Our regular guest blogger, Samir Jeraj starts us off on a short series on property guardians:
Over the past couple of years a clutch of feature articles and comment pieces have lauded the concept of Property Guardians.
These are people who register with an agency who manage empty property (for example, which is due to be converted or knocked down).
Instead of spending money on boarding up the property, the idea goes, why not use these agencies to temporarily house people whilst ensuring that the property is kept in a reasonable condition.
Good or not so good?
So far so good. The articles about being a property guardian have tended to overwhelmingly focus on the positives (and on the situation in London): cheap rent, sizeable property, good locations – it’s a trendy lifestyle choice.
The problem is that it isn’t. This type of accommodation represents one end of an increasingly tight and insecure rental housing market. At best they’re a symptom and not a cure.
The basic exchange is rights for rent. Property guardians cannot expect to have the normal protection from eviction under the law – most guardian agreements say that they can be turfed out in 30 days or less. According to George, a former property guardian explained the restrictions:
“No more then 2 guests at a time, no visitors overnight, no parties, no smoking, no candles, no pets, no leaving the property for more than 2 nights on the trot without telling them first. 2 weeks notice etc.”
He added: “I have lived as a guardian thinking that every week was going to be our last before we get kicked out, and another time embracing the time we have in the property.”
He also said it is also difficult to know who the real owner of the property is:
“The company are very careful not to reveal owners details to the guardians. As guardians you get to find out when they turn up unannounced during the day and you can have a chat, but there is very little interaction between the guardian and the property owner.”
Shelter, though quite warm towards Property Guardians, lists the Pros and Cons as follows:
- It is a relatively cheap way to rent
- You may be able to get a large living space
- You have less security of tenure and you can be evicted with 4 weeks’ notice
- You may find yourself in an office space not designed for living
- You may not have heating
- There may be broken windows and other disrepair issues
- There may be no kitchen or a proper bathroom
- Families are usually not accepted, only individuals can apply
George agreed on the heating point:
“most places that offer guardians a place will only pay for electricity and water, and cut the gas so the industrial boilers and central heating are off!
A couple of oil filled electric heaters do the trick but if your shower is 3 floors above your room and take 3 minutes to walk from your bedroom to the kitchen it’s the corridors that get you but who doesn’t like the feel of long-johns under a pair of jeans?”
Similar to sheds in beds?
This exchange of rights for housing reminded me of a group on the other side of the rented housing market.
Given the somewhat misleading title of ‘beds in sheds’, this is the often illegal and overcrowded buildings used to house large numbers of those on the social margins.
The initial stories about this were generally about converted sheds and garages – however, there has been a rise in the number of commercial and industrial buildings (some in use) which have been used to house people in conditions so dangerous, the Deputy Commissioner of the London Fire Brigade issued a warning about them.
It seems to me that, whilst being a property guardian might be a useful temporary means to an end for some individuals, the main winners are the property owners and private companies.
Property Guardianship isn’t going to improve conditions in private renting. It won’t encourage the longer tenancies or greater security that landlords and tenants are coming to recognise are in their mutual interests.
This article is the first in a short series. Watch out for the next one!