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How to become a property guardian in Britain

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Two years ago, Elliott Hines had a problem -he could not afford to live in London

‘The most basic flat cost £1,200 a month to rent, which meant I’d have to share,’ says Elliott, 35, a visitor from Chicago who had found a post as a religious education teacher.

‘And sharing meant one small bedroom and no living room.’

Property guardianship is an arrangement whereby individuals are granted accommodation at about a third of the market rate in return for keeping the place in good condition

Property guardianship is an arrangement whereby individuals are granted accommodation at about a third of the market rate in return for keeping the place in good condition

Luckily for Elliott he came across an advertisement in the small ads of a paper. 

It spoke about becoming a ‘guardian’ with four others, of the recently decommissioned National Westminster Bank in London’s Edgware Road at a far more affordable £575 a month, including bills.

‘At first I thought this was a crazy idea,’ says Elliott. ‘But I gave it a go and pretty soon I found it was a great way to live.

‘Being a guardian helped me get my finances sorted while living near the heart of London and meeting new people.’

The scheme Elliott had signed up to was run by Tim Lowe, of Lowe Guardians, who started his company after a six-month investigation for his last employers, estate agency Knight Frank. 

‘I discovered that there was this enormous problem with young people being unable to find affordable housing,’ says Tim, 33.

 ‘And at the same time, there were hundreds of empty buildings that needed someone responsible to look after them.

‘I put the two together and came up with the guardianship idea.’

Tim’s property guardianship is a contractual arrangement whereby individuals are granted temporary accommodation at about a third of the market rate.

They agree to keep the place in good condition and, in return, Tim’s maintenance team makes the premises habitable, installing kitchens and bathrooms and meeting all building regulations.

The guardians are legally ‘licensees’ not tenants, which means they have limited legal protection. 

They can be required to move out at short notice and the agreement between licensee and Lowe is based, to an extent, on mutual trust and goodwill.

Some stay in a property for four years, but more typical are stays of one to 18 months. Licensees, most of whom are key workers, young professionals or freelancers from the arts world, know the terms before they enter an agreement.

Being young, they usually travel light and are not looking for long-term security. However, the company also runs a re-housing policy to ensure a licensee isn’t suddenly rendered homeless.

It is worth noting that not all property guardianship companies are similarly scrupulous in their dealings.

Last month, Camelot Europe, which has now gone into administration, was found guilty of failing to licence a House of Multiple Occupation and 14 breaches of HMO management regulations relating to a former rectory in Colchester.

The residents shared one kitchen, bathrooms with no hot water and a clogged toilet. There was a faulty fire alarm, blocked fire escapes and sealed doors.

Around the same time, this paper reported on how Global Guardians were advertising derelict properties in London for the same extortionate rates as standard private rents. 

One was a ‘horrible disused factory’ in Rainham, another, a single room in a prefab hut with a grubby floor and dated wallpaper peeling off the walls.

Tim advises anyone new to guardianships to take care.

‘Research the company and question someone in a responsible position,’ he says. ‘Make sure you understand the terms of your contract. 

Speak to a few guardians and always ask how quickly the company responds to maintenance issues.’

Lowe Guardians, which Tim established four years ago, now has scores of properties and about 700 young people on its books, mainly in London and the South of England. 

Tim could hardly have chosen a better time to set up the scheme: more town centre shops close every day and over a third of UK bank branches have shut since 2015.

London’s Ovalhouse theatre is perhaps the company’s most ambitious project. Located at Kennington Oval in Lambeth, the former theatre is home to ten young singers, actors, writers and musicians.

The lovely old theatre has been turned into a recording studio and rehearsal space; there are seven bedrooms in what used to be the backstage changing rooms and it has a new kitchen and showers.

‘I’m sure this is an idea that would work countrywide,’ says Tim, who launched a charitable foundation linked to the company last year. 

‘Licensees have been able to save for a deposit on their own place having lived cheaply with us. 

‘There’s also a social side to the scheme; some have met as guardians and later got married. It’s more than a business.’  

On the market… at a cut price 

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I’m can’t sell my flat due to cladding issues, will Gove’s proposals help me?

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I’m stuck in my leasehold flat due to cladding issues in the block. I can’t sell due to the prospect of a bill for remediation works, which include ‘unsafe cladding, flammable balconies and missing cavity barriers’. 

Will Michael Gove‘s new proposals help me? LB

Leaseholders face fire safety bills of hundreds of thousands of pounds following the cladding scandal (pictured: Cladding victim and campaigner Sophie Bichener)

Leaseholders face fire safety bills of hundreds of thousands of pounds following the cladding scandal (pictured: Cladding victim and campaigner Sophie Bichener)

MailOnline Property expert Myra Butterworth replies: Cladding issues have made life a misery for leaseholders across the country.

