Ever since rising to prominence as a solution of sorts to the housing crisis, property guardianship has received a mixed response in the media. Property guardians have even become the subject of a Channel 4 sitcom, and while Crashing didn’t spawn a craze for property guardianship in the same way that Friends had us all heading to Starbucks, it did bring the day-to-day life of guardians into the public eye.
But such a new and unconventional living arrangement prompts an obvious question: is it a sustainable way to live?
Why property guardianship just might work
The original theory behind property guardianship was win-win: empty buildings get protected on the cheap, and people can live in dirt cheap accommodation. For many people, the system has worked out as dandy as a Warhol.
The real beneficiaries of property guardianship are the landlords. Much like how Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana and one clip of Vin Diesel’s voice protect the galaxy, these guardians protect properties that would otherwise be empty from damage or, more likely, squatters.
In a way, property guardians are like vetted squatters. As far as landlords are concerned, if someone is going to end up trying to make a bedroom out of an abandoned operating theatre, they may as well be someone the landlord trusts. As security firm Oaksure Property Protection point out, property guardians are cheaper than security guards, which makes the choice to use property guardians an easy and financially sensible one.
For a landlord of a property that is in disrepair, being refurbished or not currently in a rentable state for whatever reason, property guardianship is certainly a win. But it takes two wins to make a win-win, and while landlords may get the best deal from property guardianship, the guardians themselves aren’t always so lucky.
The downsides of property guardianship
Everything we’ve heard about property guardianship so far sounds like a good thing. But like the Fine Young Cannibals’ Good Thing, it may have gone away. Katherine Hibbert, founder of Dot Dot Dot (the property guardianship agency, not the inventor of ellipses), says the arrangement benefits guardians just as much as landlords. The accommodation they offer is super cheap, allowing many to rent homes in areas which they would never be able to afford as tenants. But this brings us to our first problem: property guardians are not tenants, which means they do not have tenants’ rights.
This has caused grief for many a property guardian. While many guardianships come to a graceful, mutually-agreed endpoint, on some occasions guardians are evicted from properties with very little notice, leaving them homeless. For a supposed solution to the housing crisis, this is something of a serious downside.
Another problem guardians often face is the draining and, sometimes, exploitative nature of their actual guarding work. While many agencies, such as Dot Dot Dot, advertise a guardian role as a cheap living option, it is actually a security job. Guardians are expected to stay on top of every potential problem in the property, otherwise can they really be called guardians?
The problem with this is that guardians must also have another full time job; rather than getting paid to be guards, they have to pay an agency to give them a license to guard. These are the same agencies that charge landlords money to place property guardians in the first place. Suddenly, things are looking less like a win-win for landlord and guardian, and more like a draw for landlord and agency, with the guardians themselves watching from the sidelines.
The verdict on property guardianship
For landlords, this is a Scarecrow-level no brainer. For agencies too, it’s a great opportunity to clean up like a janitor in a jetpack. But for guardians, it is more of a grey area. If you live a lifestyle that allows you to move out at the drop of a hat, and you don’t mind staying alert during your downtime, you may make a perfect property guardian. If you prefer the comfort of being a straightforward Neil-and-David style tenant, and would rather have more rights than an overly ceremonious religion, property guardianship might not be for you.