Our reaction to reports about property guardians in Bristol
Dot Dot Dot is a social enterprise, and it is part of our mission to raise standards in the property guardian industry. A story has recently surfaced in Bristol that highlights some poor practice in our complicated and growing sector. We felt it important to clarify some of the points raised and to outline our approach.
What has happened
The Bristol Post has reported that one of our competitors is being taken to court by a group of its property guardians. The group believe that they have been particularly badly treated due to their status as licensees. In December last year, the same paper reported that the company did not apply for the appropriate ‘House In Multiple Occupation’ (HMO) licence and that people may therefore have been living in unsafe buildings.
The property guardians have argued that if they were classified as tenants then this kind of situation would not arise.
We believe the problems raised by this case are not related to the residents’ status as guardians, but rather the way that the property and guardians have been managed.
The legal basis on which property guardians are classified as licensees rather than tenants is well established and, in most respects other than security of tenure, licensees are entitled to the same protection as tenants. Property guardian companies must explain the differences between licences and tenancies, so that they recruit individuals who are prepared for life as a guardian.
The two crucial differences between the Licence to Occupy which property guardians sign and a tenancy are:
- their notice period to leave the building is just 28 days and they have fewer rights to contest this in court
- they agree to a non-exclusive possession of the property (which means that the property guardian company or the property owner can enter the property without giving notice).
Outside these differences, licensees are entitled to the same protection as tenants with regard to health and safety, fire and HMO legislation as well as from the Protection from Eviction Act. This means that the guardian company managing the Bristol property should have gained an HMO licence and ensured that they fulfilled all their duties under health and safety legislation, as well as giving guardians four weeks’ notice of the need to move out. If they failed to do so as is alleged, the property guardian company was breaking the law. This is the case regardless of whether the guardians were licensees or not.
It is a concern to us if not all participants in our industry uphold these legal requirements. As well as the obvious risks this creates for guardians and property owners affected by illegal behaviour by property guardian companies, we fear that good potential property guardians will be put off by negative stereotypes, and owners of empty properties will opt to board up buildings rather than using property guardians if the industry loses its good reputation.
At Dot Dot Dot we consistently comply with legal minimum standards, but we go beyond what is required by law because it is part of our mission to provide great housing to guardians and to raise standards in our industry. We believe that a focus on recruiting great guardians and managing them well is the best way to deliver a property guardian service which benefits everyone involved – including delivering a better service to property owners, because responsible guardians take better care of the buildings where they live.
We believe that consistency, predictability and transparency are key to providing an excellent property guardian service. Last year we published the standards we work to when providing housing to guardians.
We call on all property guardian companies to ensure that every property guardian receives at least the legal minimum health and safety standards that they are entitled to, and our ambition is to demonstrate that raising standards across the industry is in everyone’s interests.