuffed.

Then a few days later, I got a phone call from the building management company to tell me that they’d had complaints from some other tenants on the sixth floor. Apparently, Suzy was very popular and had been hosting regular parties for her girlie friends at the weekend, which tended to end in the early hours of the morning.

I texted her, but got no reply. I passed by a few days later and could see the lights on in the apartment, so I rang her and apologised for the short notice, but would it be possible for me to call in to have a chat. She seemed a little nervous, but agreed.

Party Central was what I was treated to when she opened the door. Bottle’s cans, overflowing ashtrays [it was a non smoking apartment!] and the usual pizza boxes, foil takeaway containers – it was a tip!

I controlled my anger and explained the complaints and due to the fact that she clearly hadn’t cleaned since she moved in, it was time for her to make alternative living arrangements and soon.

She cried a bit, but didn’t argue, when I explained that I wouldn’t be renewing her tenancy at the end of the six months, and a month later – she was gone!

My wife did the ‘Told You So’ dance and hurried upstairs to dig out Darren’s contact details.

He was still keen. My wife explained that we would be cleaning the place up before he moved in, but he said that it didn’t matter and he would be happy to have his ‘people’ take care of it – wow, result!

My wife was impressed that he had ‘people’, but I thought that it was just bluster on his part – but if his ‘people’ were going to clean up Suzy’s mess, then that would save us the cost of having a cleaning company to do the same job – so after my wife had been charmed by the smooth tongued Darren once again, we agreed to let him move in –without references – ‘but he seemed so nice’, my wife insisted. She argued that references would never tell us what we couldn’t get from meeting someone face to face

I was away on business when it was time for him to move in, so my wife went down to give him a set of keys and get his deposit AND 12 months rent up front.

When I got back, it seemed that while he had paid his deposit, it would be a month before his ‘people’ could take care of the rest of the promised rent money. My wife said that he seemed really genuine and she had a good feeling that he would come through for us.

I quizzed her for more details about the mysterious ‘Darren’ and his ‘people’ while we ate our evening meal. ‘What did his references say?’ I asked. It turned out that he hadn’t been able to provide us with any as yet – but like the outstanding rent, he wouldn’t let us down.

It bit my tongue and asked ‘Did he have much stuff to move in?’

Apparently he and four of his ‘people’ had moved in a variety of items, mainly boxes which he’d told her were filled with his books, dvd’s etc, plus an assortment of quite fancy and elaborate ornate candles.

‘What does he do for a living to have ‘people?’ I asked.

‘He’s religious, he’s definitely very spiritual’ she said nervously.

‘and his ‘people?’

‘Very quiet, almost shy, very polite – the arty type’ she said.

Then she went on to reveal what his winter wardrobe had concealed on our initial meeting back in January.

Bald tattooed head, tattooed neck, arms and judging from the black string vest that he’d worn on ‘moving in’ day, a tattooed chest and back too!

Now it was my turn to twitch nervously, but my wife reminded that Suzy had provided references and look where that had ‘got us’! ‘You shouldn’t judge a book by its cover she said.

‘Okay’ I said reluctantly.

I rang Darren a few days later just to say ‘hello’ and to check that everything was okay. He said everything was just ‘perfect’. He also mentioned that he’d transferred three months rent into my account and apologised that he hadn’t paid the full twelve months as originally promised. I was grateful for the money, so I thanked him and he said that his ‘people’ would take care of the rest very soon.

I suggested that the next time I was passing, I would call him and arrange to pop in to say ‘hello’ in person. He became very cagey and began with a bunch of excuses. He might not be there, it might not be convenient as he had a big ‘project’ to prepare for, he might be away for a few days etc.

I didn’t push asked that he call if he needed me. He agreed and that was that…well until I got a phone call from the building management company, the first week in November.

The tenant across the hall in apartment 68 had complained of some strange looking people coming and going, strange low moaning type noises and a foul smell that seemed to originate from my apartment – number 66.

The lady from the management company insisted that I contact Darren and visit him immediately to investigate. I agreed and she suggested that she would meet me there to pacify the lady across the hall. I rang him, but no answer. So I texted him and explained that I was on my way and needed to see him urgently – no reply. So I set off to the property.

The management rep knocked at number 67, while I knocked on the door of my apartment. I heard the lady at number 67 open the door while I continued to knock on number 66. As I waited, I suddenly noticed that an extra ‘6’ had been scrawled on the door to my apartment!

The hairs on the back of my neck stood up. Is this what I think that it is…..tattoo’s, fancy and elaborate antique candles, excessive collection of books, religious…almost ‘spiritual’. After four hard knocks, it was apparent that he wasn’t in, so I used my key.

Now let me tell you, I’ve had tenants since in my other properties that have disappeared, fled, done a runner or a moonlight flit –and thanks to the ‘Suzy’s’ of this world, I’ve seen my properties in a ‘pig sty’ state, but I wasn’t prepared so early in my career for what Darren and his ‘people’ had been ‘up to’.

A large red ‘Pentagram’ [yes you read that right] painted in the middle of the laminate flooring, some very detailed drawings depicting some very strange, tall and menacing figures on three of the four walls, wax dripped from the window sill and down the wall, and ‘the smell’ that the complaint had mentioned.

I found a tin of red paint  in the bedroom which thankfully explained the ‘Pentagram’s’ origins, but there was a darker red stain in the middle of it, that clearly wasn’t paint.

Due to a lack of possessions, Darren and his ‘people’ had clearly vacated the property, and for a split second I almost forgot what I was witnessing when I noticed that he’d turned the fridge off at the socket before leaving. My first foolish instinct was ‘he can’t be all bad’ until I opened the bottom freezer compartment and found where the smell was coming from. There was a rotting carcass of what I later identified as a chicken – minus its head! Suddenly Suzy didn’t seem so bad and neither did Peking ducks!

The lady across the hall then offered an insight into ‘why’ Darren had been so preoccupied with the view from the window of my apartment when we met back in January. My apartment directly overlooks a graveyard. It seems that Darren and his ‘people’ were a bunch of satanic worship wannabe’s.

The lady went on to explain that a few nights earlier [Halloween] there had been a lot of low moans and ‘chanting’ followed by a group ‘field trip’ by Darren and his freaky friends to the sacred resting place across the road. It seemed that a passer by had witnessed their activities in and amongst the headstones and called the police. The tattooed ‘Prince Of Darkness’ had fled when they heard the sirens – but not before returning to his lair to get his gear and turn the fridge freezer off at the socket!

Lessons Learned:

 

  1. Husbands and wives rarely agree

 

  1. Better the devil you know

 

  1. Always get references before your tenant moves a ‘stick’ of furniture or a candle into your property.

 

  1. My wife’s STILL right, you shouldn’t judge a book by it’s cover – unless it has ‘people’!
regards
The Buy To Let Landlord