Life with Lodgers… part two

The news about finding a new lodger goes from bad to worse. As you know, when my last lodger moved out and I stripped off the bedding I discovered brown stains all over a relatively new mattress which had certainly been in pristine condition when he moved in. He returned the next day to give the room a quick clean, return my key and parking permit, and do what I call a “final walkthrough”. This is when I and the lodger go through every cupboard and drawer in the room, we also check they’ve taken everything that is theirs from the kitchen and bathroom. It’s also a good time to see if everything in the room is as it was when they moved in.

I showed him the stains. At first, he denied it could possibly have been him. Okay, so who else has been sleeping down here with you? Answer, no one. Then he tried to tell me the mattress had looked like that when he moved in. Umm, I don’t think so. The mattress is obviously one thing I examine thoroughly between lodgers and it certainly wasn’t like that when the previous lodger moved out – otherwise I would have had this conversation with them and sorting it out would have come out of their damages deposit not yours.

Eventually, he admitted that maybe he had fallen asleep clutching a takeaway cup of Coke, and maybe dropped it. That sounds more like it. I honestly don’t know how he thought he was going to get away with it. Did he think that I don’t strip the bed and remake it between lodgers? Obviously, I was going to notice massive circular brown stains on a previously pristine white mattress.

Anyway, he has been told that luckily, I took out insurance on the mattress and luckily, I am eligible to claim, so that is what I have done. They can’t come out until the 9th of September to clean it though, so he will just have to wait until after then to get the deposit back because there may be costs involved, or they may say it’s beyond rescuing in which case the cost of a new mattress will be coming out of it.

Being a basement room there is always the potential of a damp problem, but this has never been an issue until now. When a new lodger moves in I do tell them they must open up the window occasionally to air the room through, and under no circumstances must they attempt to dry clothes in their room or hang wet towels down there.

This lodger was told the same thing. But certain lies were told to me during the interview which made it difficult for him to obey the edict about opening the window. It turned out he was a night worker. Now, I’ve always avoided night workers as I don’t want to be woken up at all hours of the night when they’re getting home from a nightshift and slamming the front door which is right below my bedroom. I also don’t want to have to tiptoe around the house all day trying to keep quiet because they are asleep.

Every person who comes to view the room is asked about their working hours. This lodger was also asked and assured me he was an evening worker, that he would be home no later than 10:30pm each evening. Okay, I thought, fair enough. So, he moved in. Now either he immediately changed his working hours, or he defined an evening as ending at 2:30am, because right from the word go, he was working nights.

In the beginning he would wake me up every night getting home at that time and slamming doors. Until the night I stormed downstairs, heavy eyed, and livid at being woken up yet again because he was incapable of closing the door quietly – and gave him an impromptu lesson on door shutting. But of course, because he was asleep most of the day, and didn’t get up until he was literally about to leave the house for work – he was never able to get the window open.

He also never used the rack on the back of the bathroom door to dry his towels on. Instead he would take it back down to his room and throw it onto the armchair to dry. Now, hanging up wet towels to dry in ANY room is never a good idea, but in a basement room that was also not being aired at all? Definitely, not a good idea.

So, he moved out. I went down into the room for the first time in sixteen months and immediately realised there was a damp problem. Is it just because of the issues listed above so airing it and a good clean will sort it out? Or is it a more serious issue? I’ve bought a dehumidifier and whenever the window isn’t open that is whirring away collecting moisture. I also have a promise from a builder friend to come round with a damp meter and give his professional opinion. But between this and waiting for the mattress to be cleaned, it means I can’t advertise for a new lodger yet.

Last week I began to tell you all about lodgers I have had in the past and we ended with the lovely Miss C moving out to fulfil her dream of going to the London School of Fashion. Having her live with us had been enormous fun and made me realise how great it is having a young person living in the house. I activated the ad again and was almost immediately inundated with applicants. Eventually, I settled on a tall young lad called Mr J. He was funny and polite and the manager of a local high street fashion shop. He played guitar – but only during sociable hours – was passionate about cooking and enjoyed the odd film or two. He stayed about nine months, before a friend asked him to flat share with him and then he moved out.

I advertised again, and a week or so later another young man, Mr N, moved in. Initially, he was great. A website designer he was quite useful to have around, although I did have to change my broadband package to unlimited, after he racked up a £30 excess use bill the first month he was here. He was a bit of a nerd and was terrified of spiders and the number of times I had to go down there to rescue him from a “simply enormous one” – it was tiny – was unbelievable. He was also a complete hypochondriac, which could be really funny.

