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The Guardian – The Observer

01 September 2013

Sky-high rent? Why not get a home on the cheap and live like a lord As the costs of renting soar we look at innovative ways to find accommodation on the cheap – from being a property guardian to a homesharer

Kate Williams's rent for a room at Delapre Abbey, Northampton, is £240 a month, including bills. Photograph: Karen Robinson for The Observer

The cost of renting has been rocketing. According to the latest figures from the HomeLet Rental Index, the typical UK rental property now costs £826 a month while those in London are an average of £1,297. These eye-watering sums are only set to increase – by 2020 rents will be 46% higher than they are today, according to the National Housing Federation. David Orr, chief executive, says: "For decades we simply haven't built enough homes, resulting in a dysfunctional housing market with inflated costs." But there are ways to cut those costs – and you don't have to slum it to do so. A room in a stately home could be yours for £55 a week, and that's just one of the options for those willing to eschew typical rental arrangements. Property guardians You could choose to be a property guardian in one of the thousands of empty properties around the country – from fire stations, vicarages, pubs, care homes and old schools. In exchange for keeping an eye on the building, guardians benefit from rock-bottom rent. Ad Hoc Property Guardian, for example, currently lists several hundred properties in the UK with rents ranging from £150 to £450 a month. As with a standard rental agreement, you will pay a deposit and sign a contract. Provided you have proof of earnings that will cover the cost, you are allocated a room or property in an area to suit you. Kate Williams, 27, a freelance writer and musician, pays around £240 a month, including bills, to live in a 25ft-square room in Delapre Abbey, a country estate near Northampton complete with stained-glass windows, grand staircase and surrounded by around 500 acres of parkland. It's managed by Camelot Property, which says guardianship is most popular among key workers and people in their 20s and 30s faced with unafforable rent.

The Observer | 01-09-2013

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Live in a stately home – just don't get too settled in Victorian observatories, 14th-century monasteries and loch-side country houses … guardianship of quirky historic properties is a cheap way to rent, if you don't mind having no tenants' rights Oliver Wainwright The Guardian, Monday 22 July 2013 18.45 BST

Originally developed in the Netherlands as a form of "anti-squatting" to secure buildings against uninvited Lorna Sankey, property guardianguests, at Theguardianship Charterhouse, old 14th Century Monastery Coventry is an a rapidly growing part of the UKinproperty security industry, with around 20 private

companies offering space for up to 10,000 guardians. Most are concentrated in London, where a plethora 'It's nice living among priceless medieval murals' ... Lorna Sankey, property guardian of a 14th-century of redundant council-owned buildings awaiting demolition or refurbishment provide alternative interim monastery near Coventry. Photograph: John Robertson for the Guardian bases for those happy to put up with basic facilities and short-notice periods – or what the company describe "adventurous Fancy being lord of the manor inwebsites a Scottish countryas house, completeliving". with its own hunting forest, walled garden and loch – for £60 a week, all bills included? Or how about living in a cemetery lodge or vicarage James Eagle, a 29-year old architecture student, lived in aacross formerthe council youth centre in south London for the same price, or in the double domes of a Victorian observatory in Wirral, with a view for two years with 16 others, paying £220 a month – a fraction of the local rent. "It was a great way to Mersey (telescope not included)? meet like-minded people when I first moved to London," he says. "You end up in some really interesting spaces. My afriends have lived in churches, andmonastery) an old carenear home, complete with an industrialFor 30-year-old care worker Lorna Sankey, 14th-century charterhouse (a schools Carthusian kitchen stairlifts – which proved usefulmedieval after a night out." she Coventry has been home for thesized last year. "It'sand quite nice living among priceless murals," says, climbing the oak-panelled staircase, where leaded windows look out on to a rambling garden, the guardianship companies' websites with romantic Victoriana – crumbling castles and cosy pubs site of the former monks' cells. "IWhile only pay £225 a month, so it means I canbrim work part-time – and we have – where you actually end up is something of a lottery. The holy grail properties, such as 100 Piccadilly, all this amazing space." managed by Live-in Guardians, where you can reside in the heart of Mayfair beneath crystal chandeliers a week, areoffew and farguardians between.choosing A rundown school quirky or ailing office block is closer to the norm. Sankey and her housemates joinfora £100 growing number property to inhabit vacant buildings up and down the country, taking temporary refuge from the overheated rental market. Since the recession, there been awith 40–50% increasetoinlook guardian properties, with local authority For a knock-down fee they receive a licence to occupy the has premises, an obligation after the making up the bulk. Guardianship giant houses 10,000 people across Europe, building. But crucially they have buildings none of the conventional rights of a tenant, so canCamelot, be easilywhich moved on boasts about hadsecure every London borough on Sankey. its client "We list. "Councils are shutting down buildings when the owner wants the property back. "It'shaving not a very way of living," says could everywhere canhave to save money," says be kicked out with two weeks' notice, so youthey always to have a plan B."Tony Brennan, the company's regional manager for the north. "Only 20% of our properties are residential, but we're dealing with a growing number of housing estate "decants". It would cost a fortune to secure these estates against squatters, but we provide the service for a very low management fee." Bidston Observatory on Bidston Hill, Wirral. Bidston Observatory on Bidston Hill in Wirral. Photograph: Alamy "It's a win-win-win situation," agrees Zoë Oakes of Ad Hoc, one of the largest guardianship companies in the country, with eight regional offices and around 1,500 guardians on its books. "The property owner pays next to nothing for security, the guardian pays much less than normal rent, and we make money." Put in these terms, it may well seem that everyone's a winner. But the fact that these outfits are increasingly making use of empty council properties for commercial gain has not gone unnoticed among housing campaigners. "They are parasites on the housing crisis," says Rueben Taylor of Squatters' Action for Secure Homes. "The guardianship industry legitimises keeping buildings empty and makes it a profitable thing to do. It also represents the legalisation of a two-tiered system of tenants' rights – those who can afford to have rights and those who can't." A standard licence agreement specifies that potential guardians must be in employment and not have children, pets or a criminal record. They must agree to sleep in the property at least five nights a week, not have gatherings of more than two people, and be subject to random unannounced inspections. Breach of terms – including leaving fire doors open, smoking or use of candles – are punished with fines or termination of the contract. "It's essentially a form of unpaid labour," says housing researcher Gloria Dawson. "Guardians guarantee that the value of the property is retained, but have none of the security of a tenancy. Because the licence is not defined as housing, it's not subject to the usual regulation – such as deposit protection, multiple

