Protecting London’s exploited property guardians
I’ve helped expose the plight of property guardians in London through groundbreaking research by the Housing Committee, which I chair.
Guardianship is a fast-growing grey area in the housing market, which urgently needs scrutiny, and the majority of guardians currently live in London.
Guardians don’t have the same rights as even private renters do, with licenses instead of full tenancy agreements and fewer rights to ask for repairs or take action against bad landlords. While rents started out much lower than private renting, they are now creeping up to near market rates in many instances, despite lower standards.
Guardians are often found living in empty public buildings and Green research in 2016 showed that over 1,000 were housed in places owned by local councils in London, though the GLA group of organisations has stopped using them in recent years.
The Housing Committee’s new research, carried out with the University of York, found a very different picture from the idea of carefree bohemians living in interesting buildings. Most guardians are simply working Londoners on lower than average wages who don’t see any other affordable options.
It also found that nearly half of Property Guardians had no idea how long they would be allowed to stay in their property. And living conditions can be austere. Many guardians had no kitchen facilities at all and some had to rely on temporary shower pods for their washing facilities.
The Committee’s report highlights gaps in legislation that mean guardians have little protection from the law. The contracts they sign up to can include clauses that deny them basic human rights like the ability to speak out if they are treated badly.
Our recommendations to the Government, which we will be writing to ministers about, include that they should:
- review current legislation and guidance to ensure Property Guardians can benefit from improvements made to the private rented sector such as deposit protection and bans on fees.
- provide guidance about the legal rights of guardians and where guardians can access help (the Mayor should also help with this).
- require all Property Guardian companies to register with a recognised property agents redress scheme. This would allow guardians to raise concerns about a company in a ‘safe-space’.
At the launch I said: “Without more attention, the growth in guardianship could give rise to a very substandard class of rented accommodation. We want to see action from the Mayor and Government to make potential guardians more aware of their rights and close the gaps in the law to give these most vulnerable renters more protection and security.”