Some of you will have read stories in the past year or two about property guardians. Originally a low cost way of beating extortionate private rental prices, the scheme has been coming under fire for rent hikes, poor living conditions and a lack of regulation.
I run a Facebook-based campaign and support group called Property Guardians UK. Over the past 2 years I have collected stories and information from those who came to my site and provided some with legal advice on problems they had with their agencies. I am also a guardian myself, currently in my 8th year in the scheme.
2 months ago I released a document summarising all the years of experience I have within the scheme, and highlighting its problems and what needs to be done to make it right.
The document calls for a broad range of changes, including protection for security deposits, tougher policing of the 28-day legal minimum notice period for termination - which a quarter of agencies fail to recognize - and formation of a regulatory system which would allow guardians to bring complaints to about the shocking way some have been treated by agency staff. Another area of concern relates to health & safety laws and overcrowding.
I'm very pleased to say that the response I've received has been overwhelmingly supportive. I received support from a member of the House of Lords and invitations to meet with senior management of a couple of agencies and also with Sian Berry of the London Assembly to discuss my proposals.
The Mayor's office has also responded and referred this on to the Department of Communities and Local Government to make a decision regarding the licensing of guardian properties as HMOs. This is really exciting. It would provide a solution to a lot of the problems guardians face within the scheme, and give both agencies and councils clear guidance on their powers and responsibilities for the first time.
I am indebted to Lucinda Skies and the protesters occupying the former Camelot agency offices near Old Street as they also passed on some very important documents to me, showing that in 2010 Camden Council had forced the agency to register all its properties as HMOs. The precedent this sets is incredible and I hope the Department of Communities finds itself in agreement with the decision previously made by that council. While this will not address every issue raised, it will be a great first step towards achieving the more equitable arrangement for all parties that I am seeking.
Some members of local government and guardian agencies are in agreement with much of what I have proposed, and are being supportive in developing this further. The rise of guardianship has come about partly in response to the out of control private rental sector. Making more habitable but currently unused buildings available again for residence and also for community use can only be a good thing. But we need to be very careful that agencies don't establish a second class form of tenancy. With the right regulations in place, the scheme could expand and help take a little of the heat out of the private rental market.