The Telegraph | 22-07-2013

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Daily Mail | 26-07-2013

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Estates Gazette | 06-06-2013

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Estates Gazette | 06-06-2013

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Estates Gazette | 06-06-2013

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Time Out Magazine | 21-06-2013

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Sutton Guardian | 27-04-12

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Financial Times | 02-01-12

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Time Out Magazine | 28-10-2011

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Action to protect site by LISA BUCKLEY SECURITY staff could be brought in to lay siege at a former Nuneaton secondary school at risk of arson, thieves and squatters. Plans have unveiled for eight `passive' security guards to live at what was Manor Park School, until the future of the site is decided. Warwickshire County Council has applied for permission for a temporary change of use of the vacant school in Beaumont Road to provide accommodation for a `security by occupation' service. Members of the public, including people living nearby, have until Tuesday, October 4 to express their views over the proposal. Ciaran Power, senior planner at Shire Hall, said that the plan is less costly than other options including installing CCTV and should put a stop to lead and copper thieves, firestarters and uninvited guests. "Future use of the site at Manor Park has not yet been determined," he said. "Since the school has been closed the site has been targeted by various acts of theft and in a bid to manage further acts of vandalism, Warwickshire County Council has proposed introducing a 'security by occupation' arrangement to be managed by Camelot Property Management. "The proposal seeks permission for temporary occupation on the site for eight individuals to act as passive security guards appointed by Camelot in exchange for cheap rent with bills included. "This arrangement works out significantly less expensive than installing 24-hour security guards and cameras. "The guardians will live on-site to deter squatters or vandals and are to look after the property until either the building is sold, or the future use of the building is decided. In either event the local authority is required to give three weeks notice to the temporary 'tenants'." The former secondary school building has stood empty since the end of July when the Nuneaton Academy stopped using the site. It is owned by the county council which is still exploring the best use of the large building and surrounding land. Camelot Property Management is the first company in the UK to introduce property protection using live-in guardians. Its staff, who are not trained security guards but come from all walks of life, set up home in temporary `pods' equipped with kitchen and toilet facilities and are used in everything from former schools to monasteries, office blocks and factories. Anyone who wants to have their say about the application can speak to Ciaran Power on 01926 412 193, write to Planning and Development Group, Communities, Warwickshire County Council, Warwick, CV34 4SX or email ciaranpower@warwickshire.gov.uk. People are asked to quote application number NBB/11CC016.

