An estimated 5000-7000 who live in a legal grey area as “property guardians” are being ignored by the government – these are people who become live-in security to protect commercial and residential properties during periods of vacancy. I’ve secured a parliamentary debate on Monday to call on the government to provide proper legal protections for them.
Originally seen as a win-win situation, property guardians were young professionals living in interesting building such as schools and cinemas for a low rent. This gave the property owner peace of mind while the property was vacant, at a much lower cost than hiring professional security and boarding the property up.
In London’s overheated property market, what was once a cheap lifestyle choice has now given rise to near-market rents. The GLA research, led by the Green Party’s Sian Berry, found that for many people it is their only way to afford to live and work in London.
They live in a legal quagmire and no one seems sure exactly what rights they have. Property guardians occupy under a contractual license, meaning that they don’t have any of the legal protections contained in a Tenancy Agreement. Some guardians have been kicked out of the properties with only days notice when the property has been sold. The buildings are sometimes dangerous and unsuitable for habitation – the Fire Brigade have had to shut down some of the buildings occupied by Guardians as they posed an immediate danger to life. Local Authorities, who have statutory housing functions, are unsure of their enforcement powers in relation to property guardians, while Council buildings make up approximately one fifth of those occupied by guardians.
The Government has so far resisted calls to clarify the legal rights of property guardians. Heather Wheeler MP, Minister for Housing and Homelessness, wrote to the Committee saying that the Government “doesn’t endorse these schemes and highlights their clear drawbacks” but nonetheless ‘people are free to make their own housing choices”.
Property guardians have an important role to play in ending the scandal of empty properties. The Government’s position is untenable – they are both denying the opportunity to house people in empty properties, and denying the rights of the people who already do so. I will be calling on the Government to amend the law to grant legal protection to property guardians, include property guardianship in their homelessness strategy, and provide clear guidance to Local Authorities and other statutory bodies.
FURTHER INFORMATION is available at the London Assembly website. It includes the Report by the Housing Committee; response from the Mayor of London; and response from the Housing Minister.