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This publication is available at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/property-guardians-fact-sheet/property-guardians-a-fact-sheet-for-current-and-potential-property-guardians
1. A property guardian is someone who has entered into an agreement to live in a building or part of a building that would normally be otherwise empty for the primary purpose of securing and safeguarding the property.
2. The cost of occupying a property under a guardian scheme may be cheaper than renting a similar-sized property at market value and may offer an agreement with fewer long-term commitments than a typical tenancy agreement. However, the properties that are used are frequently commercial or industrial buildings that were not originally intended to be used as residential accommodation and guardians may be required to leave at short notice.
3. The government does not endorse or encourage the use of property guardianship schemes as a form of housing tenure. It is important that anyone currently acting as a property guardian, or considering entering such an arrangement should fully understand their rights and responsibilities, as property guardianship differs from a residential tenancy.
4. This document has been produced to help current and potential property guardians understand their rights. However individual agreements and circumstances will vary and you should take your own legal advice, contact your local housing advice centre or Citizens Advice.
5. Guardians usually enter into an agreement or licence with the guardian company (not the building owner). This agreement gives the guardian the right to occupy all or part of a building, with the specific purpose to secure the building and comply with any obligations set out in their licence agreement. A guardian has no right to exclusive possession of the property.
6. Guardian companies are not required to protect the deposits of property guardians within a government-approved scheme if guardians have a licence agreement, rather than an assured shorthold tenancy agreement.
7. Individual licence agreements will vary and might require guardians to do things like report intruders, regularly check or set fire and security alarms, secure doors in the building and report any damage. Guardianship agreements may also lay out rules and restrictions that the guardian must follow such as limiting the number of visitors to the property or restrictions on the number of nights a guardian can leave the property if they decide to go away.
Keeping the building and living accommodation safe
8. The properties used are generally not designed or adapted for residential use. They may be industrial or commercial buildings and in poor, unsafe and unclean condition with poor physical security and limited access to facilities. Areas of the same building may be licenced to different guardians, who may then be required to share facilities. Even where residential buildings are used, they can also be in poor condition and may have similar security and safety concerns.
9. A building occupied through a guardianship scheme may not always meet the appropriate safety and repair standards that apply to a residential building that is rented through a residential tenancy or licence agreement. However, this does not mean that property guardians have no protection from hazardous conditions.
10. Property guardian companies and building owners have a duty (under the Occupiers’ Liability Acts 1957 and 1984) to take reasonable care to ensure that guardians and their visitors are reasonably safe when they are using the property in compliance with their licence agreement. If you feel that your guardian company or property owner have failed in this duty, and are considering bringing proceedings against them, you should take your own legal advice or talk to your local Citizens Advice.
11. Local housing authorities have responsibility for enforcing housing standards in residential properties, using powers in the Housing Act 2004. Those powers do not usually apply to non-residential buildings but where a property is occupied or intended to be occupied as a separate dwelling and used for cooking and sleeping local authorities may have the right to inspect the property and take action if it contains hazards. If you are concerned about hazards in the property you occupy, you should contact your local housing authority, who can consider whether their enforcement powers apply in your particular case.
12. The property may also be subject to licensing requirements under mandatory house in multiple occupation (HMO) licensing or selective licensing schemes. You should check this with your local housing authority.
Terminating a guardianship agreement
13. Some guardianship agreements will be for a fixed term and, unless renewed, the guardian will be expected to leave at the end of the term or give notice, as specified in their licence agreement, should they want to leave earlier. Others will be periodic, and some agreements may contain provisions allowing the agreement to be terminated by the guardian company at very short notice.
14. Whilst a property guardian does not have a right to stay in the building after the guardian company has asked them to leave they are still protected by the Protection from Eviction Act 1977. Because of this, notice periods of less than 4 weeks are likely to be unlawful, regardless of provision within the licence agreement.
15. If the guardian does not leave at the end of the notice period or when a fixed term agreement expires the property guardian company or building owner must apply to the court for a possession order, which the court must grant.
16. Under the Protection from Eviction Act 1977 it is an offence for the property guardian company, the owner of the building, or anyone acting on their behalf to unlawfully evict an occupier from their living accommodation or do anything with the intention of making them leave; such as withdrawing services or shutting off utilities.
17. If you are concerned about illegal eviction, you should take your own legal advice. You should contact your local housing advice centre, Citizens Advice, or your local housing authority.