This map shows which councils use property guardians to occupy empty buildings on their books*.
Property guardians are people — typically those who can’t afford to rent in London — who pay relatively low fees to guardianship companies to stay in vacant buildings on short-term licence agreements.
“Property guardianship can exploit those at the bottom of the housing food chain while making big profits for those at the top of the tree. It has taken off because of the housing crisis and is a symptom of it. Commercial rents are obscenely expensive, especially in London, and the pool of social housing has shrunk to unsustainable levels.
Councils are not generally thought of as users of property guardians, but data obtained by Samir Jeraj, who ran as the Green candidate for Hackney Mayor this year, shows that many local authorities use guardians in empty buildings they own.
Traditionally, guardians have been brought in to prevent buildings from being occupied by squatters, providing a solution for those such as artists and creative professionals who didn’t want to be tied into long-term tenancy agreements.
But the number of guardians in London is thought to have soared in recent years. By some estimates, there are now more than 4,000 guardians living in London.
Guardianship offers a cheap but insecure way of living. Eviction notices can come with only a day’s notice, and the contracts are usually very restrictive, with overnight guests and children frequently forbidden.
Siân Berry, who ran as the Green candidate for London Mayor this year, has called guardianship “the housing equivalent of zero hours contracts”.
The Sam & Annie Cohen Centre in Hackney, which used to provide activities and counselling for elderly people, is one council building currently occupied by guardians.
Samir Jeraj called for buildings like this to be made into community spaces and not occupied by guardians during his bid to become Hackney Mayor, and he told me:
“ I don’t get why they haven’t offered it to someone like the Hackney Food Bank, who were looking for a new place”
Hackney Council did not respond to a request for comment.
*Some figures were not disclosed: Ealing Council did not provide any data on the number of guardians in council buildings or the number of council buildings occupied; Kingston Council did not know how many guardians were living in the one occupied council building; Lewisham Council did not know how many property guardians were living in the 49 occupied council buildings in that borough.