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Jackie Rowlands writes for Inside Housing - Property Guardians: a good way to provide affordable housing?

Sun 24 Apr 2016

This article was first published in Inside Housing on 18 April 2016.

Jackie Rowlands - Winckworth Sherwood

It is frequently reported that the UK is experiencing a housing shortage with the lack of affordable housing often cited as an issue of major concern. With house prices and rents in the private rented sector continuing to rise, the demand for affordable housing is at an unprecedented level. Could property guardianship form part of a solution to this problem.

What are Property Guardians?

Property guardianship is a form of temporary housing and has historically been used to secure and protect vacant property from squatting, vandals and thieves.  It is estimated that there are over 30 companies employing property guardians and more than 4,000 guardians living in properties in London.

Generally, property guardians occupy premises with the landowner’s permission on a short term basis, usually for periods between six and nine months.  Guardians enter into a licence agreement (rather than a tenancy) which does not provide any security of tenure.  No landlord and tenant relationship is created.

Ordinarily, the agreement is brought to an end by giving 28 days’ notice but in practice guardians are often given much shorter notice to vacate the premises.  If the guardian fails to leave voluntarily, the landowner will need to obtain an order for possession from the court.

Is this a good way to provide affordable homes?

Property guardianship benefits people on low or fluctuating incomes who would otherwise struggle to afford private market rents as well as those saving up to buy a home.  Property guardians are usually young, employed, often key workers who prefer or need to live centrally but cannot afford market rents. 

However, a guardian’s licence agreement usually contains a greater number of restrictions than a standard residential tenancy agreement, often prohibiting children or dependents.  These restrictions mean property guardianship is not a viable solution for the affordable housing needs of families, which arguably make up the largest group seeking affordable housing.

In reality, the transient nature of this arrangement is only likely to appeal to a limited pool of individuals.

Further premises are often unfurnished, with only a power supply and basic washing and cleaning facilities and there is no guarantee as to the condition of the premises.  Unlike other affordable housing providers, this industry is not regulated leaving guardians with limited protection and vulnerable to exploitation.  Such housing is unlikely to be suitable to many individuals equally in need of affordable housing; for example the elderly.

The increased number of property guardians may well be a symptom of the affordable housing shortage.  Property guardianship is by its very nature a temporary form of housing which is likely to appeal to only a very limited demographic.  It cannot therefore be a solution appropriate to all of the differing groups of people who require affordable housing on a long-term and arguably, more stable/ secure basis.  The call for the building of more affordable homes will continue therefore for the foreseeable future.  

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