Property guardians: a clever way to rent cheaply?

Property guardians have increasingly grown in popularity especially in big, expensive cities like London. It is easy to see how people are drawn into it: cheap rent, central locations, often quirky accommodations and flexibility. Sounds too good to be true?

Property guardianship is essentially legal squatting. Guardians are given a temporary licence to occupy buildings in exchange for a rent. The problem is that unlike renting, the guardians are only there on licence so do not have the same rights of ownership as that of tenants. There is no real security of tenure as in conventional private or social rented tenancies – 30 days’ notice is the most set out in guardian contracts, and many contracts give even less. The result is a group of companies that ban visitors, enter properties without warning, give huge fines for minor violations, confiscate deposits and evict at very short notice.

To make matters worse, many of the properties that are occupied by guardians are often full of problems. Stories of rats, open sewerage, no running water or electricity and 24 hour evictions are worryingly commonplace. Many guardians find themselves in abandoned pubs or police stations which have often been left unoccupied for years, making them quite a dangerous spot to find themselves in.

But for those who are willing to accept this type of lifestyle, this new idea is practical, cheap and possibly may become more common. The growing popularity of guardianship has also seen the growth of agencies. Over the last four years the number of agencies in the UK has increased by 40-50%, with big multi-national firms like Camelot and Ad Hoc and smaller “social” businesses like Dot Dot Dot all in operation.

As rents are rising and more people are struggling to get on the property ladder, it seems more and more are willing to taking the risk of becoming guardians. Despite the potential for poor housing and the risk of being evicted, the low rents and locations could make it appealing for those who are in financial difficulties (as opposed who chose to live this way).

However, it is far from an ideal solution to much wider issues, and a careful eye needs to be kept to make sure the vulnerable do not find themselves in a difficult situation.

Aimee Thomas, Trainee Solicitor