Dot Dot Dot’s reaction to Bristol property guardian court case judgment
On 24th February at Bristol County Court a property guardian company lost a case against one of its guardians.
Our view is that this case highlights poor practice by others in the industry, but has no immediate implications for our approach, or the viability of the property guardian approach in principle. We pride ourselves on the high standards to which we work, so property owners, guardians and local communities can all be confident that our service is safe, legal and beneficial to all stakeholders.
What has happened?
Camelot, a property guardian company, has been taken to court by a group of its property guardians on a range of issues. The guardians’ most significant claim is that they are in fact tenants, rather than licensees. Camelot, in common with all property guardian companies including Dot Dot Dot, bases its approach on placing people to live in buildings on licence agreements rather than tenancies, to ensure prompt and reliable vacant possession when requested by property owners.
Camelot’s approach – like Dot Dot Dot’s – is to create licences not tenancies by avoiding giving guardians exclusive possession of the building they are living in. The guardians in this case claimed that although the paperwork they had been given said that they did not have exclusive possession, the approach that had been taken to managing the building meant that they in fact did have exclusive possession of the rooms they slept in. They argued that they were therefore tenants rather than licensees.
The judge at the County Court in Bristol ruled in favour of the guardians. He decided that the way in which the guardians had been managed did not correspond to the approach described in the licence agreement that they had signed. Since what matters in such cases is what happens in practice rather than what the paperwork says, this meant that the guardians were legally tenants. The judgment can be read in full here.
The judge was very clear that there was a robust legal distinction between licences and tenancies, and that the key way to differentiate between the two when considering property guardians is to look at whether or not the guardian has exclusive occupation of any part of the property. There is no suggestion in any comment from the judge that this distinction was called into question by this case.
Our licence agreements – which we explain line-by-line to every guardian when they join us – sets out the ways in which we avoid creating exclusive occupation. And crucially, we carry out the measures contained in the agreements to the letter. We are therefore confident that our guardians’ status as licensees not tenants is not called into question by this ruling. Our lawyer, Giles Peaker, has written his own reaction to this judgment, which goes into more detail on the legal issues raised, and which can be read here.
The Bristol guardians also claim that Camelot failed to secure the necessary HMO licences and did not do enough to ensure that the building was safe. Judgment has not yet been made on these issues. However, our approach at Dot Dot Dot is to comply with all relevant health and safety and HMO legislation at all properties we manage, as we set out in January. We therefore do not expect this aspect of the case to have implications for us.
We will continue to monitor developments in this Bristol case. As always, if we need to adapt our legal documents or delivery model to continue to provide complete confidence in our service for all stakeholders, then we will do so immediately.