Churches, office blocks ease Britons' rental woes

7th November 2011, Comments 0 comments

A growing number of people priced out of the rental market have found common cause with landlords seeking someone to look after their properties.

London -- Andrew Fairclough pushes open the door to the compact 19th century church, but he is not here to worship. This is his home, under an innovative leasing scheme taking hold as rents soar.

The 41-year-old musician has lived in the surprisingly warm deconsecrated building since January, and has set up his records, keyboards, bed, sofa and even a ping-pong table under the vaulted ceiling and stained-glass windows.

Fairclough pays just GBP 270 (EUR 308, USD 425) a month to stay in the church in Bushey, just north of London, and keeps it free of squatters -- a bargain for a home on the edge one of Europe's most expensive cities.

"Financially, it's a fantastic thing -- you get to live in such an amazing space for such a small amount of money. When you first hear about it, you almost think it's too good to be true," he told AFP.

Fairclough is part of growing number of people priced out of the rental market who have found common cause with landlords seeking someone to look after their properties while they await redevelopment or sale.

These link-ups have become increasingly popular as rising inflation and a lacklustre house market put pressure on rents, causing them to rise by more than 10 percent in London in the past year.

"We put the guardians in some empty buildings to provide effectively cheap security," explains Doug Edwards from Ad Hoc, one of a number of agencies who introduce the "guardians" and property owners.

Although the owners pay the agencies up to GBP 300 a week, this represents a saving of up to 80 percent on hiring a security firm.

"In return, the guardians get very cheap living," on average less than half the market rent for the area, Edwards told AFP.

There are some fabulous properties available in London, including a 300 square-metre (3,225 square feet) apartment overlooking Green Park, a short walk from Buckingham Palace, rented out at GBP 200 a week for two people.

'Softens the blow'

Another is in upmarket Chelsea, where "we had a place on the King's Road a couple years ago, where the guardian was living next door to two Chelsea footballers and paid GBP 260 pounds a month!" Edwards said.

But tenants who cherish stability should beware. Leases can be as short as two months and occupants may be given just two weeks notice to leave.

Daniel, a writer and refuse collector, had to move four times in one year, but he has got used to it.

"I have a flavour of different areas, I got to live in Hampstead Heath for a while, and I now get to live in Warren Street (in central London). Those are both areas that are very nice places to experience," the 26-year-old said.

His room is huge, but it also has glaring neon strip lights, a remnant of its former life as an office. He has to share a tiny kitchen with another guardian, while 12 of them share just two showers in the whole building.

"But I pay GBP 60 a week, so that totally softens the blow," he said.

Guardians must have a regular salary, no pets or children and agree not to hold parties. But their only responsibility is to alert their landlord to any problems with the property.

Unsurprisingly, hundreds of people are waiting to join up, with the numbers boosted in the last three months in part because of the tough economic situation, according to Arthur Duke, of the agency Live-in-Guardians.

"What amazes me is the quality of the applicants: doctors, nurses, firemen, artists, people working in the city," he said, adding that many of them choose to be guardians while they save up to buy their own place.

Almost any building can be made habitable with the addition of basic facilities such as showers, Edwards said, from schools to retirement homes and even swimming pools -- leading to some odd situations for the tenants.

"People might think I am the local vicar," admitted Fairclough.

"I had one person come up and he was asking for spiritual advice and guidance. I was tempted initially to perhaps play along with it but no, I restrained myself and pointed them to the nearest church."

Beatrice Debut / AFP / Expatica

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