Every month for the last three years I have watched my bank balance drained to pay for the privilege of living in a decaying four-bedroom relic in Brixton complete with a rapidly growing family of mice and a landlord incapable of answering the phone.
I am now nearly a month into my summer odyssey with my first rental home, as a live-in property guardian in Gospel Oak, Camden, through the Live-in Guardians company.
I have mixed feelings about this scheme. At times it has been hugely enjoyable. Equally, it has demonstrated the pitfalls of such schemes — living in a windowless bedroom, sharing one shower with 16 others and an ever-increasing rodent population.
One big apprehension before moving in was about who I would be sharing with. I got lucky. I met a collection of individuals, all roughly the same age, all keen to find affordable accommodation in a central location.
My fellow guardians all work, from entrepreneurs to young professionals, musicians, writers, models, wine merchants, creatives and interior designers.
My arrival at the property felt like a throwback to university halls. I was shown a selection of rooms and went for the one furthest from the communal area. I lasted three nights in that room. Not only was the radiator stuck on 24/7, but I was awoken daily at about 2am by clunking noises which I believe were coming from the garage on the ground floor.
I managed to find another room with two fully functioning skylights and no radiator. I even acquired a selection of furniture from a former housemate who had left to spend the summer in Ibiza.
The only negative here was a constantly slamming door thanks to the room’s proximity to the ladies’ bathroom. But this issue was quickly resolved when one of the girls came across a rat drinking from one of loos at 3am. The bathroom now remains permanently vacant.
Live-in Guardians’ schemes are an increasingly popular choice for young renters in London. This is just one of a number of guardian companies capitalising on tenants who are looking for a central location without paying a hefty price tag in return.
Guardians can pay anything from £30 a week to between £350-£600 per calendar month including all bills, depending on the scheme they use. In return they provide live-in security for the building as well as lowering insurance rates and empty rates costs for the landlord.
At £400 all in, you might think I’m getting a good deal, but ultimately, are these schemes a viable long-term solution for the chronic lack of affordable rental options in London?
The operators of guardian schemes like this are on to a winner. They don’t pay for the building and, as guardians are expected to fully furnish the rooms from scratch on arrival, their outgoings are small.
Furthermore, as a guardian you sign a licence agreement rather than a tenancy agreement, waiving some of the privileges and protections afforded to a regular tenant. As such, terminations of contracts are up to the company’s discretion.
Have London rents been pushed so high that this is now considered an acceptable living standard?
It’s true that I’ve enjoyed my stay, and Live-In Guardians do allow people to live within tight budgets in amazing locations in London. In addition, if you have a nice bunch of people to do it with, why not?
A Government-led version of the scheme, perhaps on public land awaiting development, might be a good alternative. But above all else, London Mayor Boris Johnson and the big political parties need to look at their policies for the private rental sector.
By emphasising the need for larger homes, they lose sight of the fact that many young renters prize central locations above all else, and size of living space is of secondary importance. They just want a decent rental home that’s small and affordable where they can commute without spending too much time and money, and where they can have the ability to work and live in London.
- Tim has now moved to The Collective in Camden. Follow him on Twitter @Lowecostliving and watch his video tours at estatesgazette.com. The original version of this feature appeared in Estates Gazette.
HOW TO BE A LIVE-IN GUARDIAN ANGEL...
Live-In Guardians provides people to move into premises from flats to offices, schools, pubs and churches, to deter squatters, vandals and trespassers and cut property owners’ security bills and business rates. It claims guardians live in central London for 40-50 per cent below market rent including bills.
- Visit www.liveinguardians.com