It’s not often you find yourself emulating Dennis The Menace.
Alas, I wasn’t playing the part of a feisty 11 year old foiling bumbling goons (hired goons?!), but was in fact precariously balancing wine glasses full of forks on door handles to waylay an intrusive landlord.
It was my own fault really. Moving to London, my brother’s flat had a room going in a great location for very cheap rent. The only catch was there wasn’t a lease to sign and bond was paid to outgoing flatmates. It had been this way for about seven years and I was desperate to stop mooching off relatives, so I took it. First lesson-your-mum-already-warned-you-about: get everything in writing, kids.
Aside from amenities never really getting fixed, the flat ran fine for a year, right up until the landlord began to let himself into the flat, with no warning, late at night. We began looking into our various options after our very polite emails were ignored but there didn’t seem to be many in the short term; the law recognised we were renting, despite no written contract, but our options seemed to be to call the police every time he turned up, get an injunction or wait for legal counsel from Citizens Advice in a block-long queue as to whether we could put a lock on the door.
Meanwhile, the landlord continued to show up unannounced, including once with a friend at night and got verbally aggressive when the flatmates warned him they’d call the police. On top of telling us that he wasn’t actually our landlord (what?!) he also charmingly said to his friend “Don’t worry, we’ll come back when they’re not around.”
Around this point, my flatmates felt so unsafe they moved out of the flat. Unfortunately, I’d been overseas and I came home to an empty apartment, which showed signs of the landlord’s continued presence (including an unflushed toilet, classy).
Jet lagged and fairly rattled, I called the police (who said they couldn’t do anything until “something happened” but that a chain on the door would be considered criminal vandalism) and began to prepare for a night alone in a house I couldn’t lock against someone I didn’t trust.
I’m actually pretty proud of my ingenuity although I’m very glad there wasn’t a fire: I wedged a chair against the front door so it wouldn’t open. Then I placed the aforementioned wine glass on top of the door handle, so I’d not only wake up but intruders would also have to try and walk across a carpet of glass and forks. Then I wedged my door shut with a suitcase, and spent a fairly sleepless, but thankfully, uneventful night.
I moved out the next day, thanks to some stern words from my brother, but spent my last few hours in the flat jumping at the sound of car doors’ slamming.
Aside from getting things in writing, what I mainly took away from the whole experience was that friends and family are so important in times of need. I had a number of fantastic people willing to put me and my stuff up, and I felt so much safer, and very grateful, when installed on their various floors.
In the movies, Dennis the Menace always wins, with caper-style music playing in the background, but as we all know, real life doesn’t work that way. So one more time for the road: get it in writing and thank goodness for friends and family. Oh yeah, and invest in forks.