11 February 2019 | Uncategorised | Back to Blog

Our response to reports of poor practice in the property guardian sector

As a social enterprise, Dot Dot Dot is determined to provide all of our guardians with safe, good-quality homes, and we are working hard to encourage others in the industry to do likewise. A story was recently published highlighting bad practice by some of our competitors. Although Dot Dot Dot was not mentioned in the article, it is part of our mission to raise the standards across the property guardian sector, so we felt it important to clarify some of the points raised in the article and outline our own approach in response.

What has happened?
The i news website has reported instances of property guardians living in unsafe properties, without running water, working smoke detectors or safe fire exits. They have also stated that Colchester Council is taking property guardian company Camelot to court, in a landmark legal case, for failing to licence a House in Multiple Occupation (HMO) and for breaching HMO regulations, which provide protection for residents against living in unsafe buildings.

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 from leading legal experts Giles Peaker (quoted in the i news article) 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 this 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, quality 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 most other respects, including health and fire safety, licensees are entitled to the same protection as tenants, and can enforce those rights by the same routes.

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 make sure that people living in shared buildings have adequate facilities.

If, as claimed, the property guardian company managing the Colchester property did not obtain an HMO licence where they should have, or failed to fulfil their duties under health and safety legislation, they were breaking the law, and should be held accountable.

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 all properties with gas appliances have carbon monoxide alarms.  Unlike others in the sector, we never charge for fire protection devices like alarms – these are fitted in all of our properties as standard.
  • 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 published 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 quality service.

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

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