Many are facing the real prospect of bankruptcy due to fire safety repair bills that can run into hundreds of thousands of pounds per flat.

The issue is that the owners are unable to sell the properties until the buildings are proved to be safe, leaving those who would like to move them stuck in their homes and also seeing monthly bills rise, as they are potentially unable to remortgage. 

Leaseholders have cautiously welcomed the housing secretary’s recent statement that they were ‘trapped’ and that it was time to protect them and make ‘industry pay’.

At the same time, Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, announced: ‘We will scrap proposals for loans and long-term debt for leaseholders in medium-rise buildings and give a guarantee that no leaseholder living in their own flat will pay a penny to fix dangerous cladding.’

However, the current reality for many of these flat owners is that they still face massive bills to cover interim fire measures running into thousands of pounds.

Tom Beak, a solicitor at law firm Kingsley Napley, replies: The short answer is maybe. However, I’m afraid there are ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’.

First, Michael Gove’s announcement did not introduce new legislation, it merely set out an intention to negotiate with developers and invite them to contribute to the latest remediation fund, specifically for ‘medium rise’ buildings.

Mr Gove hopes to have agreed a fully-funded plan of action by March, but if negotiations stall it is currently not clear what measures will be taken to force a solution on the developers concerned or indeed how long this will take.

Second, the focus of the new proposals is to cover the outstanding cost of remediation of unsafe cladding to buildings 11 to 18 metres tall. So if your building falls in that range you may benefit in due course. If it is over 18 metres, you must continue to rely on pre-existing policies.

If your building is less than 11 metres, I’m afraid you remain outside the scope of Government-led financial support. In fact, at present, there are no solutions proposed for buildings that are declared unsafe but are less than 11 metres tall, hence such buildings are likely to remain unmortgageable making it impossible for leaseholders to sell.

Unfortunately, if your building falls within this category, the new proposals only offer the hope that the Government’s change in advice on building safety assessments encourages lenders to relax their position and return to lending on such properties.

It may also not be plain sailing if your block is ‘medium rise’. We await details of the precise eligibility criteria as to how the fund will be allocated. Despite the suggestion that ‘all leaseholders’ will be protected, previous policies have contained strict eligibility criteria for access to funds, so it is possible that not all buildings between 11 and 18 metres tall will qualify.

Of course, until we know that Mr Gove’s negotiations with developers are successful, there is no guarantee that the proposed remediation fund of £4billion will be available at all.

Other fire defects, such as flammable balconies, missing cavity barriers and replacing faulty fire doors are not covered 

Finally, the proposed remediation fund is designed to remove ‘unsafe cladding’ only. 

So, while you may well benefit from assistance with the cost of remedying the cladding issues on your building, other fire defects, such as flammable balconies, missing cavity barriers and replacing faulty fire doors are not covered. 

This is in keeping with previous policies, which have been criticised for providing partial solutions and making buildings ‘half safe’, with innocent leaseholders footing the remainder of the bill to remedy safety defects.

On the plus side, however, it is worth noting that the Government has scrapped its previous solution for 11 to 18 metres tall buildings that consisted of a long-term, low-interest loan for leaseholders. This would have added to leaseholders’ debt, rather ensuring that the ‘polluter’ pays.

In addition, Mr Gove’s announcement introduced fresh funds to cover common alarm systems on buildings that continue to use a waking watch.

This will be on top of the existing Waking Watch Relief Fund. Mr Gove also intends to enter discussions with the insurance sector to reduce insurance premiums that have soared in the wake of this safety crisis and to issue new proportionate guidance on building safety assessments. T

he hope is that this encourages the market and changes the ‘cautious approach’ adopted by buyers and lenders – which according to Mr Gove often ‘goes beyond’ what is necessary. Whether this is effective remains to be seen.

So while Mr Gove’s new proposals are a step in the right direction, much uncertainty remains. Provided that the proposed remediation fund can be realised swiftly and applied without unduly onerous eligibility criteria, it is surely a better solution than the previously proposed loan scheme.

However, it is likely that many leaseholders will continue to foot the bill for interim safety measures and struggle to sell their homes, until the practical effect of the changes are realised.

Without further, targeted policy or an extension of the remediation fund to cover fire safety defects beyond cladding, these defects will likely continue to be funded by leaseholders.

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No reasons recorded for low rates of successful speeding prosecutions

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Fewer than one in five people prosecuted in court for speeding offences are being convicted, new data shows.

