Bristol City Council has been at the centre of a so-called scandal with regards to “guardian companies” who literally take over empty council properties for nothing. The idea is that these companies will secure the properties prior to any future redevelopment but the scheme has lost its way somewhat and no more such deals will be signed. So, what was so wrong about the guardian companies and why is Bristol City Council reviewing its empty property strategy?
Renting out rooms
The idea of handing over council properties free of charge to guardian companies was itself a controversial move but what happened next has surprised everybody. In truth the idea was that the companies would rent out rooms to people who would offer a full-time presence and provide a type of security against squatters, vandals and graffiti artist. While they were not officially security guards they would be used in a similar manner to protect council properties ahead of redevelopment. So what went wrong?
First of all these rooms were rented out at less than the market rate which obviously upset other landlords in the area. The council were effectively subsidising these guardian companies and allowing them to undercut other landlords in the area. However, there was more to follow!
It is been revealed that there were an array of properties where multiple rooms were rented out which was certainly against the spirit of the guardian companies empty property idea. It would appear that some of these rooms have been rented out without official tenant licenses. The council was also informed about a bus driver agency which was using these empty properties to house dozens of employees. They were offering accommodation at nursing homes in Westbury on Trym and South Gloucestershire which would appear to be more of a commercial letting agency as opposed to a “property security” company?
Interestingly, a recent court case went against the property guardian company Camelot when the judge ruled that the “property guardians” were effectively tenants and should be afforded the same rights. This ruling obviously reverberated right across the sector and would no doubt have caused some significant unrest within Bristol City Council.
End of the road for guardian companies?
Bristol City Council is the first such council across the UK to consider banning transactions with guardian companies with regards to empty council properties (a decision will be made on June 26th at a meeting of the council’s Cabinet). There are a number of deals which may take some time to wind down but no new deals will be signed and those currently in place should have ended by 2020. There has obviously been the stereotypical political infighting and blame game but from a moral standpoint this is a scandalous use of taxpayer funded properties.
When you also consider the millions of pounds invested by bona fides landlords the fact that they could be undercut by “landlords” who were effectively subsidised by the council is itself a dangerous strategy. Whether or not the council was aware of these issues regarding large numbers of tenants is neither here nor there, the council signed numerous deals and should have been fully aware of the way in which they were being conducted.