What is property guardianship in London? We take a deep dive into guardianships. Are they worth living in?
You might have heard of property guardianships. They’re a way of renting that’s been coming to the fore recently as a response to both the cost of living and the housing crisis – a cheap way to get accommodation in London, but one that comes with many hitches.
We’ve dug around to give you a clearer view on what these places are and what it’s like to live in them. We’re aware there are many horror stories so we’ve also included a few reliable options if you decide you want to become a property guardian by the end of the article.
Happy reading, house hunters.
What Are Property Guardianships?
Property Guardianships are a form of accommodation that you can rent on the cheap in return for “looking after” the property.
That needs a little unpacking: The idea is that when someone has an empty space in London they don’t want to be vandalised or taken over by squatters, they can lease it to a property guardianship company who in turn leases it to willing tenants.
The guardianship company fits the place with running water and electricity, subdivides rooms so that everyone has a private space and rents it out. In return the tenants agree to act as “guardians” of the property – a lofty way of saying it’s your job to keep the squatters out.
Guardianships can occupy any building that’s empty. Some take up regular old houses, others might run out of office blocks or empty hospitals (more on that later). Last year the government estimated that there are as many as 7000 people living in guardianships in London alone.
Why Live in One?
Some people like the communal aspect of living in guardianships – they can be very sociable – but most do it for the rent prices.
Guardianships are cheap, and by cheap we mean about ⅓ – ½ the price of rent for a regular property in London. For many of them you won’t have to pay council tax either, and some will come with bills included, cutting your costs even more.
No doubt alarm bells are ringing right now. How can a deal be that sweet? Well there’s a catch.
In return for rent prices you forgo the privilege of a stable home. Guardianship companies reserve the right to evict you with as little as a month’s notice, and sometimes less than that.
Having your accommodation whipped out from under your feet like a magician’s tablecloth trick is obviously the biggest drawback, but there’s other, lesser things to take into account.
These places are (mostly) communal. That means sharing bathrooms, showers and kitchens. It also means living alongside people you don’t know, and may not like. If that doesn’t sound like something you can manage, guardianships are definitely not for you.
It’s also worth saying here that there are some real horror stories about these places…
What is it Like to Live in One?
It just so happens that one of our writers lives in a guardianship. Here’s what he’s got to say:
I’ve lived in a guardianship for about 18 months having jumped at the chance to avoid shelling out on eye-watering London rents when I moved here. In my experience living in a guardianship has been an overwhelmingly good decision.
I moved here because my brothers lived here along with a childhood friend. With all the dodgy spots out there, it’s probably good to know someone who already lives in the guardianship.
The building we live in was once a hospital so as you can imagine, it’s pretty massive. Some rooms are spacious, others are shoeboxes, some come with their own kitchens and bathrooms, the facilities on others (mine included) are shared. There’s probably 6-7 people sharing the kitchen I use and they’re all very nice.
I don’t know exactly how many people live here but my guess would be somewhere around 100. Most people I meet seem to be pursuing careers in creative industries and moonlighting in bars and stuff to get by.
A few of them work at a Gail’s and a Pret nearby and bring back massive bagfuls of sandwiches and bakery items that would have otherwise been binned. After cheap rent, this is far and away the best perk.
One other thing that’s pretty cool is that you can decorate your room however you want (excluding knocking through walls etc.). Some people have turned their’s into part recording studios or places to make art. Others chip in together to rent another room for their creative pursuits.
It’s worth mentioning maintenance. If anything breaks in the communal areas, you email someone and they come and fix it, just as you would a normal landlord. In my experience this can take time, but will eventually get done.
Kitchens get messy. We actually have cleaners that come in and do the communal spaces/corridors a couple of times a week. Because of that people get lazy when it comes to wiping down surfaces and stuff. For me, this is the main drawback of guardianship living.
As for the short term eviction period, I’m not too worried. There’s pretty much always rumours flying about regarding kick out dates, but they’re always wrong. I don’t think anyone knows for sure when this space will be reclaimed – not even the owners.
I’ll say here too, that I don’t buy into all of this ‘solution to the housing crisis’ stuff.
None of the people I’ve met here would be without housing if they didn’t have the guardianship, and I don’t think that this way of living suits everyone.
It also seems to me that using guardianships to fix the housing crisis is like using a plaster to stop a haemorrhage – it’s not an adequate solution to the problem. Building more houses is.
The Horror Stories
It seems like our writer has it good, and he would agree that he does, but there’s no shortage of horror stories about these places.
A quick romp through the internet and you can turn up plenty of stories about kick outs that occur just days in advance, guardianships loaded with drug addicts, things that never get fixed, vicious mould growths that go untreated.
Our advice is that if you’re looking to live in a guardianship, make sure you do it with a reliable company. We cannot stress this enough. But what companies can you trust?
What Companies Offer Guardianship Services?
To be honest, most companies offer much the same service. It’s mostly about who you can trust. Here are three that have a great reputation.
Property Guardianship Protection Limited have a bunch of properties around London. They’re very hot on ensuring that their guardians are safe and guarantee CCTV in all their buildings. They also demand background checks for certain buildings as an extra layer of safety.
Rent here is bundled up with bills and is called a licence fee. It’s a one off payment each month which basically means all your outgoings are in one place – this makes things pretty easy.
Live-in Guardians have been running since 2010, meaning they’ve lasted long enough to prove they’re capable of supplying reliable accommodation. They’ve also got a reputation for doing just that.
Their website boasts over 50 buildings in Zone 1 meaning you’ll have plenty to choose from, property wise. They also claim to have had 55,000 applications, another good indicator that these guys aren’t just a bunch of cowboys out to rip you off.
The LOWE Group
The LOWE Group is recognised as one of the top guardianship companies in the UK. They’ve even been invited all over the tele to talk about it – so you know it must be true…
They’re big on the positive social impact of their work – namely finding cheap housing for people that can’t afford the big city rents. If that’s a movement you can believe in then you might like their style.
Practical Tips for Property Guardianships
- Only go with someone you can trust. Try one of the companies above or research others thoroughly. If you don’t you might end up in a hell hole. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.
- If you can, take a guardianship where you already know someone. This is a good way of ensuring you can trust the company you’re renting off. Some companies may even demand you have a recommendation from the inside.
- You have to be patient. The waiting list for these places is long, especially now with rents going up and up.
- Make sure this is the kind of living for you. You’ll be rubbing shoulders with strangers and the chances are they won’t have your standards of hygiene, or perhaps won’t put up with your slovenly ways.
- Think again if this living suits your lifestyle. Are you ready to drop everything at a moment’s notice and find a new house? That might freak some people out. If you need to be in London 5 days a week for work and can’t leave the city to lay low with family/friends until you find a new place, then you’re in doubly hot water.
Read More London Guides for Property and Budget Living
- Things to Know Before You Move to London: A Handy Guide
- Where’s Good to Buy and Rent in London: Property Professionals on Navigating London’s Housing Market
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