Kirstie Goulder

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Property Guardianship Insight: ‘You’re punishing the wrong people.’

Property Guardianship / 04 July 2017

An update from Kirstie Sowter, Property Guardianship Lead Greenwoods Solicitors LLP

Property guardianship made the headlines multiple times last week. The Bristol Post has reported a key judgment handed down in Bristol County Court earlier this year in which a property guardian was classed as an assured shorthold tenant as opposed to a licensee.

Startling as this judgment may appear at first glance, we must remember that this judgment was fact-specific, was a County Court as opposed to Appellate judgment and each decision will always turn on its individual facts. It does not mean that all future judgments are destined to go the same way.

It is now becoming clear that, ironically, the decision may have left some property guardians with legitimate concerns about their security of tenure in the future.  Despite the seeming rise in “property guardian activists” on Facebook and other outlets, many property guardians in Bristol have now expressed fears that they could be left homeless if Bristol City Council follow through with their expressed intention to formally phase out property guardianship in the city in light of this decision.

What this decision shows more than anything is that property guardian providers need to take action now to ensure they have a strong and viable business model.

What’s next for property guardianship providers

Property guardianship providers need to create a plan to:

  • Avoid other building owners/local authorities ‘pulling the plug’ on property guardianship agreements in other cities in light of this decision;
  • Do all they can to improve the image of the property guardianship industry, from being the “big bad wolf” to being at the vanguard of providing a new, flexible answer to the country’s long-term housing crisis.
  • Ensure they agree, adopt and maintain their own code of “best practices” across the industry.

Points 1 and 2 are connected by a common theme – negative press. As a sector, all guardians need to take active steps to seize the opportunity to promote the real benefits of property guardianship from the guardians’ perspective. On meeting with the London Assembly Housing Committee last week, I had the impression that most of the property guardians who have participated in their survey so far are very positive about property guardianship, the standards of properties and the access it gives to affordable housing in London.

Point 3 highlights the need to take some time to ensure the guardianship business model is secure.  A refreshed business plan, and a review of the legal documentation underpinning the model can reassure current and new clients that guardianship is still a viable option. A legal and commercial analysis is of course just part of the story: you should also be thinking about other critical issues such as enshrining guardians’ rights, Corporate Responsibility policies and health & safety issues (surely now at the front of everyone’s minds). Please contact me for any further advice.

The prominence of the housing sector really struck me last week when I noticed that #CIHhousing2017 was trending on Twitter!
I spoke to a number of you who went along and discussed a variety of topics including the purpose of accessible housing, gender equality and diversity and balancing commerciality with social purpose.

If you are hosting or attending a property event, big or small, let me know. I might be able to personally re-tweet you or attend to offer knowledge and support.
Also, make sure you keep an eye out for key hashtags on twitter which include: #propertyguardianship #housingcrisis #emptyhomes.

Housing issues

The devastating scenes at Grenfell Tower have left its surviving residents homeless and frustrated.  I’ve followed the situation closely, and it’s worth listening to last week’s Victoria Derbyshire show, where residents confronted housing minister Alok Sharma on rehousing issues.

This tragic event also highlights another important issue – no one wants their property guardians living in potenially unsafe conditions. I have asked Greenwoods’ Head of Regulatory and fire safety specialist, Kathryn Gilbertson, to share her thoughts on the incident in a future blog. She’ll provide useful insight on existing legislation and the potential impact on the sector.

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