Research commissioned on property guardianship

Posted on 5 March 2018

Professor Caroline Hunter and Jed Meers inform London Assembly Housing Committee’s inquiry.

The controversial phenomenon of property guardianship is described as an ‘affordable alternative to renting’ and derided by others as ‘exploitative’ of those on low incomes. Explaining how the arrangement works, Jed Meers from the York Law School noted: “The basic proposition is win-win: those with otherwise empty buildings can avoid costs and profit from offering live-in ‘property guardians’ cheaper accommodation, often in usual surroundings”.

In order to explore the associated problems and widen knowledge on the area, the London Assembly Housing Committee launched an inquiry focused on property guardianship in the capital. Common issues of property guardianship include the use of buildings unsuitable for human habitation and the occurrence of companies suggesting that they offer rooms on licence rather than by tenancy, with associated protections, such as the protection of deposits, consequently not provided. Reports of short notice periods or unclear terms have also raised concerns about the security of guardians’ occupation.

Professor Caroline Hunter and Jed Meers from the York Law School were commissioned by the London Assembly’s Housing Committee to provide underpinning analysis for this inquiry. As so little is known about the sector, the study was broad-ranging and looked at property guardian demographics, property standards, and asked guardians about their experiences. This involved mapping advertisements across the Greater London area, undertaking a survey of London-based property guardians and highlighting concerns raised by local authority staff tasked with the enforcement of licencing and property standards.

Researchers uncovered a diverse sector, with a variety of motivations pushing people into property guardianship; some looking to save money on their rent, others feeling that they had little choice to live elsewhere given the lack of affordable accommodation in the capital. Property standards were identified by guardians as a problematic issue, particularly being able to keep buildings warm and the presence of mould and damp. A notable issue underscored by the research was the lack of protection for deposits, often significant sums of money, on par with those paid elsewhere in the private rented sector.

Drawing on this work by the York Law School and evidence submitted to their inquiry, the Housing Committee made a series of recommendations on property guardianship; specifically on moving towards a set of common standards to be upheld by property guardian companies, best practice guidance for London boroughs utilising the services of property guardian companies and for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to review existing legislation, such as the Tenant Fees Bill, to ensure protections are provided for property guardians occupying on licence.

For read the full report and find more information, or to register for updates on the project, please visit the research project’s website