What Is Property Guardianship?

What Is Property Guardianship
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You may have never heard of the term, but property guardianship has been around for many years and enables people to live cheaply in a property – but what is property guardianship and is it all good news?

There isn’t actually an official definition of what property guardianship is. However, generally, property guardianship is defined as a legal arrangement that sees someone agreeing to live in and take care of a property, usually one that is empty or derelict, in exchange for reduced rent.

That saving could be up to between 30% and 60% of the area’s average rent, which is why it appeals to some people.

It has become increasingly popular in recent years as a way for people to find affordable housing in areas where property prices are high – and help them deal with rising bills.

As the name suggests, property guardians are appointed to live in and take care of a property while its owner is away.

This could be for several reasons, such as the owner being away on business or travelling, or it could be because the property is unoccupied for a period.

Guardians are especially useful for commercial properties that are being readied for selling. But there are many grey areas surrounding property guardianship, so let’s look in more detail at this topic.

What being a guardian involves

property guardianship

Property guardianship is a way of providing security for an empty building. An empty property can attract crime and anti-social behaviour, so having it occupied by a guardian can reduce issues for the owner and the community.

So the main role of property guardians is to live in empty properties and act as a deterrent to squatters and vandals. Having said that, a guardian is definitely not a security guard.

As a property guardian, you don’t have to patrol the building every night and such like. Simply by living there, you will deter anyone from squatting or damaging the property.

You will be required to report any issues, including break-ins, leaks or other damages you come across.

So is property guardianship just another way of renting a home? Well, sort of. But a guardian isn’t a tenant before the law, which is an important distinction to understand, if you are considering becoming a property guardian.

Tenant vs property guardian

As a tenant, you are protected by the several laws and regulations, which cover evictions, deposits, rents, conditions and more. When you decide to rent a property, you will sign a tenancy agreement.

But if you are a property guardian, in most cases, you will sign a licence agreement and become a licensee rather than a tenant. While in both cases you sign a contract to occupy a house, flat, room or building, there are differences, which you should be aware of.

The main difference is that as a tenant you have the right to exclusive possession of the premises you’re renting. This means you decide who can come into your home and who can’t. This includes even the landlord, who can’t just enter your property without your consent.

You also enter a legal relationship as a tenant with your landlord, which means that you both have certain rights and duties.

On the other hand, as a property guardian you have the licence to occupy a property or room. Crucially, you won’t have the right to exclusive possession of the premises under a licence agreement.

Some property guardianship companies will give their guardians the right to exclusive possession, which makes it a tenancy, even if you sign a licence agreement. This means you will be covered under the same laws as a tenant.

There are other ways a licence to occupy is different from a tenancy. Here we summarise the most important ones.

TenancyProperty Guardianship
AgreementAssured Shorthold Tenancy AgreementLicence Agreement
DepositHas to be protected within government approved schemeNo requirement to protect deposit
FeeRent paymentsLicence fee
ConditionAny rental property has to be ‘fit for habitation’Could be far below the standard of rentals
Agreement lengthWeekly or monthly – but can be longer term fixedFixed term 6 or 12 month
RepairsLandlord is responsible for most repairsGuardian is responsible unless for repairs included in licence agreement
Access to propertyLandlord has to give 24h notice in writing for access – except in emergencyOwner or anyone acting on their behalf can enter the property without notice
EvictionLandlords need to give reason for eviction and give at least 2-month notice – covered under Section 21 Housing Act 1988Only 4-weeks notice required and no need to give reason – owner can give written ‘notice to quit’ at any time
RestrictionsYou might not be allowed petsThere might be restrictions regarding noise levels, pets, dependents, subletting and even guests visiting you

In light of these differences, it’s no surprise that the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities doesn’t encourage or endorse property guardianship as a form of housing.

However, at the end of the day it’s your decision where you want to live. But it’s very important that you know what you let yourself into.

While all the above-mentioned differences are important and should be considered, we want to pick out one especially: the question of condition.

A landlord that wants to rent out any property has to ensure it’s ‘fit for habitation’. This means that it has all the necessary facilities, such as toilets, shower, kitchen, etc. It also has to be safe to be lived in.

And even though all property for residential use, including property guardianships, must meet safety standards, this doesn’t mean they were made to be lived in.

The majority of buildings used are commercial, so disused banks, warehouses, factories, offices, etc. Imagine living in an old warehouse. You might have toilets and showers, but they won’t be as nice as in a rental.

