Abandoned house, IcelandWith rents soaring and first-time buyers unable to get on the property ladder, could becoming a property guardian be an answer to the UK's housing problems?

Rents are out of control in the UK. Living in London I sorely resent paying out more than half of my pay cheque each month to a landlord.

That's why the idea of becoming a property guardian, where you look after an empty building and protect it from squatters or burglars in return for very cheap rent, seems like an option worth considering.

Soaring rents
In July rents across the country reached an average of £725 rising to £1,057 for London, according to LSL Property Services. That's yet another record high.


This means not only are we all paying out more in rent, it's also hampering our ability to save and pricing many potential first-time buyers out of the market.

It's now cheaper to buy than rent, but because rents are so high, it's impossible to save a deposit.

In fact saving up for a deposit seems completely out of reach for me and most of my friends. But if there was a way to pay less rent this could be a much more achievable goal.

How does it work?
There are a few property guardian agencies across the country, such as Camelot and Ad Hoc.

They work by matching people in need of somewhere to rent with individuals or businesses with empty properties.

For the renter, they're able to stay in an unused building, which can often be a large historic place such as a museum or church, in return for minimal rent.


The property owner also has the security of knowing someone is looking after the property and it's not being vandalised or inhabited by squatters. It's also cheaper than boarding up the place or paying for private security.

Buildings are also saved from falling into disrepair as there are people living in them who can keep an eye on any faults or problems and get them fixed quickly.

What kind of properties can you stay in?
The choices are wide ranging when it comes to where to stay. Potential renters can search through houses on the site and will then need to apply and have a one-to-one interview.

Right now on Ad Hoc there's room in a former school in Newcastle for £180 a month including bills, a two-bedroom flat in Bow in East London for £250 a month and a former unfurnished office in Liverpool for £160 a month including bills.

Can I become a property guardian?
This isn't open to anyone and you need to meet a number of requirements, as well as following rules such as only having two guests at a time to stay over. You also need to be employed, without dependents and flexible to move.

In the first instance you'll book an induction session. You'll need documents such as a passport, character reference from both an employer and a previous landlord and bank statements.

On top of this you'll also need to take out your own contents insurance to protect your belongings.

How much does it cost?
You pay rent and this is normally inclusive of any utility bills. Sometimes properties are unfurnished but there will always be toilet and kitchen facilities. If you've chosen a large space, such as a former school, there might be shared living spaces.

What's the risk?
Becoming a property guardian is not for everyone as you're not allowed to move in pets or dependents. Each renting contract is also on a short-term basis and you only need to be given two weeks' notice to be moved out.

The average age of a property guardian is between 25-35 and you need to be in a position where you could move at short notice. This is a risk, however websites like Ad Hoc boast a 98% rehousing rate and promise to help you find another property if you have to move quickly.

Who is in charge of the property?
The property guardian agency is given authorisation from the owner to secure the place and they will arrange a licence for the renter to sign. This is not a tenancy agreement as both the renter and the owner have equal access to the property at all times and if the owner does want to visit all they need to do is give 24 hours' notice.

Owners will also still need to pay empty property rates because the property is still not legally defined as occupied.

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