Property Guardians in the UK – recent developments (Aug 2014)

There’s been quite a lot going on recently so we thought we would do a brief round-up of news and developments. We hope to make this more regular.

New property guardian companies

In the last few months, 3 new players have appeared in the rapidly-diversifying world of property guardianship. They are all quite different and this shows the way in which property guardianship is developing to suit different clients, guardians and areas.

1) Acorn Guardians
http://www.acornguardians.com
Operating in London, Brighton and Bristol and charging  £50-70 pw plus a £750 deposit.
Rather like DotDotDot, on a ‘social business’ model.  ‘In order to maximise our social impact within the neighbourhood we will collaborate with local community partners to deliver our volunteering programmes. Each neighbourhood will be different and we will always seek to ensure our volunteers’ activities complement existing projects and deliver measurable outcomes.’ They also claim to be reinvesting up to 40% of guardian licence fees into a community fund.

2) Orbis
http://www.orbisprotect.com/discover-new-guardians-service-download-white-paper/
Formerly SitexOrbis, this company is one of the biggest security companies in the UK, responsible for 50,000 properties. It has entered into the property guardian market later than some of its competitors, offering a more professional approach. They write ‘Orbis has developed a best in market offer that is actively monitored and fully auditable to ensure fire, electrical, environmental and health and safety compliance and security…. we are the first company to provide a complete in house property protection service offering the traditional services alongside our professional live-in guardians service.’ They have also published a report on the industry (see below) but there is very little on their particular model in terms of charges, conditions and locations.
3) Blue Door Property Guardians
http://www.bluedoorpropertyguardians.co.uk/
A London-based business set up purely to provide guardians, run by people who have been guardians themselves. A predictable development and it may mean a different approach? They are charging £25-100 per week and a £350 deposit.

Report by Orbis – first industry research made public

Orbis (mentioned above ) has published a useful report on the industry, available here.

Key findings include:
– Estimate of 4000 property guardians in the UK
– Main age range is 25-35
– 70% of property involved is commercial –vacant office blocks or redundant local authority properties are most commonly offered
– License fees are usually £150-450 a month, or around 40% of market rent in most areas. Deposits charged are up to £500
– Property owners pay the company an average of £50 a week
– 75% of London councils use property guardians
– The sector is growing rapidly and demand has grown 30% in London and 40-50% in the Midlands (over an unspecified period of time).

It’s an interesting piece – and not just because it has some useful (if uncited) data. It has a strangely naive stance towards the relationship between the state and ‘the market.’ The report describes property guardianship as a ‘natural market evolution’, at the same time acknowledging its existence is also due to market failures such as the large number of empty housing estates in the Republic of Ireland. It also claims that ‘without the guardianship option, the Government would have to find homes for the 4000 people who currently perform the guardian role.’ The state as it is currently configured has almost no direct role in housing people, especially not those on low income – it has deregulated house building for private sale by the private sector (including those left empty in Ireland), as levels of social rented housing remain pitiful, despite huge demand. The report sees the guardian industry ‘professionalising’ but not requiring regulation as ‘guardians will increasingly be able to opt for the more professional operators and the market will become self-managing.’ With 25+  companies already operating in the UK, the ‘choice’ doesn’t stop guardian companies being able to exploit those who simply can’t afford any other accommodation. There are also precious little examples of ‘self-managing’ sectors in UK housing. The existence of hundreds of thousands of private landlords doesn’t seem to stop them being able to pick and choose tenants, evict them at will and raise the rents above inflation on a regular basis!

Property Guardian companies and the law

This recent article in the New Statesman/ CityLink has confirmed that solicitor Giles Peaker helped gain compensation for a property guardian ‘who had been locked out of a property after being given only two weeks’ notice by telephone. Her belongings, which were still inside the property, then went missing. She sued the company for unlawful eviction and received a substantial payout. In court, Peaker argued that the Eviction Act 1977 applies to guardians. That gives them the right to at least four weeks’ notice before being asked to leave. Despite this, several property guardian agencies maintain a two-week eviction policy.

This case appears to have implications for other guardian contracts which stipulate a two-week notice period.

Are guardians now free to speak to the press?

In the past, guardian contracts have stipulated that the guardian does not speak to the press about the property. Doing this would constitute a breach of contract, risking eviction or fines for them. But the New Statesman/ CityLink article suggests this is no longer the case. Please contact us if you have information about this.

That’s all for this round-up, as ever contact us on propertyguardianresearch@gmail.com

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