30 August 2016
Camden Council is using more property guardians than all but one London Borough, the Green Party has discovered, and Highgate Councillor Sian Berry says “Use empty buildings as community spaces”
New figures obtained by the Green Party show that Camden has more property guardians than every other London Borough council except Haringey.
Freedom of Information requests, made by London Assembly Member and Highgate Councillor Sian Berry and Green Party national housing spokesperson Samir Jeraj, show that in Camden, 152 guardians are being charged to live in precarious conditions in empty public buildings, with no tenancy rights and a constant risk of eviction. Only Haringey – with 156 guardians – currently has more.
Furthermore, there are an average of 12.7 guardians squeezed into Camden's properties, a higher density than all Boroughs except Haringey and Westminster – and more than the smaller presence required to deter squatting.
Camden Green Party is calling for an alternative approach to guardians in a new property management strategy, including:
Councillor Berry said,
“Camden should not be acting as a second-class landlord by allowing its properties to be used to exploit people let down by the housing crisis. Property guardians should be treated like any other tenant, with proper health and safety rules, notice periods and protection from exploitation.”
“Even the better of the property guardian companies have their tenants on very short term contracts with fewer rights, and treat them as essentially unpaid security guards. With the worst companies, the overcrowding and rents charged amount to straight-up exploitation.”
“Camden should look at more creative uses for public buildings. Community and cultural organisations are crying out for short term spaces for their projects, and would happily take care of these buildings at no cost. The many people forming new co-operative housing groups could also make much better use of temporarily empty buildings while they search for permanent homes.”
The use of guardians is not essential. In contrast to Camden's approach, the Mayor of London has told the Green Party that City Hall avoids these arrangements, with no GLA Group empty properties (including those owned by the Met Police, London Fire Brigade and Transport for London) housing any guardians this year.
Property guardian companies have been accused of taking advantage of the lack of affordable homes to charge people nearly market levels of rent to live in often sub-standard, unregulated properties. Used in place of conventional security guards, the growth of the property guardian phenomenon has caused concern among campaigners.
There have been moves to make a change in the law to better protect people and to classify the fees charged as rent. Sian Berry asked the Mayor in July to call for clarification of the law to allow buildings used by property guardian companies to be classified as Houses of Multiple Occupation and allow minimum standards of health and safety to be enforced.