Fancy making a country house in Devon set in 78 acres on the River Dart your home? Or perhaps a castle in Edinburgh? Well, for £45 a week, you could. All you need to do is become a property guardian. However, it’s not always that glamorous-you might be invited to take up residence in a disused warehouse instead.
The property-guardian concept has come to this country from Continental Europe. ‘Installing guardians to live in the property can be about a tenth of the cost of a more traditional security option,’ argues Paul Cosnett, regional manger of Camelot, one of the security companies that run property-guardian schemes. As the guardians are there simply to protect the property, no change-of-use consent is needed and the building still qualifies for empty property rates.
The main attraction to the guardians is cheap rent. ‘It varies, but you’re looking at about a quarter of the going market rate, sometimes far less than that. We’ve rented places out for £15 a week,’ says Mr Cosnett. Ad Hoc, another nationwide security-management firm, has more than 300 properties under its control in London, where it charges guardians according to the Tube zone the property is located in: £70pw in zone one, £60pw in zone two and £50pw in zone three and beyond.
Guardian applicants are vetted before they’re taken on. Typically, a guardian needs to be over 21 and in employment, which includes self-employment, and has to live alone-pets and dependants aren’t allowed. In practice, couples can live in a property together-as large properties tend to have several guardians in them-but both will have to be taken on as guardians in their own right. Overnight guests are allowed only with prior permission.
Property guardians are asked only that they live in the property and notify the company of any problems that arise, such as burst water pipes, although security companies make their own regular inspections. If a guardian sees anyone or anything suspicious, they simply have to alert the security company or the police, and need not get involved. However, the police may be on-site already-many guardians used to be in the police or fire service.
All properties are provided with running electricity and water, and have washing and cooking facilities, normally on a communal basis. These can sometimes be fairly basic, especially as about two-thirds of the properties are commercial rather than residential. If there isn’t a bath or shower room already, the management company provides one. Camelot, for example, will install a tempo-
rary shower pod at a cost of £600 to the property owner.
‘”Cooking facilities” normally means a Baby Belling, perhaps a microwave, and a kettle,’ laughs one experienced guardian. ‘But then I’m not looking to hold dinner parties there.’ Just as well, as guardians aren’t allowed to have parties under the terms of the licence agreement. Units are normally unfurnished, and even when they’re not, some of the furnishings may be of an impractical nature. Inviting a guest to ‘have a pew’ could be a literal invitation-churches are one of the many unusual empty properties Camelot have placed guardians in; others include convents, schools, observatories, fire stations, pubs and, in Belgium, a theme park.
Property guardians need to be flexible both in terms of adapting to quirky surroundings and in being prepared to move at short notice. Rather than have an assured shorthold tenancy agreement, guardians are given a property licence similar to that used by university colleges and halls of residences. Thus the guardians don’t get security of tenure and can be asked to move with only two weeks’ notice (‘although we always give four,’ says Mr Cosnett, ‘and we normally manage to place our guardians elsewhere’).
Ad Hoc normally gives only the two weeks’ notice, but, says a spokesman, ‘to date, we’ve succeeded in relocating 98% of our guardians. It varies, but we generally keep units for about eight months, although we’ve had some buildings for more than 10 years now.’
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