How to protect yourself from horrific flatmates in London?

horrific flatmates in London

After seeing endless ads from Airbnb about renting the extra space to other travellers, I convinced my landlord to clean up the extra bedroom. By "convinced" I actually mean I took matters into my own hands and was on endless calls asking him if he needed all the old things in there that no longer worked. Thankfully, the landlord is somewhat of a friend so it was not painful to convince him. Once the room was emptied (as best as I could), I bought few extra things like a hanging rack, hangers, sheets, towels and the usual room essentials. After I listed it on Airbnb, a "friend" saw the listing and contacted me and asked if she could stay. She only wanted to stay a couple of weeks at first and I wanted to help her out so I agreed. I thought at least I "knew" her and she is probably better than random strangers. Little did I know. It turned out to be one of the most horrific experiences ever. Of course it was all flowers and rainbows in the trial period then things got wrong really fast. I actually still wonder what went wrong, but I am treating it as a learning experiences and sharing five ways to protect yourself from similar experiences.    

Tip: Let the payments and bookings be via Airbnb at least that way you get the payments and get to leave a review for the person. I removed my listing and privately lend it to her. BAD IDEA!

First: Is it really worth it? 

I was out of the country/city for about 60% of the time when I had a flatmate so I though it is worth getting some money especially that I am not even there. I did not consider how I will feel when I am back though. I realised the hard way that sanity is more valuable than money especially when the flatmate is loud, inconsiderate and uses your resources when you are not there. The rent I charged was not even enough to tolerate the inconvenience she caused. In the trail period it was 90GBP/week and then 120GBP/week. Keep in mind it was a flat in London (end of zone three) with a station that's 5mins walk that takes 20mins to get to London Bridge (Central London). I did not want a profit, all I wanted was to cover the necessities. You might need to consider the emotional sacrifice and the price of the area when you are setting the rent price. 

Second: Be firm and be cautious especially if the new flatmate is a friend  

The flatmate who moved in with me was kind of a "friend". I "knew" her from mutual art classes we took and we had few friends in common, so I thought that was enough. The fact that I knew her made me go easy on rules and payments because that's what friends are for; to be supportive to each other. On the contrary, you really should be firm from the start because some people will take advantage of you. 

Third: Get a GOOD deposit

I was so naive and I did not take a deposit. I know rookie move, but I really wanted to help her out because she constantly said she had no money and her payments were delayed and I thought I did not need it. Obviously I was mistaken, she broke my chair, the toilet roll holder, broke a bowl, used my drinking cups to paint and almost broke my expensive juicer too. I was so shocked and so Arab to ask for any money. A deposit would have solved that issue and I could have deducted the cost of the broken items from there.    

Fourth: Have a written and signed agreement from a lawyer

Another mistake! I thought it was only a short term thing and there was no need to hassle myself with a lawyer and a contract, but seriously you need one with set dates. After the initial agreement with the flatmate to the end of June, she extended the dates to end of July and later on to end of August. When I had a problem with her dates and told her that I was expecting her to leave end of July because the landlord wanted to bring another person in August, she snapped. I really don't like dealing with aggressive, confrontational people. I really wished I had a contract then.   

Fifth: Write all the household rules and agree on them before the move

When this flatmate first moved in she told me this and let me quote: "I am so tidy and neat, I think I have OCD." When someone makes such statements you kind of believe them. I know I am not the tidiest person. I have piles of papers and clothes in my room, but at least I am hygienic and clean especially in the kitchen and the bathroom. So, I expected her to be the same and even better since she claimed she is OCD clean. Sadly, that was not the case, I came from a trip and I saw plates of half eaten food left in the living room, dirty W/C, blocked drains from her hair and a total mess. I was only gone for a week. 

Remember Sheldon Cooper from the Big Bang Theory and his roommate agreement detailing every little thing from who sits on the couch to everything else?

Yes you should do something similar (not as insane) BEFORE the move. I was really upset when I saw the disgusting mess (the type that get rats into your house) and I wrote a paper for her with Dos and Don'ts. Such as please don't eat my food especially the food I brought with me from abroad that I can't replace. I also included the usual common sense things like please don't leave your clothes in the living room, please put your leftovers in the fridge, throw your rotten food in the trash an take the trash out when I am not in town since it's yours. She was so offended she did not even speak to me. 

The end of the story:

I didn't even have to speak to her face to face because she decided to leave the flat without notifying me or paying the rent. To top it off she purposefully stole my really nice cloth grocery bags and pay-as-you-go/top-up gas card and electricity key just to make my life difficult. This should give you an indication of the type of person she is. Without them, I could not get gas or electricity in the flat. I found out all of that after coming from an international trip. I was already exhausted after ten hours of travel and all I wanted was to sleep instead I spent a stressful cold dark night. I kept trying to contact her but she did not respond and then blocked me. I asked a mutual friend to intervene. I did not want the money just the card and key. The flatmate lied about having them and was out of touch.

It was one of the worst experiences of my life. It still sounds bizarre to me. Even my friends were in disbelief when I told them. I know why I was upset, but every time I was annoyed I stayed in my room either tired or working. I was never rude or out of order with her. I am sure she had her reasons but stealing and behaving like that was immature and silly. I am just glad it was over and really sad it ended this way. 

Hope you guys don't have similar experiences just make sure you follow the advice above and you will be alright. Some people ended up with really good relationships with their flatmates. It's just a matter of clarity and luck.  

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