Living in disused buildings for cheap rent

Building in Thorner near Leeds in West YorkshireThere is an army of people who are willing to live in buildings such as houses, flats, offices, care homes, schools, pubs, GP surgeries, fire stations and churches, that would otherwise sit empty.

Property guardian firms provide these temporary stewards of property assets with a home, albeit on a temporary basis. In return, the building remains occupied which deters squatters and anti-social behaviour, and maintenance issues are highlighted as soon as they occur.

Seven of the UK’s property guardian companies, representing 80% of the companies offering the service, have formed a trade association, the Property Guardian Providers Association (PGPA) which aims to foster good practice in the industry, providing a structured framework of policy, legal and safety standards on which to work. Property guardianship has been debated in the House of Lords and received support.

Live-in ‘property guardians’ are being actively sought to provide vacant property protection at substantial savings for property owners, with the lure of affordable accommodation for key workers and young professionals, and it seems there’s plenty to gain from both sides of the arrangement.

Property owners letting a building to a live-in property guardian can benefit from a reduction in vacant property rates. The Valuation Office Agency has recognised the unusual living arrangements the system creates, and is prepared to reduce the rates liability. Some companies say they can reduce business rates by 90% when one or more property guardian lives in.

Local councils are also seeing the benefit of using guardians to secure their vacant buildings; 73 of the 404 councils surveyed said they used guardians in 2018, an increase from 43 recorded in 2013.

Your home property insurance may only cover your empty house for a fixed number of days, but what if you want to go travelling abroad for a year?

The usual cost of security on an empty building can include an on-site security guard, monitored alarm system, boarding up and regular mobile security patrols. Add to this the cost of putting things right after a building has been squatted, which can include rubbish removal, legal fees, replacement locks and doors, general maintenance and even bailiffs, and costs can soon mount up.

One company even claimed to regularly return property to the owner in a better condition than when the guardianship started.

The guardians are able to live in cheap accommodation, in city locations closer to where they work.

One company houses ten guardians in a 10,000 sq ft property in London’s Covent Garden. Each pays £475 per month, substantially less than the market rate of £1,000 per month for a single room or £3,500 per month for a studio flat.

Other properties currently being advertised include a large detached home in Birchington-on-Sea, Kent, which offers a studio flat for £400 per month, a one bedroomed flat in Birmingham at £350 per month and a single room in a former public house in Templecombe, Somerset for £225 per month.

Do property guardians have any rights?

Property guardians benefit as tenants with regard to matters of health and safety and HMO legislation, as well as protection from the Eviction Act, but there is inevitably a down side. Property guardians have no tenancy rights over their home and these are not acquired during the contract. The notice period is usually just 28 days, potentially leaving the guardian without a home, and the non-exclusive possession requirements means the property can be entered at any time by the property guardian company or the building’s owner without any notice. 

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