The threat of homelessness is forcing thousands of people into becoming live-in property guardians, often in poor living conditions with virtually no legal protection, according to a new report.
The London assembly’s housing committee said that up to 7,000 people are now housed as property guardians to help secure buildings that would otherwise be empty, a number that is predicted to rise sharply as the housing crisis worsens.
The committee commissioned the University of York to conduct the largest ever study into this new sector by interviewing 210 property guardians, mostly in London. It found that the promise of cheap rents was why more than 95% of them opted to be housed this way, with many saying they had no other choice.
“It was either guardianship or homelessness,” said one. “London prices are impossible and I feel trapped in this situation,” said another.
The committee’s report said: “The growing cost of accommodation in the capital is clearly pushing more people to become guardians out of necessity.” It said the sector “has the potential to grow dramatically”, noting that 21 out of 31 companies offering property guardian services have been formed since 2009.
It expressed alarm at the lack of legal and safety protections revealed in the study:
It called for greater legal clarity after a court in Bristol last year ruled that a property guardian should be granted the same rights as a tenant. The decision prompted Bristol City Council to take back control of 10 empty properties that had been run by a property guardian company.
The report also highlighted the poor living conditions many property guardians have to endure:
One guardian said: “Our roof has leaked in heavy rain since we moved in. The guardian company know this, and have never fully resolved the matter. Currently we have a serious problem with rats getting into the property, via broken sewerage, and broken doors.”
Siân Berry, the Green party assembly member who chairs the committee, said: “Most guardians are simply working Londoners on lower than average wages who don’t see any other affordable options. The contracts they sign up to can include clauses that deny them basic human rights like the ability to speak out if they are treated badly.
“Without more attention the growth in guardianship could give rise to a very substandard class of rented accommodation.”
Source: The Guardian