17 September 2020 | The Dot Dot Dot story | Back to Blog

You gotta fight for your right to safety

From our founder, Katharine Hibbert

Part of Dot Dot Dot’s mission as a social enterprise is to push up standards in the property guardian sector – and one of the ways we try to do this is to clarify and publicise the legal rights that all guardians and would-be guardians have. This blog is a refresher on those rights. We hope it’s helpful.

Property guardians’ rights apply whether they are living in a building managed by us, or by one of the other property guardian companies out there. Unfortunately, not all property guardian companies honour these rights – even though the legal basis for them is very clear. 

In the short run, the best thing individual guardians can do is to make sure that they understand the legal protections they have. They should check that those protections are being given in practice by the property guardian company they are considering living with.

In the long run, we need stricter enforcement of regulation so that no one can get away with bad practice. Dot Dot Dot has fed into the current consultation on additional regulation and monitoring for property guardian companies along with estate agents and others in the property industry, and if you would like to see change, we encourage you to respond as well.  

As a guardian…

…you DO have the right to a safe home

Property guardians have exactly the same right as a tenant to a home that is fire-safe and free from hazards and health risks. The rules that protect tenants’ health and safety also protect guardians, and guardians have the same recourse as tenants if things go wrong. 

This applies whether guardians are living in a house or any other kind of building. Even if the building you are in was not designed to be a home, the property guardian company must make sure that it meets the same legal standards a house would. For example, by installing fire-safe partitions between sleeping areas, and providing an adequate number of kitchens and bathrooms.  

Here is a survey of guardians’ rights we have previously written, giving more detail on this.

…your home DOES need a licence if it is a larger House in Multiple Occupation (HMO)

House shares that are lived in by five or more people who do not belong to the same household have to be licensed by the local authority, and must meet stricter safety criteria than other homes. This is true when the residents are property guardians just as much as when they are tenants. In some areas, the number of households is even lower – you can check the rules with your local council. 

Property guardian companies have been prosecuted for failing to license their buildings – we blogged about one such case here. Guardians may be able to reclaim the fees they have paid to live in a property if it does not have an HMO license when it should do – more information on this is available here.

…you DO have the right to 28 days’ notice when you are asked to leave

If your property guardian company asks you to leave without giving you four weeks’ notice, and you don’t want to go, they can’t make you. It’s fine to agree a swifter move-out if that is what you want, but you have a right to 28 days’ notice.

…you DO benefit from new rules setting maximum levels of deposits

Since 1st June 2019, the maximum deposit any property guardian company can charge is five times the weekly license fee for all new licenses. The new rules also ban almost all additional fees and charges – so property guardian companies cannot charge for things like fire safety packs. A summary by the government refers to landlords and tenancies, who are also covered by the new law, but the full information makes it clear that guardians are included too.

Dot Dot Dot’s approach

Dot Dot Dot treats these laws as the absolute minimum we will offer our guardians – we always follow them, but where we can we do more. To give three examples, property guardians do not have a right to have their deposits protected in a deposit protection scheme – a right that tenants do have – so we have independently set up a protected account so that our guardians can be confident that their money is safe. 

We have voluntarily chosen to join the Property Ombudsman scheme, so that our guardians can be confident that they have redress if they are unsatisfied with the outcomes of our own complaints process.

And we always invest in the work needed to bring the buildings we manage up to a safe standard, even if they are quirky properties like schools, health centres or office blocks. But we do more than this whenever we can by decorating and furnishing communal guardian lounges and hot-desking spaces in our larger shared buildings.

For us, getting the basics of property management right is the foundation of everything else we do. There’s no point in trying to encourage our guardians to be friendly neighbours and great volunteers if their homes don’t meet or exceed the standards they are entitled to.

And on top of this, we believe that property guardianship has an important role to play in getting empty buildings into use and providing inexpensive housing at a time of acute shortage. We want to see the industry fulfil its potential – and that means putting an end to law-breaking.

You can find out more about our commitment to providing great housing to property guardians and raising standards in our industry here.