Channel 4’s new sitcom Crashing, which follows six twentysomethings living as property guardians in a disused hospital, has been described as the comic voice of generation rent. My real-life experience of being a property guardian, however, has been anything but funny.
Shortly after arriving at my desk on a Tuesday morning in early January, I received an email from the property management company which, until recently, employed me as a property guardian.
Foul-mouthed, frank, funny: generation rent finds its comic voice
The email told me that the property I was living in would be handed back to the client at the end of February and that, if I wished, I could remain in it until then.
That would have been good news – except that, along with most of the other 40-odd inhabitants of a former office block, I had already moved out over the previous weekend.
Although we were given a month’s notice, as contractually agreed, the notice was served just one week before the Christmas holidays. What’s more, the deadline was set at 9am on a Friday, which limited my options, as I work full-time. So I only really had just over two weeks to find alternative accommodation. Many of the former residents, myself included, have now placed our belongings into storage and are couch surfing until we find a new home.
When I asked why the building owners changed their minds with just three days to go, the property management company representative said it was not their fault. Their client had changed the dates at the last minute and if some property guardians could not stay, the company would have to employ security guards instead.
The brusque tone revealed just how property “guardians” figure in this business: the only real client is the building owner. The people who actually live in the buildings function purely to keep squatters out.
A bit late, perhaps, but it occurred to me that I had never been made fully aware of the rights of licensees, the paper-thin legal status under which property guardians fall.
I was aware of the poor reputation of property guardians before joining the scheme nine months ago. But at the time the perceived benefits of paying £370 a month, half what my previous dodgy private landlord would come round each month to collect rent in cash, seemed to outweigh the downsides.
I easily forgave the dilapidated state of the building, the showers with only four minutes’ worth of hot water on a good day and the substandard cooking facilities that caused my weekly spending on ready meals to shoot up.
My positive outlook quickly waned, however, when the basement flooded and was never drained, filling the corridors with a permanent dank smell. Things got worse when the asbestos ceiling in a communal area leaked for days after each rainfall, forming suspicious white stalactites and puddles on the floor and furniture, and the health and safety concerns I raised were ignored. My patience finally ran out when my rent was increased by £50 with little warning or justification.
After viewing a windowless room, available elsewhere in the same company’s network for £500 a month, I at last resolved to abandon the scheme for good. Being able to make that choice makes me more fortunate than most guardians I encountered, for whom rents of more than £400 a month are not financially viable.
My experience suggests that implementing even the most rudimentary customer service values and processes would make a measurable difference to the property guardian experience. But for myself, I want no further part in this monetisation of the housing crisis.
I need to get on with the house hunt and continue to chase the property management company on whether I will ever see my deposit again. So far, I have received no reply. A lack of consistency, in that respect at least, is not one of the company’s failings.