We’re already into the second month of a new year and I’ve got my enthusiasm back again, hooray! And my broken elbow (or Spanish Archer, as Matthew Smith described it!) is finally getting better.
I had a very productive ‘one-to-one’ with my manager in January – we covered lots of ground and discussed different ideas, such as producing empty homes guidance for parish and town councils (which came out of our empty homes strategy consultation). By the way, David Gibbens has uploaded our empty homes strategy to the EHN Library for those who’d like to use it as a template. There was also enforcement and EDMOs; our empty homes grant management scheme and our matchmaker scheme.
Recently, we had to cancel the meeting of our Cumbria Empty Property Group when all but one of our members couldn’t attend, so instead I met the speaker on my own.
It was Chris McCormick from Ad Hoc, a property guardianship organisation that has been operating since 2006 in the UK, and all the way back to 1990 in the Netherlands.
It was really interesting to hear from Chris about property guardianship, which can help to keep a property ‘lived in’ and secure. The guardianship of a property allows owners to benefit from reduced liability for council tax or insurance. By living in the property, guardians can also highlight issues which arise, so they can be identified and resolved quickly. There is a short 31 day notice period to hand the property back to the owner, as the company grants a licence to occupy a unit to the guardian – but it is NOT a tenancy.
Guardians are strictly vetted and are usually people who need flexible and/or affordable accommodation. Many are professionals, key workers or mature and post-graduate students. It can also include those saving a deposit to buy a house, those ‘trying out’ living in an area before they buy, or for those who need accommodation for career purposes, such as nurses and engineers.
Chris explained that if an owner is interested, he would arrange to visit and assess the property’s suitability. He stressed that guardians won’t occupy a premises until the property is assessed for fire safety and decent heating etc. (There would be no obligation on an owner at this point). If repairs are necessary, Ad Hoc say they may fund these first and the owner would grant Ad Hoc a Property Protection Agreement for the premises.
It’s worth noting that the owner and Ad Hoc have the right to access the property at all times and there is no set period of contract, just 31 days’ notice for hand-back.
There are also strict rules for guardians – for example no pets, children, parties, smoking or naked flames.
My personal conclusion is that property guardianship may not appeal to all empty home owners as there are not big financial benefits, but it could appeal to those with a ‘social conscience’. It may be good for those whose properties are taking a long time to sell, as it would keep the property lived in and in a ‘viewable’ condition.
There has been negative press recently about some property guardianship organisations, and good positive stories too. Currently there is no overall regulatory governing body for property guardianship, so the decision on which organisation to choose – as an owner and guardian – will be down to careful research.
In the meantime, for those who are unclear, I hope this helps explain how property guardianship works, its pros and cons, and what one organisation in particular has to offer.
Best wishes from the Lakes,
Lynne Leach, Empty Homes Officer, South Lakeland District Council