And it’s unlikely you have a proper kitchen either, unless you are living in an old restaurant or a residential building. And even if cooking facilities are available, they might not be in the best condition.

You should consider this point carefully before deciding to become a property guardian. We discuss this a bit more later.

Benefits of being a property guardian

If you are now wondering why anyone would want to do this, we can’t blame you. But believe it or not, there are actually quite a few benefits of being a property guardian.

Low costs

The most significant advantage as a property guardian in the UK is the amount of money you can save on rent.

Probably the main reason why people decide to become property guardians is because of costs. Licence fees tend to be much lower than the rents in the same area. This means you could be able to afford to live in your favourite area.

The costs of living in a property as a guardian will vary depending on the arrangement that you have with the property owner.

For example, you may only be required to pay a nominal amount for council tax and utilities – which then brings the opportunity of saving up to buy a home of your own.

It may help to learn that you could live as a property guardian in London for as little as £650 per month including bills.

The property owner may also provide the furniture and other household items, but don’t be surprised if you have to take your own belongings.

Like with a traditional rental property, you will also have to pay a deposit, but that is normally also lower than if you were to rent a property.

The deposit is typically equivalent to one month’s licence fee and is used to cover the cost of any damage that you may cause to the property.

Live in your desired area

If you have your heart set on a certain area to live, but can’t afford the rents or to buy, then property guardianship could be the answer.

Because they are so much cheaper than rents, you will be able to afford to stay or move to the location you want to be in.

The only thing you have to remember is that it might only be short-term. But if the fees are sufficiently low and the terms are not too short, you might be able to save up for a deposit to buy in your preferred location.

Flexibility

Property guardianships often have short terms, which can give you a lot of flexibility if you are only looking for somewhere to stay for a short amount of time.

You can also end a licence agreement at short notice. So if your circumstances change you can quickly leave without any hassle.

While people who look for security might see this as a drawback, others might see it as a benefit.

Experience unusual living

Property guardianship can be a win-win situation for both parties involved. But always make sure the agreement is clear.

Although the majority of properties guardians live in are commercial, there is a wide variety of different building on offer. This means many property guardians live in unusual properties, which appeals to many of them.

The types of buildings available include:

  • Disused police station
  • Old factory
  • Vicarage
  • Redundant hospital
  • Old warehouses or factories
  • Former care homes
  • Flats
  • Houses
  • Old restaurants

The list could go on and on. You might even strike lucky and get to live in a castle. Admittedly, these don’t come up very often, but even so you could be living in a stunning building, as listed buildings are available.

But before you run off to become a property guardian (we tell you how to in a bit), you should also know about the drawbacks.

Downsides of being a property guardian

To be able to make an informed decision, you need to have all the information. This includes the negatives of property guardianship. And there are a few.

Legal aspect

legal uk

We have already talked about the different legal status of a tenant and a property guardian. The primarily aim for you to be there isn’t to live, like with a tenancy, but to protect the property, hence the difference before the law.

While the law says that every building that is used as a residential property has to be safe for habitation, including property guardianships, there are still many differences.

As a property guardian you have fewer protections than a tenant. This includes the security of your deposit, notice period, evictions and repairs.

One of the main aspects to consider is the fact that the owner of the property or anyone acting on their behalf has the right to access the property at any time. A tenant can refuse entry, even to a landlord unless written notice is given or there is an emergency.

Imagine being in the shower, when someone enters the property. You don’t know who it is and what they want. Sounds scary, right? This is reality for some property guardians.

It’s vital that you fully understand your legal position before you enter into a licence agreement for a property guardianship.

Lack of security

Most guardianships are short-term, which won’t give you security and stability. While some might see this as a positive, as we have seen, if you want somewhere to live long-term, it’s far from ideal.

The owner of the building can also give ‘notice to quit’ at any time, which means you might have to move out in a matter of at least 4 weeks without previous warning. For a tenancy the minimum notice period is 2 month, but for a licence agreement it’s only 4 weeks.

While the guardianship agency might offer you an alternative property in the area, it might still mean that you have to move a lot.

This can be quite unsettling and moving does also cost money. It’ll depend on your attitude to this, but for many people it would a negative.

Condition

derelict building in countryside

We have already mentioned this, but the condition of a guardianship property can be sub-standard. They might not even meet the basic needs such cooking facilities, running hot water, drinking water and heating.

When you first move in, the place might not be habitable, which can be off-putting.

You may have to find solutions for these issues yourself, if the company managing the property isn’t helping. Local councils have a duty to step in if the dwelling isn’t safe. For example, if you don’t have any heating.

