"I had just turned 18 when my father died and I inherited two properties in Portsmouth," says Vivenne Parry. One of the properties proved highly unsuitable for letting: "It promptly fell down; much of Portsmouth is built on shifting gravel." The other, "a classic, Pompey bay and forecourt terraced house", was already divided into two flats. The upper one was occupied by tenants and Vivienne moved into the lower one, having redecorated and carpeted throughout: "I chose a charmless, won't-ever-show-the-dirt number in brown. It was fashionable back then."
After a few months Vivienne left to go to university and decided to let her flat after finding some impressive new tenants: "They were a couple in their thirties and were enthusiastic. They raved about the newly decorated walls, which were woodchip and white emulsion but clean, and they promised to cherish the place."
Here she made a mistake that was to have lasting consequences. "With the foolishness of youth, I decided that someone to manage the letting was unnecessary. I would do it myself."
A month later, when Vivienne went to collect the rent she made a surprising discovery: "The first thing to greet me in the tiny 10ft by 8ft room was a gargantuan built-in bar. The counter had been covered in that padded pink vinyl, Fablon, that you could buy by the yard at the local hardware store, except they hadn't quite got round to the full nine yards – or even one yard – having only managed to cover half their shrine in this stylish covering."
Vivienne recalls the other "home improvements" carried out by her tenants: "On the wall were clumsily constructed plywood racks from which a range of glasses, suitable for any cocktail you might fancy, dangled at strange angles. Several optics were screwed to the wall, dispensing not vodka or gin but Parma violets and blue Curacao."
The tenants may have succumbed to the odd cocktail while carrying out their handiwork: "Much of the construction had clearly taken place under the influence of one Parma Violet too many," says Vivienne.
The tenants' obvious pride in the "improvements" worsened the situation. "They were so proud of it, so full of a job well done that I didn't have the heart to complain that building bars wasn't part of the tenancy arrangement."
Over the next six months things were to take several turns for the worse. "They acquired two huge Alsatian dogs. I protested that they would have to go, as the tenancy agreement said no animals except by agreement. But they said that they were lovely animals, 'ever so good', and that if they went they would have to be put down."
By her next visit she found her flat smelled of dogs and was filthy. Even the kitchen, decorated just a few months earlier, had suffered. "They appeared to live on chips, for the area above the cooker was yellow with grease. The floor had developed an odd tacky quality to it. In fact the whole carpet had a funny shiny look, and there were several larger black patches where the dogs lay and which they licked enthusiastically." There were other stains on the walls – her tenants were both 50-a-day smokers.
On each of her visits Vivienne found floors "awash with piles of dirty clothes". The tenants also proved themselves averse to daylight: "Even in the middle of the day all the curtains were shut. They said it made the flat 'a bit like a nightclub'." Vivienne believes that the couple's desire to replicate a late-night disco in their home probably inspired another of the alterations: "That accounted for the glitter ball they'd hung in the sitting room."
Conditions in the flat deteriorated but the tenants' response was puzzling: "At this point – around nine months into their tenancy – they stopped paying rent because they said that the place wasn't fit for habitation." They reported their, by now uninhabitable, flat to the Council. "They showed him the gruesome kitchen as evidence of their grasping landlord."
Vivienne's story has comic elements but getting rid of her club-loving tenants wasn't easy: "It took months to get them out, and when they'd finally gone everything in the flat had to be stripped out and burnt." She has since decided that the life of a landlady is not for her: "Rent a place? I'd rather drink a Parma Violet Sling."Reuse content