A landlord’s life: In hot water with faulty shower
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There’s much more to being a landlord than just sitting back and watching the rent roll in. Here’s the second part of Richard Burton’s letting saga...
My first landlord used baler twine to keep his trousers up and would come round with his dog once a month to collect the rent. It was three pounds a week when I moved in, five when I moved out.
There was no contract, no rent book and tenancy agreements hadn’t been invented.
I paid in cash until the day he scratched his head and said, “Is it one month – I’m sure it’s two?”
From then on, I gave him cheques – signed and dated.
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One day, part of a bedroom ceiling came down, sodden under a leaking roof.
When I reported it, a builder in baggies turned up slopping a bucket of plaster over the stair carpet then stepping in his own mess as he left, stamping pink footprints all the way out.
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The ceiling was never repainted, the roof never fixed and the pink patch only held until it rained again. From then on, I got my own bucket.
By the time I switched from tenant to landlord, the world had changed.
I called all tenants clients, the flats apartments and visited them wearing blue plastic shoe covers.
And I guaranteed pretty much instant responses when things went wrong.
So, when one of my “young professional” tenants (are there any other?) rang to say his shower was running hot – and I mean scalding hot – all the time, I had a plumber within hours.
The rental world, as I say, had moved on.
Day 2: Plumber identifies the problem: the cartridge that regulates the heat is faulty.
He’ll replace it. Sends me a pic of the part to prove the point. Needs doing fast as there’s no bath. It’s an apartment, remember.
Day 3: His supplier doesn’t recognise the make. Can I help?
No problem, I call the original fitter. Fitter says he thinks it was a Bristan. Tenant says he’ll shower at the gym for the moment.
Day 6: Plumber goes AWOL. I call Plumber 2 and he says he can do it, but I’ll need to supply the part. That’s not proving easy.
The ones on the Bristan website don’t look like mine.
Day 7: I call Fitter and ask him where he got it. A supplier north of Luton. I call them.
They ask for the exact model. I’ve no idea. It’s a few knobs on the wall and a spray on the ceiling.
I send them pictures – of those and the cartridge. The first is anonymous. They don’t recognise the latter. Am I sure it was Bristan? Looks like one from B&Q or Victorian Plumbing.
Day 8: B&Q in Luton say it’s not theirs. Not even English. Bloke appears to know his stuff.
I email Victorian the pictures. They say it looks foreign.
I pop into Bunnings in St Albans and am told “it’s not one we recognise”. I ring the Fitter again. He’s retired, living in Preston, “and honestly, honestly, cannot remember”.
Day 9: A brainwave. I ask Supplier to check Fitter’s account details. I give them a rough date of purchase. And I offer them an incentive. It’s what plumbers call “a drink”.
It’s not, but everyone knows what it means. They’re helpful but there’s a complication: Supplier and Fitter fell out.
He’d stopped using us by then. I call Bristan direct.
Day 12: Weekend passes and they confirm: it’s not one of theirs. I believe them.
They’ve had enough eyes on it. Then I bump into one of the DIY SOS TV lot (like you do). He gives me several finder links.
Shower Doctor is best, he says. I tell him I’ve tried them. I tell him I’ve tried national Shower Spares too and Vado and DiVapor, a few I can’t remember or pronounce – and had a live chat online with Bathstore. He looks at his watch and remembers he should be somewhere.
All the same, he gives me his email and says send him the pic. If he can help, he’ll do it for a drink. I ring Plumber Two and say I’m struggling.
I did my best but I’ll pay more if he goes there and “just sorts it”. No can do, he says. Since we spoke, I’ve been busy. Booked solid now for six weeks.
Day 13: I remember buying cars when I was in Fleet Street. What Car’s Steve Fowler told me what to buy and the Telegraph’s Honest John told me what to do when it went wrong. Contacts, contacts. Use your contacts.
The SOS guy doesn’t respond, so I call Stuart Duff who edits Professional Plumbing and Heating Installer, a bible of a magazine based in Watford. If anyone knows, he will.
Day 14: I call Tenant. He tells me he’s getting full value from his gym membership. I console myself I’m doing him a favour.
He was a celeb himself back in the day. Big name in cycling but he’s put on a few pounds.
Day 15: Stuart sends me a link to his Twitter feed. He’s put the word out. A dozen plumbers join in. “Looks like a Bristan”, says one. Really? “Have you tried Victorian?” asks another.
“I think it’s foreign,” said a third. I’m beginning to get the message.
Day 17: Andy, a Plumber up North gets involved. Sounds as if he should be on TV. Tells me he’s got 42,000 Twitter followers.
Bit of a celeb in the world of stopcocks and U-bends.
He’ll help just because he’s a nice bloke and he can. Even so, I’ll bung him a drink.
Day 20: Viral Andy comes up trumps. Give me your address, he says. I’ll post it. I tell Tenant.
He’s says it’s timely. His ex is handing over the kids for the weekend. He won’t have to take them to the gym.
Day 21: I put Plumber Three on standby. The part is in the post.
Day 22: Jiffy bag arrives. I rip it open with such gusto, the part falls out and I worry I’ve broken it. I cradle it like an injured child.
Then my heart begins to sink. I’ve spent weeks dreaming of this moment. I feel I know every shiny brass millimetre of this little component. I’ve dreamt of the day I meet its twin. And this isn’t it!
Day 23: I email Plumber Three. He’s philosophical. These things are usually a doddle, he says.
Then you get a “right ‘mare”. This is one such.
I tell him to “do whatever it takes and at whatever cost”.
Day 24: He responds: Seriously? That’ll mean installing from new; ripping off tiles that I probably can’t replace or cutting open the wall of the newly-decorated living room behind to “pipe through from scratch”.
I ask him to bring a decorator. I’ll bring the calculator.
Day 25: I bump into ex-DIY SOS in Covent Garden. He says he never got my email and asks “did you use .com or .co?”
Someone at work tells me they know a good plumber. I tell them 44,000 now know me.
Day 28: Plumber Three says he can “do the rip out” tomorrow. I call Young Professional.
He picks up in David Lloyd where he’s now on first-name terms with everyone. He says, hang on, a friend of the family –retired plumber, old school, worked in Luton, moved to Stoke – came round last night and said he’d “sort it for £300”.
I say I’m sure it’s not as simple as it sounds. Believe me. I’m an expert. He says, “no, wait. He says he’ll do it no win, no fee. Nothing to lose.”
Short of Sarah Beeny handing me her contacts book, it’s the best chance I’ve got. I say, go ahead.
Day 30: Young Professional calls. There’s an echo. He’s in the bathroom.
“Just got out of the shower,” he says. “Can you hear it?”
Old School took it to a pal who has a workshop. They stuck an air line on it. High pressure. Blew the **** out of it. Now it’s as good as new.”
I put the phone down and log on to transfer £300. It’s a drink all right. A vintage Ruinart probably. Magnum in a posh box.
But I don’t care. I decide that when Young Professional leaves, I’ll let it to Old Retired. And let him sort it himself.