Moving London: When Living Becomes A Job – Anti-squatting and Property Guardians

When we decided to move to London the first question that came to my mind was: Would it be possible to find an affordable and reasonable accommodation in London? Some of my friends living in London have struggled to find something acceptable and I was sure that it would be difficult for us.  Another friend told us about new form of housing which is more flexible and cheap. That’s the way we found out about the existence of the so called property guardians.

[h4]The Downside of ‘Cheap’ Rent[/h4]

Besides the problems associated with high rent prices, I was aware that it would be near impossible to find accommodation as a recent migrant without a job, a bank account or any references from a former landlord. At the same time two of the people I planned to live with were still working for their former employers and had a reasonable income. In this scenario I thought that a German pass-port could be a helpful asset. Taking all these issues into consideration we thought that the easiest way to find a place to stay was to apply to be property guardians.

But this form of housing had some drawbacks which were not obvious in the beginning. First, we don’t pay rent- instead we have a contract in which we pay a so-called ‘license fee’.  We are not tenants in the flat but employees who are taking care of the property. In our case, we are responsible for a property that consists of two buildings that were previously part of a foster children’s home which they intend to transform into posh London apartment houses. The living space (as the room you are given is called) is rather large for the price we pay.

The negative side of this very tempting offer is that we can be evicted with only 2 weeks notice. We have agreed to give up some of our privacy by allowing regular and unannounced inspections of the property either by the owner, an official or the agent. Guests are not allowed to sleep over and minors are not permitted to enter the building. All this is denoted in our license agreement that is over 17 pages long, making it more of a working contract then that of a housing agreement.

[h4]History of Anti-squatting in The Netherlands[/h4]

This form of living emerged in 2010 after squatting became a major problem in The Netherlands. Anti-squatting companies have thrived in the last few years and some studies suggest about 80 to 100 thousand people that are living in this type of accommodation called ‘Antikraak’. In its short time on the market, the form has changed: at the beginning property guardians were paid for their role but now guardians pay as much as normal rents. This change reflects the shortage of affordable flats in many housing markets in big cities in Europe like in London. Even in Germany, where squatting has always been illegal, companies that are providing anti-squatting or 24/7 human security have been established.
Nevertheless as most companies offering these services need some credentials towards their customers their employees have to fulfill some criteria such as:
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• clean CRB
• present and past employment
• references
• passport or ID.
So for precarious accommodation, you have to provide a lot of hard evidence that can be difficult for persons with different immigration status.

[h4]Being moved around[/h4]

Since February 2012, I have lived in the same property but will most likely move in the next two month. When we moved in, we were told that we would have to move after 3 months, so we were lucky until now. Most property guardians are used to being moved around a lot and this is another downside to this type of housing.
Another downside is that you can’t choose the people with whom you are sharing the building. The license agreement is full of strict rules and makes it difficult to complain. If you don’t like the rules – you move out! As there are many people waiting for the chance to rent an affordable property, you can be replaced quickly.

Although this form of living has more drawbacks than assets, I would probably do it again as there are not many places which I can afford.

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