Property guardians reaping reward of low rents

If you need an affordable home, being a property guardian could help cut the cost of rent. Sharon Dale reports.

Craig Mitchell, manager of Ad Hoc Yorkshire

A chapel surrounded by graves in the middle of a West Yorkshire cemetery isn’t an obvious des res but David Ellis loves his unconventional home.

The major benefit is that the “rent” is half what it would be on the open market in return for him acting as a property guardian.

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It’s an undemanding role that requires David to flag up any maintenance issues, while his presence acts as a natural deterrent to thieves and vandals.

He found the cut-price let through Ad Hoc, a Dutch company that imported its successful business model to Britain ten years ago. It turns empty buildings into temporary homes saving the owners a small fortune in insurance and security bills while providing cheap accommodation for those who don’t mind a tenure that comes with uncertainty.

The firm now has ten UK offices, including one in York, which covers the whole of Yorkshire. The properties they care for are diverse and range from office blocks and libraries to churches and the odd private home. Ad Hoc can install shower cubicles and create somewhere to cook.

The only costs for the property owner are the utility bills. Guardians must be over 21, in work and able to provide references. Children, pets and smoking are not allowed.

Rent, which includes bills and council tax, is termed as a licence fee. In Yorkshire, the cost starts from £99 per person per month for a room in a shared property. The average cost is £200 per person a month, though this may be reduced if couples share. The length of placements varies but guardians are given at least 28 days’ notice to leave.

It’s a way of life that appeals to a variety of people, especially creatives, such as artists, actors, dancers and musicians. Would-be first-time buyers also use it to help them save for a deposit and there is a large quota of key workers and postgraduate students. Ad Hoc is also seeing an increasing number of middle-aged men who have split with their partners and left the family home but are still paying mortgage and maintenance.

David Ellis, 45, a vehicle recovery driver, was in need of affordable accommodation after an amicable break-up with his partner. He was living in a caravan when he registered with Ad Hoc and moved into the cemetery chapel five months ago. The property is listed so the local authority was faced with letting it slip into dereliction or putting it to use.

David says: “People ask if it is spooky but it isn’t and I don’t believe in ghosts. It’s not a sad place either. The cemetery has its own community. People come to see their loved ones regularly, others use it as a short cut and some people just come here for the serenity. You get youths in the cemetery at night but it’s not really a problem for me.”

The Yorkshire branch of Ad Hoc has a number of properties on its books, including community centres, schools, offices, former care homes and vicarages. It also has houses that have been compulsorily purchased by local authorities.

More unusual spaces include a former convent in Hull, which has an entire hall, including a stage, to let for £250 a month. There are also rooms from £180 pcm in West Yorkshire museums that have recently closed down.

Craig Mitchell, manager of Ad Hoc Yorkshire, says: “We have quite a few care homes on our books as they are struggling to stay viable. It is very expensive to board them up and boarding is a magnet for anti-social behaviour. The cost of a security guard is £6,000 a month so the guardian option is very cost-effective. It also means that the property is heated and aired, which helps maintain the fabric of the building.”

“The only thing we ask of our guardians is that they move into a building and show it is occupied and report any issues. There are no security duties. Just having someone living there is a big deterrent.”

Some guardians stay with Ad Hoc for years moving from property to property, though David Ellis hopes to stay in his cemetery chapel for as long as possible.

“It is the most wonderful building and I feel blessed to live here.”

*Ad Hoc Yorkshire,