I remember once me and Miss F were sitting in the dining room when the door to the bathroom burst open and Mr N charged through the kitchen and into the dining room wearing nothing but a towel and a face full of shaving foam. We looked at him in alarm, and I noticed there was a tiny speck of blood on his chin where he’d clearly nicked himself with the razor.

“Julia!” he gasped. “Phone an ambulance immediately!”

“It’s only a tiny scratch,” I replied.

“No! I’m having an asthma attack!”

Quickly, I phoned for an ambulance whilst he collapsed in a chair, trying to keep his towel in place and I sent Miss F to get a damp flannel so he could wipe the foam from his face. The ambulance came, took his blood pressure, calmed him down, and asked him some questions. Mr N then proceeded to spout off all his vital statistics as in normal blood pressure, heartrate, cholesterol levels, BMI, exact height and weight, and various other facts and figures about himself that I think most of us would struggle to even guess at.

“That’s amazing,” one of the paramedics said. “How do you know all this stuff?”

“Oh, I’m a hypochondriac,” he freely admitted, and wondered why we all fell about laughing.

So, for about six months, Mr N was great. Then he found a girlfriend. No, he didn’t just find a girlfriend, he found the love of his life. Jeez. How annoying, careless, and downright rude did he become after that?

I have a rule about boyfriends/girlfriends in that I don’t mind the odd stayover, once or twice a week is fine, but I don’t want them moving in. It’s a room in a small house, with only one bathroom. I neither want, nor have the facilities to cope with couples living here. At first, he obeyed this rule, and I really liked his girlfriend, she was very sweet. I think one of the best evenings I ever had lodger wise was when Mr N and I cooked a big meal between us because his girlfriend was coming over, and Miss C was coming back to see us for the weekend, then we were all going out together, along with a friend of mine who knew Miss C well from the old days when she had lodged with me.

The five of us had just sat down to eat when there was a knock at the door. I went to open it and it was Mr J, the lodger prior to Mr N. He’d been passing and thought he’d look in. So of course, he was invited to stay for dinner, and we all squeezed around the table and had a wonderful meal. Afterwards when Miss C, my friend, and I were clearing the table, the boys brought up Mr N’s guitars – he was a guitar player too, although not as proficient as Mr J – and they began an impromptu session which was wonderful. Then we all went out together and it was a brilliant evening. A group of six people with ages ranging from 20 to 43, all getting on very well together.

It all went downhill after that. Mr N’s girlfriend began to stay over more frequently. Eventually she was here ALL THE TIME! If I wanted to have a shower, I couldn’t, because she was in it. If I wanted to use the washing machine, her clothes were in it. If I wanted to cook dinner for Miss F and I, I couldn’t, because she had taken over the entire kitchen and was cooking a special meal for her and Mr N. She was just always there!

She would drive over from work Tuesday evening and would be here until Sunday evening. It was all too much. Not only did I feel my home was no longer my own, but my utilities and water bills were escalating due to having a fourth person in the house. She also disrupted our morning routine by hogging the bathroom and had made Miss F late for school and me late for work on more than one occasion. So, I had a little chat with Mr N, and we agreed that boundaries needed to be set and we compromised on three nights a week maximum.

For a couple of weeks, it all seemed to work. Then came a weekend when we didn’t see much of him. His girlfriend had been over Tuesday evening to Friday morning and had, I presumed returned to her own home. Other than hearing him rustling around in the kitchen, we saw nothing of Mr N until Sunday afternoon when I was washing the kitchen floor and he came up to put some clothes in the washing machine, but my stuff was already in there. I told him it wouldn’t be much longer and would call him as soon as the machine was free.

Ten minutes later I stuck my head around the corner of the basement door that he’d left open to call down the stairs that the machine was free, and discovered his girlfriend standing at the bottom of the stairs. Shocked, I asked how long she had been there, and she sheepishly admitted that he’d smuggled her back in Friday evening and she’d been there ever since.

It made me feel odd, and annoyed, that someone had been in my home all that time and I hadn’t been aware of it. I felt lied to, and quite frankly, I’d had enough. I asked his girlfriend if she could understand why I felt that way, and how would her father feel if she’d hidden Mr N in his home without informing her father he was there. Oh, I’d never do that to my dad, she told me. I respect him too much.

Oka-a-ay. That just about said it all. I decided not to make a scene in front of his girlfriend, but that I needed to have another chat with Mr N, and maybe tactfully suggest that they find a flat together. We chatted. The decision that he needed to move out was mutual. A month later they found the perfect little love nest which they bought everything new for. I shuddered at the thought of the monthly repayments they were saddling themselves with, but it wasn’t my problem, so I kept quiet. They moved in together. Less than two months later I saw on Facebook that they’d separated, rather acrimoniously, and that he was once again single and lodging somewhere in town. Ho hum. That tends to be the way it goes, I’m afraid.

