UK Councils’ Property Guardian Use Needs Standard Policy

A new house building drive is currently avidly supported by the Government. However, that’s not the only property-related work UK councils have to contend with. Protecting empty, council-owned properties, such as disused public buildings or blocks of flats awaiting demolition or renovation, is another pressing concern county councils have.

A solution to keeping those properties secure and free from squatters, that a number of councils have found, is to us property guardians. A report by the International Business Times, shows that 67 councils use the services of property guardians.

“For most the councils using property guardians, it seems to be a financially sound decision,” said Belgravia estate agency, Best Gapp. “But, with no set policy regarding the use of their services, there are risks attached to the practise.”

The lack of a country-wide policy, is reflected in the range of systems in place among the different councils using property guardians. Guardianship is currently being provided by a number of different private agencies. The three most popular, according to the report, are: Ad Hoc, Camelot and VPS.

Among the councils using their services, the payment system differs widely. For a number of councils, including Waltham Forest and Camden, the property guardian firms pay the councils. Another form of agreement is where no money changes hands between the councils and businesses, Bristol is among the councils in this situation. For another group of councils, the agreements are that the councils pay the property guardian firms, Enfield and Islington among them.

Property guardian companies achieve an income by charging the guardians they employ a monthly license fee, typically below average residential rent levels. Then, in some cases, these firms are also paid by their clients, while in others the business, pay a proportion of the license fee to their client.

“While the case for using property guardians to keep council-owned properties secure is strong, particularly where councils are able to charge a fee, the lack of a single, transparent country-wide system with set policies has to be a worry,” said Marylebone estate agent, Kubie Gold Associates.

One main problem is, that while property guardians sign agreements to confirm they’re not tenants, but rather, licensees of the buildings they’re ‘guarding’, where disagreements arise, their rights revert to that of a tenant. Disputed evictions are generally granted at the same time period as a tenant.

This highlights that although guardians should have different rights to tenants, they still need some rights and protection. In the meantime, the councils and other clients using their services need to have legal protection too.

The property guardian agencies who spoke with the IBT during its investigation seemed interested in having a set policy in place, particularly with regards to working with councils. Although, the investigation did show that some councils already had firm, transparent agreements and policies in place. This appeared to be the exception and not the rule.

“Property guardianship can be a viable option for councils up and down the UK, but more needs to be done to gain transparency, a set standard and to protect all those involved,” said Central London estate agent, LDG.


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