With a national average of just over 16 per cent, data covering a three year period between 2018 and 2020 shows conviction rates ranging from 7 per cent recorded in Co Mayo to 24 per cent in Co Wexford.

In total, of almost 60,000 court prosecutions, fewer than 10,000 concluded with a ruling against the driver.

While separate statistics show that 8,325 cases (14 per cent of total prosecutions) were either dismissed or struck out by judges, no information is available as to why.

“The Courts Service system does not record the reason a case was struck out unless the Judge includes the reason in their order,” Minister for Justice Helen McEntee told Social Democrats co-leader Catherine Murphy who had sought recent information around mobile phone use by drivers.

“As such, the Courts Service does not hold complete statistical information on the reasons for any case being struck out.”

Fundamental issues

However, Parc, the road safety advocacy group which has analysed the data, said such a gap in knowledge is among a number of fundamental issues it is to raise with senior garda management and the Road Safety Authority (RSA) in a forthcoming meeting.

“If we don’t know the reason why [cases are being thrown out] then how are we ever going to fix it,” said chairwoman Susan Gray.

“Why are they failing in court, why so many, why are some areas like Mayo recording so few convictions, why is no one looking into this? In Mayo where the RSA is based, [there was a conviction rate of] 7 per cent over three years.”

The counties with the four major cities – Dublin, Cork, Galway and Limerick – accounted for 24,387 prosecutions, or 41 per cent of the total, and had a conviction rate of 19 per cent.

Outside of those areas, the counties with the highest number of speeding offences ending up in court were Kildare (6,948), Louth (2,600), and Wexford (2,055). Despite being an outlier in terms of prosecution rates, Kildare saw a conviction rate of just 10 per cent, the third lowest of 26 counties.

Conviction rates were the highest in Wexford (at 24 per cent) but three quarters of prosecutions still fell down for whatever reason. Following Wexford, drivers were most likely to be convicted in Dublin, Donegal, Longford and Westmeath (each 22 per cent), Louth (21 per cent) and Limerick (20 per cent) but no other county reached the 20 per cent mark.

Drivers were far less likely to see a conviction recorded against them in Mayo (7 per cent), Meath (8 per cent) and Kildare (10 per cent).

Catherine Murphy said the data raised a number of issues and exposed a traffic penalty system in need of greater consistency and cohesion.

“There can be a huge differential depending on what court you end up in and that shouldn’t be the case,” she said. “You would expect to see this [conviction rate] almost the reverse way around.”

She said there was no reason why data should not be recorded that shows why prosecutions do not proceed, or fail and that the overall road safety enforcement system required a less fragmented approach.

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BNP Paribas REIM acquires Barcelona office building (ES)

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BNP Paribas REIM acquires the iconic office building “Tanger 66” located on 66 Calle Tanger, in the 22@ District in Barcelona, from Blue Coast Capital. This asset is an emblematic building and an architectural landmark in Barcelona, with a total surface area of 7,211m². It is strategically located in the 22@ District, which is one of the most sought-after office area in Barcelona and a European hotspot. The District 22@ is a neighbourhood that used to house industrial sites before becoming one of the most important urban renewal projects in Europe and being rehabilitated to provide modern and elegant offices designed to meet the needs of businesses. The neighbourhood is now composed of more than 1,500 companies specialised in IT, energy, design, media or scientific research and is considered today as a space for constant innovation.

 

The “Tanger 66” building was re-developed from a textile factory into the first LEED Platinum office in Barcelona by Blue Coast Capital. It is composed of 4 floors and an 800m² terrace garden in the upper floor. It offers modern working spaces with training areas, collaborative spaces, computer laboratories, an auditorium and a cafeteria. The building benefits from an excellent connection to public transportation with metro, tram, bus and train stations only a few minutes away. It is fully let to Hewlett Packard.

 

Jean-Maxime Jouis, Global Head of Fund Management for BNP Paribas REIM commented: “This acquisition strengthens the BNP Paribas Diversipierre fund portfolio and fits perfectly with the fund’s strategy by adding a modern asset, fully let and located in a strategic location in Barcelona. In addition, the building is certified LEED Platinum, therefore it respects the funds’ commitments and more generally the environmental issues targeted by BNP Paribas REIM, whose strategy is to accelerate its funds’ goals in terms of ESG.”

 

Fraser Denton, Managing Director, European Real Estate for Blue Coast Capital said: “I am delighted for BNP Paribas REIM in finalising this transaction. Our re-development of T66 is an excellent example of Blue Coast Capital’s focus on creating exceptional real estate and is a leading example of real estate repurposing whilst achieving the highest level of LEED Certification.”

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