I advertised again. This time, to my surprise, hardly anyone answered the ad, and I began to worry that I wouldn’t find anyone. Then a man came to view who seemed okay. I offered him the room, and Mr D moved in. Within a few days I realised I’d made a terrible mistake. What had seemed like the best deadpan humour ever at interview, turned out to be absolutely no sense of humour at all. He was dull, staid, opinionated, and downright odd, especially in his eating habits. In fact, I have never seen anyone eat the way he did. He ate a lot, well, he was a big guy so that in itself wasn’t strange. It was what he ate that was peculiar. I’ll give you an example.

One night, I saw him prepare his dinner. It comprised of a whole packet of savoury noodles meant for three people on a large plate. A whole ready-made shepherd’s pie on top. Then a tin of cold baked beans on top of that. Then a tin of cold mushy peas. And to finish it all off, mint sauce squirted all over it. And that was one of his more normal meals.

He would go to the shop and literally empty the “reduced to clear section” and eat whatever he’d managed to get. I remember once he bought a pack of lamb’s livers going really cheap. He put them into a bowl, covered it with clingfilm, and nuked them in the microwave. I didn’t even know you could cook liver like that! The liver turned grey and stank the kitchen out. He then sat down at the table, took off the clingfilm and proceeded to eat the whole pack. And that was his dinner. A large pack of liver cooked in the microwave.

One day I came home from work, opened my fridge to put away some shopping, and found the shelves were awash with blood!! He’d been given a load of offal free – and no, I don’t want to think about that either – so he’d brought it home and slung it into the fridge. It wasn’t wrapped, or even on plates, he just thrown livers, kidneys, hearts, and tripe loose in there! Blood was dripping through the shelves onto my food!

Beyond angry, I hammered on his door and ordered him up to explain himself. Why had he contaminated not only my fridge but most of my food as well. But he totally failed to understand what my problem was. It’s just food he said. It wouldn’t hurt me.

Umm, hello? Listeria, E-coli, botulism, salmonella! Yes, I would love to have a hefty dose of food poisoning this weekend. He then went out and left me to deal with it! Muttering angrily the whole time, I spent a couple of hours double bagging all his disgusting internal organs – in my head disposing of his own internal organs as well – cleaning and sterilising the fridge and picking through which of my food could be salvaged – not a lot. I then went to the shop and replaced everything that had been ruined. I copied the receipt and added to it another £50 for my time, inconvenience and cleaning materials, and when he returned informed him that this amount would be coming out of his damages deposit. He just sneered at me and said, “Oh we’ll see about that.”

It was at this point I realised he was possibly a psychopath.

He was a carer for elderly and vulnerable people, although there’s no way I would ever have left any elderly relative of mine in his care. One day I came home to discover a big cake sitting on the worksurface. Again, it was ON the worksurface, not on a plate or a board or anything silly like that, no, just on the actual worksurface, with a big piece cut out and crumbs everywhere. Sighing, I fetched a plate and tidied up. It was a lovely sponge cake with jam and buttercream filling, and clearly was homemade.

When he appeared, I told him I had sorted out the cake for him and how lovely it looked and had someone made it for him.

“No, I got it from the elderly lady I looked after this morning.”

“Oh, how sweet. She made you a cake as a thank you for looking after her?”

“No, one of her family made her the cake. I just took it.”

“What? You took her cake?”

“Yes.”

“Did she say you could take her cake?”

“No, but she’s so batty she won’t remember if she ate it or not.”

“So, you stole her cake?”

“It’s not really stealing. She would have forgotten to eat it so it would have gone to waste.”

“That’s totally not the point! You stole food from an elderly and vulnerable person who was in your care! I would imagine the agency and her family wouldn’t be too pleased about it!”

He snarled at me and stamped away, taking the cake with him. I felt very uncomfortable about the whole thing and wondered if I should tell someone about it. I considered his actions not only illegal but also highly unethical. I also wondered if he was taking stuff from me because he thought I might be too batty to notice.

The more I thought about it, the more I realised this guy had to go. I didn’t want him in my home anymore. To be completely honest, he frightened me. There was something about his eyes that sent chills down my spine.

The next morning, he came and tapped on my lounge door and told me that he was relocating with his job so would be moving out before the end of the month. He was sorry for any inconvenience, but the commute would be a bit much, so he felt it made sense to find lodgings closer to his new place of work.

Of course, I agreed, it made perfect sense. He had paid up to the end of the month, so any time he wished to go before then was fine. Please could he ensure he tidied the room back to a state fit for viewing as I would be reactivating the ad immediately and obviously would be taking potential new lodgers into it. He agreed, and the moment he left I went onto the website and listed the room as available again.

