What are guardian property services?

What are guardian property services?

The term “property guardian” isn’t one that many people are familiar with, and yet there are thousands of property guardians currently living in the UK. But what are property guardians and what services do they provide? Well, the definition of “guardian” is a person who protects or defends something. And while this might bring to mind some kind of superhero from The Marvel Universe, property guardians generally don’t fly, travel through space, or wear fancy costumes (except maybe on the weekends)...

So, what do they do? Well, keep reading and we’ll share everything we know.

What is a property guardian?

A property guardian is someone who agrees to live in a building or part of a building that would otherwise be sitting empty. Guardian property services are the companies that locate, interview, and assign these property guardians. So if you own a vacant property, you might hire a guardian property service company, and they would find you a suitable guardian.

But why would you want that? Well, property guardians pay rent like any other tenant and can help keep a property secure by deterring intruders. Now, this doesn’t mean they need to carry a hockey stick around after dark, searching for burglars to scare off — it’s more about naturally deterring break-ins by being present at the property. Squatters, for example, might survey properties for lights being switched on and off, the sounds of television in the evenings, or people entering and leaving the property. So as you can imagine, a property guardian can just go about their normal day-to-day routine, providing their home with a general level of activity, and in doing so discourage any potential intruders.

Property guardians can also be tasked with maintaining the properties they reside in. But again, this doesn’t mean they’ll need to get hands-on with a hammer and wrench, it’s more about reporting any problems as soon as they appear. That way issues can be dealt with quickly before they cause lasting damage — ie. mould growing across the walls or unwanted pests creeping in through a hole in the wall. It’s important to note, however, that guardian property companies aren’t legally obliged to carry out any repairs unless they’re specifically mentioned in the licence agreement. However, guardians can report any hazards to their local authority who have the power to enforce repairs if they choose to.

What do guardian properties look like?

Guardian properties are more commonly commercial or industrial buildings — think empty factories, office buildings, schools, shops, and pubs. For this reason, they’re often not kitted out for living in the same way as a residential building, but they will usually have running water and kitchen facilities. Occasionally residential properties use guardianships too, perhaps for a second home that sits empty most of the year-round, but this isn’t common.

In terms of describing the living situation, it really depends on the individual guardian property. Some are set up for one resident — this could be a self-contained, fully-furnished home above a pub, for example, just like any other you’d choose to rent. While others could be set up as communal homes for several property guardians — in that case, you might be looking at a disused office space with a mattress on the floor… (Sometimes you won’t even get the mattress).

Are guardian property schemes a good idea?

For some, guardian properties provide an ideal living situation. The rent is cheaper, the spaces are interesting, and communal living can be a bonus if you're a social butterfly who’s laid back on privacy. It was particularly popular in the early 00s among artists and creative professionals due to the large living/studio spaces on offer and was popularised further by a TV series called Crashing written by Phoebe Waller-Bridge.

In reality, guardian properties have gotten a lot of bad press in recent years, with some companies charging guardians to live in seriously poor conditions. In particular, guardian properties in London have boomed under the housing crisis and there have been many reports of buildings that are overcrowded or fail to meet health and safety standards.

If you’re interested in becoming a property guardian, here are a few things you should know before you sign an agreement:

  • Most property guardianships are given under a licence to occupy and not a tenancy agreement. This means your eviction notice period will likely be 28 days and you won’t be entitled to the same tenancy rights as a traditional renter.  
  • Many of these properties have temporary bathroom and kitchen installations, so it’s a good idea to see these in working order and ask how many people are currently using the facilities.
  • In most cases, property guardianships come with conditions such as no more than 2 guests at a time, no overnight guests, no prolonged absences, no pets or children, etc… So make sure you’re happy with those first.
  • Depending on the type of property, there may be health and safety hazards that you wouldn’t ordinarily find in residential accommodation. It’s a good idea to check on heating, damp, electrical hazards, fire risks, and structural defects before you agree to move in. You can find a complete list of considerations on GOV.UK.
  • Occasionally, property guardians are asked to sign non-disclosure agreements that prevent them from raising issues with the owner or speaking out on social media or to journalists about their living situation. If you’re asked to sign one of these, it’s a good idea to contact Citizens Advice for legal support first.

A few final tips…

Guardian property services can be beneficial for both property owner and guardian — when managed fairly! If you’re considering hiring these services or becoming a guardian, it’s important to research thoroughly and search for reviews from previous guardians/property owners. For guardians, it’s also important you visit the property, survey for any hazards, and get a second opinion if you’re ever unsure.

If you do end up in an unacceptable living situation, contact: Citizens Advice

For property owners looking for more ways to prevent break-ins, check out: ‘9 ways to protect your new home’.

Urban Jungle is not a financial advisor and information in this article should not be taken as advice or recommendation.