Ensuring property guardians are safe: our response to recent prosecution of a property guardian company

As a social enterprise, we are determined to provide guardians with safe, good quality homes, and we are working hard to encourage others in the industry to do likewise. i news reported that on 28 March, Camelot Europe pleaded guilty to 15 offences at Colchester County Court, including failure to licence an HMO, and 14 breaches of HMO management regulations. In light of this, we felt it important to clarify some of the points raised in this court case and outline our own approach in response.

What has happened?

Camelot Guardian Management Ltd (also known as Camelot Europe) housed more than 30 property guardians in a former care home on the outskirts of Colchester, but failed to licence the building as a house in multiple occupation (HMO). Not only was the building unlicensed, but Colchester Borough Council also found that numerous breaches of HMO management regulations, which provide protection for residents living in unsafe buildings. There were faulty fire alarms, blocked fire escapes and sealed doors. There was one kitchen between 30 people and shared bathrooms lacked hot water.

Our reaction

It is a great concern to us to hear of guardians being mistreated by other property guardian companies. It’s not just unethical to treat guardians like this, it’s also against the law. As set out in the white paper Dot Dot Dot jointly commissioned in 2018 from legal experts Giles Peaker and Andrew Arden QC, all property guardians have the right to live in a safe home free from hazards. In fact, guardians have the same rights to a safe home as tenants have, and those rights are enforceable by the same authorities.

As well as the obvious risks that unlawful practice creates for guardians and property owners, we also fear the damage it creates to the reputation of the industry. We therefore welcome the enforcement of the existing legal protections to bring up the standards in the sector and ensure safe homes are provided for all property guardians.

Clarifying property guardians’ rights

The i news article correctly clarifies that property guardians are licence-holders, not tenants. However, while this does mean they do not have the same rights as renters when it comes to security of tenure, in all other respects, including health and fire safety, licensees are entitled to the same protection as tenants.

The two crucial differences between a property guardian ‘Licence to Occupy’ and a tenancy agreement are:

  1. A guardian’s notice period to leave the building is 28 days (rather than the minimum of two months for a tenant) and they have fewer rights to contest this in court
  2. A guardian is given non-exclusive possession of the property – meaning that the property guardian company or the property owner can enter the property without giving notice.

Outside of these differences, guardians are entitled to the same health and safety, fire and HMO legislation protection as tenants, due to several pieces of regulation that apply to property guardian companies as much as they do to more conventional landlords. For example, property guardian companies are liable if a guardian is harmed living in a building, and environmental health officers have as much right to inspect a property occupied by guardians as they would a tenant’s home. Similarly, fire and electrical safety, and regulations on Houses in Multiple Occupation apply with equal force to properties occupied by guardians as by tenants.

Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs)

‘Houses in Multiple Occupation’ (HMOs) are properties where five or more people, forming two or more separate households occupy a property. A large number of property guardian buildings legally constitute HMOs, and in these instances, property guardian companies, just like landlords, are required to obtain an HMO licence, which gives them extra legal responsibilities to reduce the risk of fire and to make sure that people living in shared buildings have adequate facilities.

Camelot Europe, the property guardian company managing the Lexden property, did not obtain an HMO licence where they should have and failed to fulfil their duties under health and safety legislation. It is therefore a positive step that the organisation pleaded guilty and will be held accountable for its actions.

Our approach

At Dot Dot Dot, we are committed to providing, safe, well-managed homes to all our guardians:

  • We always meet or exceed the basic legal standards and strive to provide a high quality, consistent, transparent service to everyone we work with
  • We hold HMO licences for all our relevant properties, and complete gas, electrical and fire safety checks at every building we manage. Every kitchen has a fire blanket, and for every gas appliance we provide a carbon monoxide alarm.
  • In 2016 we published the standards we work to, so that guardians fully understand the basis on which they are housed, and can hold us to account if their expectations are not met
  • We are working to spread understanding and compliance with these standards. In 2017 we worked with other responsible property guardian organisations to publish a detailed outline of the law on property guardianship, to allow building owners and property guardians alike to understand the non-negotiable basic legal standards they are entitled to
  • We are a member of The Property Ombudsman Scheme – an independent body set up to protect consumers from unfair practice. Being a member demonstrates our commitment to high standards, best practice and delivering a fair, transparent and good quality service.

Next steps

We hope that clarity about the law as it applies to property guardianship will help all stakeholders – property owners and property guardians alike – to ensure that the organisations they choose to work with are meeting the basic standards required.

If you have any questions about the issues raised, please email us or call the office on 020 3005 2457 and we will be happy to discuss further.