Living in a Guardian Property is not a noble act. Property guardians are tools. Their primary purpose is to maintain the value of an empty property and the land it stands on by protecting it from squatters. In doing this they help facilitate a wider process which seeks to change the social makeup of an area so as to increase the rents that can be drawn from it. And all the while, they have barely any rights: neither exclusive possession of the property nor a specific period of tenure and no identifiable landlord. For fear of falling to the bottom of the long waiting list, prospective guardians are forced to take on properties that are often dilapidated and at times downright dangerous. And while the rules are enforced with little consistency, the contracts drawn up by the guardian property companies demonstrate an almost tyrannical attention to detail.
It’s a situation that has been a long time in the making. Deregulation and fragmentation of the UK housing market began in the 1970s and has gathered pace ever since. As a hyper-precarious form of tenant the guardian could be said to be a direct culmination of this process. Their existence would not have been possible were it not for a slew of housing legislation that has progressively eroded the rights of private tenants, removed social housing from public oversight, deregulated housing finance and generally transformed domestic properties from homes into a means of accumulating and storing wealth. Since a house is now increasingly seen as a commodity then its protection from squatters is vital. Profiting from that protection is naturally an added bonus. And the diminished rights seem perfectly normal given most of us are already encountering an ever more precarious housing regime in any case.
Every article I’ve read on the subject concedes some downsides. But none highlight perhaps the most serious concern: that in London (and elsewhere) the property guardian is being used to protect former social housing while councils seek to decant the previous tenants (on the grounds that the homes don’t meet the Decent Homes Standard) and open up the highly valuable land to private development. […]