Living in a Property Guardian Scheme
In the past couple of weeks Samir and Tessa have looked at Property Guardians from the perspective of the ethics of it and the legal side.
To end this short study I met up with two people I know who actually live in a property guardian scheme in South London and asked them what their experiences were.
Rebecca and Sue (asked for their real names not to be used) are single women in their 30s and moved into the scheme around 3 months ago for different reasons.
Sue simply could not afford her rental costs as they kept rising beyond her means. Rebecca had stayed months in the flat she shared with her former partner but couldn’t afford the deposit and 6 week’s rent in advance to find a 1 bedroom flat on her own. Property guardians became the ideal solution that allowed her to get out.
Both work full time and rent small studio flats for £350 a month including heating and hot water. However residents have to pay for electricity and council tax, although some of the properties in other schemes they had heard about rented for £750, cheaper than local market rents but not by a huge margin.
I asked Rebecca how she found the process of moving in, she said;
“It wasn’t in very good condition when I took it but the scheme told me I could live there rent free until I had decorated it and got it ship-shape. It took me about 3 weeks of work. That’s the difference with a normal place I suppose, you’d expect it to be in decent condition before you move in”.
Sue’s property wasn’t too bad but she said the running of the scheme isn’t very well organised:
“They have a head guardian living there that everyone is introduced too. They are tenants themselves but they act as live-in caretakers I suppose you would call them. You don’t really hear from the scheme people at all and when I was signing up it all seemed a bit casual.”
“They asked for employment reference and history but in reality they just gave me the keys and told me to do the work and let them know when it’s ready”
I asked them both if they knew anything about the rules that they are living under, for instance I had heard that some schemes say that you can’t stay away from the property at night.
Rebecca told me that there wasn’t a sign-up process like you would get with a council house or a decent agent. The agreement is just given to you and nothing was explained, other than to say if they were planning to stay away from the property for more than 2 nights they are supposed to tell the scheme. But it wasn’t made clear what would happen if they didn’t.
I asked what they liked about living in the scheme and they were both enthusiastic about the atmosphere. Rebecca said;
“Cheap rent, nice community spirit there. Everyone says hello, most of the neighbours are friendly, there’s a sense of camaraderie as everyone is in a similar boat”.
I explained a little about the legal side of living in property guardian schemes, pointing out that they are really tenants but are treated as licensees and that the companies who run the schemes play fast and loose with legal processes and have effectively created their own system and regime alongside the law.
Both looked uncomfortable at this, saying they knew about it but felt that a roof over their heads that they could afford was more important to them at this point in time. Although Rebecca and Sue were concerned that they never knew how long they would be able to stay or where they would be rehoused if forced to move. Rebecca:
“I’ve no idea how long it will be as it is dependent on the council finding a purchaser for the development. They say they’ll rehouse you in most cases but they state it could be anywhere.
I hope to stay for a long time if I can but what if they say I have to move to Tottenham? That would be too far for me to travel to work every day and I might have to think again”
I got the impression from our chat that living in a property guardian scheme is a bit of a curate’s egg. They can live with the ad-hoc casual way that things run, being merely quirky and idiosyncratic but neither of the girls is happy with the unsettled, temporary nature of where they are currently living.
Having said that, it is affordable and there is a community spirit among the residents.
The legal side of things troubles them but their need for a roof over their heads is understandably prime concern and the low rents mean they can probably get some savings together in the time they are there to enable them to move back into the mainstream in the future.
“Yeah I am saving” said Rebecca, “But not this week. It’s my birthday” she grinned.
I share Rebecca and Sue’s opinions of property guardian schemes. Obviously my legal head is outraged and my inner TRO would like to take them on but I am also a cash strapped working tenant paying 68% of my take home pay on rent who sympathises with their problems in funding proper accommodation.
It’s an open argument really. Are these schemes legal? Mostly not. Do they fulfil a need? Yes, most definitely. They may be disorganised but they aren’t exactly loan sharks, or the mafia. It seems to me that if people are willing to trade some of their property rights for an affordable home then that is their affair.
I can think of many arguments against my view too but for me, and I’m sure Rebecca and Sue as well are of the mind-set ‘Needs must when the devil drives’.