However, this could involve some back and forth before the issue is solved. Damp and mould is also often an issue, as many buildings offered are disused or stood empty for a while.

This is a drawback that you should consider very carefully and keep in mind when viewing a guardianship property.

Sharing with other guardians

Many guardianship properties will house more than one guardian. So you might be living with people you don’t know. You have no say in who you will living with, as the licences are given out by company.

This might not bother you, but it could put some people off. Especially, if you have to share basic facilities such as bathrooms and toilets.

Not all properties will house more than one guardian, so it’s vital that you check to ensure that you will be the only person occupying the building you are interested in.

Restrictions

dog looking at sign saying "no pets allowed"

One major drawbacks are the restrictions that are included in many licence agreements. These incldue:

  • Not being allowed to have pets
  • Not being allowed to have children living with you
  • Restrictions about how many guests you can have at the property
  • Limits on how many nights you can stay away from the property
  • Not being allowed for a partner to move in unless they have a licence as well
  • Restrictions on noise

This is probably where the differences between a conventional tenancy and a guardianship is the most obvious. While a landlord might disallow pets, although new rules say they can’t just refuse ‘unreasonably’ and you can appeal their decision.

But a landlord can’t forbid you to live your with your kids or for your partner to move in with you. And it would be against the law for your landlord to tell you how many guests you are allowed to welcome in your home.

As a tenant you can decide to go on a two-month holiday if you wish. The landlord can’t stop you.

The restrictions and limitations will vary depending on the property, but be prepared to live your life according to some pretty restrictive rules.

If you are seriously thinking about the prospect, it is important to do your research and make sure that you are aware of both the advantages and disadvantages before you commit to anything.

Becoming a property guardian

If you are seeking a guardian for your property, it might be helpful to contact one of the several companies in the UK that offer this service.

Now that you know what a property guardianship is and what are the pros and cons, let’s look at how to become a guardian. First you have to know that not everyone can become one. You have to meet the following criteria:

  • To be over the age of 18 – however most property guardian agencies set the minimum age at 21
  • Have a clean criminal record
  • Provide proof of your right to live and work in the UK
  • Most agencies require a guardian to be in permanent employment/self-employment
  • Earn a minimum a mount per year (varies between agencies)

If you meet all these requirements, and are serious about becoming a property guardian, you first have to find need to find a property guardianship company that has properties available in your desired area.

Because this type of living arrangement has become quite popular in recent years, there are many such agencies. To find one, you can check with the Property Guardian Providers Association, a body which was set up to promote best practice.

They also have a redress scheme to which their members have to subscribe. This means that if you have any issues and the agency doesn’t help, you can use the scheme to get help.

Most guardianship companies will have an application process, which will vary. But the process will usually involve an interview and a background check. If you’re successful, you’ll be asked to sign a contract and pay a deposit.

What is property guardianship? – Conclusion

Becoming a property guardian might be just what you need, offering flexibility, low costs and the opportunity to live in an unusual property. It’s no wonder that it has become more popular in recent years, especially in expensive areas such as London.

But if you are considering this option, you should know exactly what you let yourself into. It’s not just another way of renting a property. The purpose of a property guardian is to provide security for a building.

This is a vital distinction, because it explains why a guardian is legally not a tenant but a licensee. As a property guardianship you don’t have the same protections and rights as a tenant.

Most importantly, in most cases you don’t have the right to exclusive possession. This means that the owner or anyone acting on their behalf has the right to access the property at any time. So someone could just come in while you are having a shower.

Other drawbacks include that the condition of the properties on offer might be sub-standard or even not fit for habitation. You might not have the facilities you would expect in a rental, such as shower, central heating or cooking facilities.

Many guardianship agreements include restrictions that could limit your enjoyment of the property, such as restricting the number of guests you can have, the number of nights you can be away from the property or not being allowed to have children living with you.

It’s important that you consider carefully whether a property guardianship is for you to make sure that your property dream doesn’t turn into a nightmare.

Authors

  • Steve Lumley

    Steve Lumley has years of experience writing about property. His output has covered everything from property investment, news for landlords and student tenants to articles on how to run a successful portfolio and starting out as a property investor. He has also written several books on the subject.

    View all posts
  • Paul James

    Paul James, is a marketing expert with a passion for property. As well as being a property investor, Paul has also worked within the marketing departments of some of the UK’s leading estate agents. Paul is the founder of Property Road.

    View all posts
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