Melissa Keighley: An embarrassment of houses

"Landlords, we're not all bad!"

What’s the collective noun for property? If you’re left-leaning in political outlook, it’s surely an ‘embarrassment’.

So, then: I have an embarrassment of houses. Entirely by accident.

I used a student loan to buy one in Oxford (it was cheaper than renting), then got offered a job in Greece, so rented it out. When I came back a year later, the house had made five times more than I had.

So I bought another. Then another, and another, and…well, here I am, 20 years later, with more tenants than toes, and embarrassed beyond words. Sorry, millennials. Truly. I’m sorry.

‘A nice landlord’

If it’s any consolation, I do my best to be a nice landlord, politely ignoring dogs, mess and blu-tac, getting stuff fixed on the double, handing back deposits on trust, paying my taxes with barely a wince. And I do try to find tenants who might struggle to find accommodation elsewhere, the young, the unemployed, the underemployed, people with mental health issues, refugees, single mothers.

That’s partly to appease my conscience, but also because they tend to stay in my homes for years. I’m as lazy as I’m left-leaning.


Landlord is an unfortunate word: medieval, pertaining to the feudal system of serfs and their Lord of the Manor. I suspect living in a country where people are obsessed with owning their own homes, where renters are looked on as a lesser species, has something to do with the bad press landlords receive.

But renting should be a safe, fair, amiable, reasonably priced option for all concerned. I deplore extortionate agency fees, and haven’t used an agent since the early days. (They can be nightmare for landlords too, trust me. Expensive, and it just means more phone calls demanding cash and graft. I’ve a teenage son for that). I’m fanatical about my homes being safe. And I do my best to get things fixed as quickly as I can, bearing in mind I work full-time and have all the practical skills of a toddler.

No horror stories

“Tell me your horror stories!”, people cry, invariably, when they hear I rent out properties. With a barely concealed smirk, I tell them I must disappoint them. My tenants are, one and all, charming, considerate and fully paid up.

No one’s ever done a bunk or left the taps on. That level of suspicion and mistrust, the proliferation of ghastly car crash TV with titles like Slum Landlords, Nightmare Tenants, is surely how renting’s become such a stressful, expensive, downright disrespectful business for all concerned.


But it really needn’t be. Sorry to thwart your schadenfreunde, but for me it’s just an easy, friendly transaction, like buying a book or getting your nails done.Not everyone has a whacking great deposit or salary or wants to mortgage their soul to a bank, and yet, extraordinarily enough, they still seem to want a decent home to live in. Laws to safeguard the well-being of both parties are vital, of course, yet more than that, I think trust, respect and goodwill would go furthest in improving the rental sector.