Why is Dot Dot Dot different?
From Dot Dot Dot founder Katharine Hibbert:
At Dot Dot Dot, we see the benefits of placing guardians to look after buildings that would otherwise be empty every day. Landlords can be confident that their properties are being lived in and looked after by reliable, responsible residents, who will deter crime and prevent the building from falling into disrepair. Communities avoid the anti-social behaviour that empty buildings attract, and benefit from having great neighbours who keep the building looked after and gardens tidy. And guardians get cheap housing – usually at less than a third of the equivalent market rent.
And that’s before you even consider the social value Dot Dot Dot creates through the volunteering we support – last year, our guardians were enabled to give 18,000 hours to good causes just because landlords made the choice to work with us to protect their empty homes.
So we’re very confident that – if managed well – property guardians are the best way to secure habitable properties that are empty for three months or more, from everyone’s point of view – landlords, guardians and communities.
But managing property guardians well requires effort, resources and expertise. At Dot Dot Dot, we have worked hard to create an approach which maximises the benefits of guardianship and mitigates the risks. The measures we have taken including using Giles Peaker, a solicitor who is the leading expert on property guardianship in the UK, to draft our contracts and licence agreements. Each of our guardian managers is responsible for a maximum of 70 guardians, allowing them to know each resident individually and respond to their needs and manage problems promptly and with a good amount of knowledge of the people and properties involved. And we make sure that we comply with all relevant regulations – around fire safety, environmental health and homes in multiple occupation, as well as the law relating to licenses.
Unfortunately, not all property guardian companies in the market operate in this way. Some – especially the smaller, newer entrants to the market – see the model as a way to make a quick buck. We have seen contracts drafted with worrying loopholes, properties managed in ways which create health risks for residents and security risks for owners, and behaviour by poorly-managed guardians which has seriously damaged landlords’ relationships with stakeholders.
The trouble is that when things go wrong for the cowboy operators – as they inevitably do sooner or later – the whole industry is tarred with the same brush, which is a real shame when the property guardian model has such potential to solve the problems caused by empty homes, and to create much-needed affordable housing.
We have recently heard about a small and unprofessional organisation describing itself as a property guardian company offering to place residents in the council flats of people who are in prison. This caused severe ambiguities about the status of the ‘guardians’, as the tenant in prison is not allowed to sublet their flat and the landlord had no idea who was living in their property. This approach was so muddled it barely counts as property guardianship.
We therefore recommend that landlords considering using property guardians take seriously the need to find a reputable provider who has taken a thorough approach to building a model which avoids these sorts of ambiguities and addresses the risks involved. Landlords considering using guardians may wish to consider:
The approach property guardian providers take to recruiting and vetting guardians
At Dot Dot Dot all our guardians fill in a detailed application form, are met face-to-face by members of staff, and have their references and other credentials checked.
The consistency of the property guardian service offered
Dot Dot Dot is proud of its relationships with large landlords who have worked with us for years, instructing us to manage large volumes of property, and who can and do provide testimonials about our consistently excellent service to new potential clients.
The strength of contracts used
We would encourage landlords to ensure that all contracts are carefully drafted based on accurate and specialist advice, regularly reviewed and strengthened to take account of legal changes and case law.
The ongoing management approach
Vetting guardians and using robust contracts is just the start – our experience is that it’s the ongoing management of properties and guardians is crucial to a providers’ ability to reliably deliver vacant possession without fuss or hassle. This is why we maintain a high ratio of well-qualified staff to guardians and use a lot of care in designing our management approach.
We are confident that landlords choosing a property guardian provider on these criteria will achieve a good standard of property security, and we are always very happy to answer general questions about the property guardian approach, as well as questions that are specific to our approach.