Nuneaton News | 26-09-2011

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The Metro | 19-08-2011

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FM World | 11-08-2011

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BBC Scotland's landmark former headquarters have been occupied by a team of "live-in guardians". Hard-up flat hunters are being allowed to rent rooms in the multi-million-pound Victorian mansion in Glasgow's west end for just ÂŁ45 a week to protect it from squatters and vandals. Genevieve Fidele, 22, has been living at the Queen Margaret Drive building for three months. She said: "It's brilliant. I'm getting to stay in this amazing building with a great location for a reasonable rent, and it means the place is being well looked after. "There are about a dozen of us in here at the moment and everyone gets on well. "We have a common kitchen area in a former office of one of the top BBC executives and we have access to most of the building, so it's really interesting to look around the old studios." Genevieve, a receptionist who is also studying for a master's degree at Glasgow University, added: "I first found out you could do this sort of thing when I was living in London. "When I moved to Scotland, it seemed like the best way to get a good place to stay at a rent I could afford. "It doesn't look like there are any moves to sell the building at the moment so we are hoping to stay put for a while. "Even if someone does buy it, we get a month's notice to find somewhere else." The scheme is being run by alternative security company Camelot Property Protection. Hayate Kassou, Camelot's Regional Manager Scotland, said: "This is a win-win situation for everyone involved. "The property owners get the benefits of low-cost security and people got the opportunity to live in an amazing building. "We are very careful to get the right people to stay in our properties and usually find they are young professionals who like the idea of living somewhere a bit different." The BBC moved out of Queen Margaret Drive to a new purpose-built studio in Govan four years ago. The building is currently controlled by administrators after QMD Glasgow, the property firm who planned to turn it into a luxury hotel, went bust. In exchange for a low rent, guardians live in empty buildings to keep them safe, secure and tidy for the owners. Other Camelot properties include office buildings, care homes, warehouses, pubs, old libraries, schools and churches. Guardians must be over 18, with a job and no dependents, pets or criminal convictions. And they have to be ready to move at the drop of a hat.

Daily Record | 18-07-2011

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The Times | 21-05-2011

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Property Week | 07-05-2010

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The Sunday Times | 27-03-2011

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Big rent rises predicted for 2011

Tenants already struggling after big increases last year now face a rise of up to 8%, says agent Savills – a blow to first-time buyers First-time buyers who can’t yet afford to buy will be dealt a further blow with rent rises of as much as 8% expected, according to Savills. The estate agent is predicting further rises of 8% across the most desirable London locations and 7% in the most sought-after central zones. These rises follow average rent rises of 11.5% across the capital last year. Those in central London will be hit hardest, but tenants outside the capital will also see rises. Although the LSL Buy to let index shows a fall of 0.3% in

Rising rents: the news is a bitter blow for tenants already feeling the squeeze.

January compared with December, rents are still 4% higher nationwide than a year ago, and comparison site Money.co.uk estimates that one in two tenants will be charged at least an extra 4%.

Photograph: Alamy

“Stock shortages persist, which is good news for landlords,” says Jacqui Daly, director of Savills residential research. The study shows that landlords in prime north London locations such as Hampstead and Islington prosper the most: rents there shot up by 17.6% last year. But for tenants already feeling the squeeze, it’s a bitter blow. According to the Association of Residential Letting Agents, in the last three months of last year 40% of its members reported an increase in tenants struggling to meet payments. This was the first time the number has risen in 18 months. This suggests that job losses and pay cuts are beginning to take hold, the association says. The impact of higher rents will also be felt in the residential sales market: high and increasing rents give aspiring buyers little chance to save for a deposit. However, despite the rising rents, there are ways for tenants to save money:

Negotiate with your landlord

You don’t necessarily have to accept a rent rise. “If you have signed a fixed-term tenancy agreement then your landlord cannot increase the rent during that time without your consent,” says Hannah Maundrell of Money.co.uk. The only exception to this is if rental reviews are in your original tenancy agreement. If this is the case, you could try to negotiate with your landlord. “If he or she won’t budge, try asking for some extra benefits such as the inclusion of some household bills,” Maundrell says.

Empty homes

There are nearly 700,000 vacant properties in Britain and some are available to let cheaply as “short life housing”. These are run by cooperatives, often in buildings scheduled for refurbishments by housing associations. Once the long-term tenants have moved out the buildings are left empty until work starts. As part of the cooperative a new tenant can often live there for about a year. News of the properties usually spreads by word of mouth and cities such as London, Brighton and Liverpool in particular have a history of the schemes. For more details, see independent charity Emptyhomes.com.

Property Guardianships

Property guardianship is another option to rent cheaply. It means you house-sit in a vacant home or commercial building. Rents can be £65 a week in the priciest locations, such as London’s Covent Garden, but as little as £20 elsewhere. It’s not for everyone: you may be required to do some light work on the property and there is no security of tenure – you can be moved on at any time. Agencies such as Camelot Property Management or Ad Hoc Property Management are a good place to start.

Rent a room

Official statistics put the number of lodgers at more than 156,000. In fact the real figure could be as high as 970,000, according to a study by Halifax Home Insurance. Under the government’s Rent a Room scheme, those renting out a room don’t pay tax on the first £4,250 they earn (£2,125 each for couples), which encourages many keep charges down. Local newspapers and websites can help match you to potential housemates and rooms, such as Gumtree, Spareroom.co.uk, and Flatmaterooms.co.uk.

Guardian.co.uk | 03-01-2011

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Sunday Times | 16-01-2011

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The Independent | 14-01-2011

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Ham&High | 13-01-2011

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