Last year we had an unfortunate development linked to our holiday home. It shows some of the risks associated with letting out your property to other people. We had a regular customer, who'd frequently stay in our cottage. For the sake of this article I'll call him John. He always booked the cottage through our holiday let agency Sykes Cottages. On his first visit he arrived with his "wife" at the cottage and his pet dog, an older black labrador. We showed them around the facilities and then left them to get on with their holiday. At the end of the week they left the cottage in a clean and tidy state.
After the initial visit, John became a regular client booking several weeks at different times throughout the year. We never saw his "wife" after the initial visit, as she would be "waiting in the car with the dog." It got to the point where he'd just pick up the keys, without being shown around. To be honest, we thought John had a mistress in town and was visiting when he could get away.
Not long after one of John's stays at the cottage, we'd let the holiday cottage to another couple, a pair of elderly pensioners. They seemed to be comfortably settled in with no problems.
However, I received an anonymous phone call at our home from a very distressed and angry lady. I didn't know this person or had any previous contact with her. She was angily accusing me of being a dog trader and demanding I paid back the £1000 she'd paid for a "pedigree" dog, which turned out to have lots of problems. She told me she'd bought the dog from "me" at the cottage. I said I didn't live at the cottage nor use it for any trading and that it was a holiday cottage where guests stayed, only booked through Sykes. She then wanted me to divulge the identity of the person (John), she even read over the phone to me, details of a presumably forged veterinarian document for the dog with the address of the holiday cottage and "John's" name. I told her to contact the letting company Sykes and see if they would help as I had no details of "John". This is true, in order to protect their client list, Sykes do not tell us the contact details, other than phone number, of the people staying at our cottage.
Shortly after her call, I had some threatening phone calls from another man, I discovered later it was her 22 year old son, demanding I paid up or he'd come and "sort me out". At that point I decided things had got out of hand, so I referred the whole matter to the police. This lady and her son had tried to obscure their identity by withholding their phone numbers. They'd also been abusive to the innocent elderly couple who were staying as guests. The elderly couple had given the lady our contact phone number.
The police subsequently agreed with me that the son would be given a formal warning rather than prosecution as the words were said in the heat of the moment. The police also implied they were investigating "John's" activities. John had told me he was travelling from Manchester, but I was later able to prove he was travelling from Northern Ireland.
What lessons did we learn? It is very easy to suffer reputational damage. With the GDPR privacy regulations, the letting agency will not reveal details to the owners of the holiday cottage. The contract is between the guests and the letting company. The owners merely provide a facility/service to the letting company. With hindsight, we believe "John" rarely stayed in the cottage, but used it as a kennel for the dogs he was trading. He would use the cottage address to provide a respectable Front for his illicit business. He would use a lot of our towels, and often wash them, we presume he'd use them to dry the dogs after shampoo. We still, to this day, have a permanent rust stain on the tiled kitchen floor, we think this was from dog urine in a steel dog cage. After his visits he'd leave upstairs windows open, to reduce the smell of distressed dogs. After one of his earlier stays, we found dog poo on the bedroom carpet, presumably where a dog had been left unattended. We also suspect carpet damage and kitchen units were damaged by his dogs.
We subsequently told the letting company we'd no longer accept bookings from this gentleman