Businesses that house residents in buildings that would otherwise be empty have been accused of raising costs during the cost-of-living crisis, with one company apparently raising some fees by more than 100%.
This means property custodians – those living in empty buildings such as old factories, offices, nursing homes and condemned housing – face steep increases. Some fear becoming homeless.
They pay less than the market rent, but the counterpart is that they have fewer rights and, often, poorer living conditions.
Property guardian companies act as intermediaries between landlords and those looking for cheap accommodation, and are used by councils and housing associations to provide affordable accommodation.
Residents sign licenses that offer fewer protections than a rental agreement and pay monthly license fees rather than rent. They must agree to vacate the property with only 28 days notice, and no warning should be given before an inspection of their home.
Activists say some people live in properties rented by the Dot Dot Dot security company were hit with fee increases of up to 113%.
The company describes itself as an ethical custodial business and tenants are required to complete 16 hours of volunteer work per month as part of their license agreement.
However, residents at its site in Abbey Wood, south-east London, say they were told in January they had six weeks to accept the increases.
The London Tenants’ Union, as well as some of the guardians, are contesting the hikes and calling for a boycott of the business.
An Abbey Wood tenant, who has been a caretaker of the property for six years, said she asked Dot Dot Dot for more time to sign the new agreement as she was battling health issues and had to consider whether she could afford to pay £425 an extra month. The amount has since been reduced to a further £230.
She said she received a resignation notice – the equivalent of an eviction notice – in April and was threatened with legal action unless she moved by November, although she agreed to sign the new contract and start paying the additional fees.
She said: “I was in shock – I was absolutely touched and it made me really sick.
“I’ve always paid my fees, I’ve always volunteered, I’ve been a tutor for over six years.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do if they take me out – I have nowhere to go. I will be homeless.
A spokesperson for Dot Dot Dot denied that guardians who agreed to increased licensing fees after the deadline were at risk of homelessness, but confirmed it was taking legal action against some residents.
“Guardians who accepted pricing changes after our deadline are not subject to legal action. They continue to be hosted by us,” the spokesperson said.
“In a small number of cases, we take legal action against property guardians who have refused to honor the terms of their guardianship. We cannot comment on individual cases for confidentiality reasons.
The company said it suspended licensing fee reviews in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, before resuming plans in 2022.
“This is partly for our own financial viability as a business, and partly because we need to bring older, lower fees in line with newer ones so that tutors pay similar fees for similar properties,” said Dot Dot Dot.
He said guardians were initially given six weeks’ notice of the changes, which was extended to 10 weeks, and most accepted the increase. Under the previous Dot Dot Dot structure, fees ranged between £185 and £860 per month. This rose to between £325 and £895, including council tax and utilities.
Private rents have also skyrocketed, making it harder for property custodians to join the mainstream rental market. The latest Zoopla data released this month shows an average annual increase of 12.3%, with typical London rents up 17.8%.
This is pushing some tenants into property guardianship as they seek cheaper options, and housing campaigners say this surge in demand is partly to blame for the rising license fees.
The Property Guardian Providers Association (PGPA) expects the number of people applying to be guardians to reach 50,000 this year, up from around 30,000 in 2021.
Robert Taylor, an organizer with the Camden Federation of Private Tenants in London, says some of these businesses see the cost of living crisis “not as a very difficult time to help and support people, but as an opportunity to get even more out of it, knowing full well that if they don’t like it, there are plenty of others who will pay, because they’re so desperate to put a roof over their heads.”
Graham Sievers, president of the PGPA, which represents three parent companies (not including Dot Dot Dot), said most licensing fees include utility bills, meaning prices have risen to reflect the huge increases in energy costs.
However, the Guardian has seen evidence of another firm raising charges by over £100 a month where tenants have to cover their own gas and electricity. Dot Dot Dot caretakers at Abbey Wood also pay their own utility bills.
Sievers also attributes the increases in the sector to rising maintenance and repair costs.
“The license fees have increased – some would say closing the gap with the private rental sector, but I disagree,” Sievers said.
He admits there has been ‘bad publicity over license fee increases’ but said: ‘I did a quick check of the custodian properties available today, and I can still see some significant stuff. . savings for this type of accommodation.
“The PGPA does not set or recommend dues levels within the association, but we do insist on good communication between member companies and their custodians, to give sufficient notice and justification for any increases,” it adds. -he.
However, Al Mcclenahan, from the group Justice For Tenants, said: ‘The crisis in the cost of living means that many of the poorest in our society simply cannot afford basic housing.
“It increases the demand for cheaper housing. The increase in demand means that the guardianship companies can raise their prices and make more money.
“It’s hard to see what reason a parent company could have for raising prices above the rate of inflation, other than to make more money.”