A couple of days passed, and I had a long list of appointments of people wishing to view the room. I made sure I did him the courtesy of informing him of this and reminding him that the room must be clean and tidy, and any personal items he did not wish seen put away. Again, he agreed, so next morning – ten minutes before the first person was due – I thought I’d just pop down and ensure all was in order. I didn’t think it could be so bad as he’d been living in it less than two months and unlike many lodgers, he actually washed the bedding every week. Miss F came too as she was curious.

What we found beggared belief! Sacks of potatoes and onions lined up against the wall. Big pallets of long-life milk stacked up to waist height. Bags and bags of tins everywhere! Stocks of toilet rolls. Now bear in mind this was 2013! If I’d found those things this year, I wouldn’t have turned a hair, but back then…?

Quickly, we grabbed the sacks of food and managed to manhandle them upstairs and out into the shed. The bags of tins we shoved under the bed, and the packets of toilet rolls we stored in my bedroom just to get them out of the way.

There is plenty of storage for the lodger’s food in the kitchen, so there was no need to store food in his bedroom. Also, the sheer volume of food was staggering. He was just one man! It would have taken him years to eat his way through all of that – even the way he ate. Was there an apocalypse coming that I’d failed to get the memo about? I couldn’t show the room in that state, and we’d just finished relocating all his supplies when the doorbell rang.

When he came home, I informed him what I had done, and told him that until he moved out and took all of it with him – his nuclear holocaust rations would be staying where they were. He was livid and began screaming at me that I had no right to touch his belongings. I just calmly raised a brow and told him that in the contract he signed it stated that upon handing in notice, the room had to be returned to the state it was in when he first viewed it, and that I reserved the right to do it myself if the lodger failed to comply.

He stomped around the kitchen in a fury for the rest of the evening, so I disappeared into my lounge and left him to it. Later, I heard him shouting on his phone in the basement under me, about how I had violated his privacy and he should look into suing me. Yeah, good luck with that one, mate.

His next trick was he informed me that as he would probably be moving out before the end of the rental period he’d paid for, that I would be refunding him the rent he’d paid. Oh, you bloody well think so, do you? One, it doesn’t work that way. If a lodger has paid to live in my house up until a certain date, then they are entitled to live there until midnight on that date. Baring certain circumstances I cannot ask them to leave any earlier. But if they choose to move out earlier that is on them and no rent will be returned. This is standard practice and is clearly stated in the contract all lodgers sign before moving in. Anyway, I was in no frame of mind to do him any favours by this point.

He was not happy with this and kept demanding to know if I was going to refund him the money or not. When I told him not and reminded him that neither was he getting all of his damages deposit back due to the offal in fridge incident, he became very belligerent. He started shouting at me and generally behaving in a threatening manner.

Now, he was a big chap, at least 6’4” and solidly built. I am barely over 5’ and obviously much smaller than him, but I have a Jack Russell tendency when threatened to forget how small I am. He yelled in my face, so I pulled myself up to my full height, glared at him, and told him how dare he threaten me in my own home, and that maybe I should call the police to come and have a little “chat” with him. He paused to think about that, then launched his final weapon in his argument.

“If you don’t refund me that rent and pay me back my full deposit, I will… I will…”

“You’ll do what?” I snarled.

“Move out even earlier!” He snapped and disappeared into his room slamming the door for full effect.

“Fine! Don’t let the door catch you on the arse on your way out.”

He moved out the next day – apparently to stay at a friend’s house. Astonished he actually had friends, I watched him go, got my key and parking permit back, and have never been so relieved to have a lodger leave. Would he actually have harmed me? I don’t know. But I do know I have never had a lodger make me feel so uncomfortable in my own home. As Miss F said after he’d left – “I didn’t like him, mum. He had serial killer eyes.” And I had to agree with her.

This blog has once again reached epic proportions and I’m still only up to 2013. I think the departure of creepy liver guy is a good place to stop and I can continue the story next week. In the meantime, I’m working four days over the weekend as it’s a bank holiday in the UK and most people are enjoying a long weekend off, unless you work in retail of course.

In bookish news, finally, after nearly six long years, The Book of Eve is ready for republication and I’m looking at a launch day of next Wednesday. If you have a moment, why not check out my Instagram or Facebook pages where pictures of the gorgeous new cover and lots of wonderful promo stuff will be posted daily, and on Wednesday the book will be available to buy from an Amazon site near you.

So, stay safe, stay happy, and I’ll catch up with you all next week.

Julia Blake

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