Mare Street property guardians campaign after living in 'unsafe' building
- Credit: PA Wire/Press Association Images
Hackney artists are campaigning to improve property guardian rights after living in an "unsafe" council-owned property.
A student and several artists who rented rooms in a Mare Street property owned by Hackney Council, but managed by housing provider Global Guardians Management (GGM), did so as property guardians who protect vacant buildings while living in them, often at a reduced cost.
Some residents had lived in the building, located in a conservation area, since September 2015 at £600 per room every month, but over the years, the artists compiled a "list of ongoing neglect".
They said in 2017 the building flooded, it shook when heavy vehicles passed by and kitchens and bathrooms had to be heated with oil heaters.
In July 2020, amid the pandemic, residents said the property flooded again and it was reported to GGM.
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One of the artists living there, who preferred to be identified by the initials MB, said the problem was still not fixed a month later: "The water leak from the roof flooded the whole property which again posed a threat to life as electric cables were immersed in water and the ceiling tiles on the ground floor fell. The water was dripping through the bulb holders.
"The water flooding did not only damage the property but also our stuff. We did not receive any compensation for the damages."
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They would later be served a notice to leave the property by GGM, which stated it was "unsafe".
Hackney Council confirmed this, and a spokesperson added: "Unfortunately this building suffered a significant roof leak while property guardians were living there, causing the condition of the building to deteriorate.
"While moving during a pandemic is of course not ideal, the building is not currently suitable to live in or repairable with residents in place."
Meanwhile, MB found a council building survey of the property from 2015 which listed issues including "a significant roof leak", poor historical repairs and risk of dry rot.
MB has made Freedom of Information (FOI) requests for surveys done on the property before it was let, as well as the contract between GGM and the council.
Although a response should be formulated within 20 working days, the artist has not received a reply after almost half a year and has taken the matter up with the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO).
The resident also had an independent inspection conducted in August 2020 by the company HMO services, which stated the property had issues "in breach of the Housing Act 2004" including no evidence of a Fire Safety Risk Assessment since it was converted from an office building and an alarm system "not fit for purpose".
It stated one alarm system had been showing fault since 2015.
The report listed multiple fire hazards, stating kitchen appliances were not tested for safe use and water from the leaking roof was a "serious concern", particularly as electrical heaters were being used to heat rooms.
However, the building is not registered as an HMO property and the council disputes allegations that it has not checked or fixed issues in the building as "remedial works" to the roof have been carried out since the 2015 report.
It says the building's use for property guardians is a temporary arrangement while the site's long-term future and investment is established.
The council and GGM signed an agreement which saw income from the property split evenly between both parties, but the authority says it does not use property guardians to generate income, but "as a cost effective way of securing temporarily empty buildings without incurring costs that could otherwise be used for delivering council services".
The council says the building only became unsuitable to live in since the leak last year, which it has fixed.
A council spokesperson said vacant council-owned homes are preferably put back into use as emergency housing for homeless families: "This is why we no longer use property guardian companies to manage vacant housing, and do so for only a small number of buildings on a temporary basis while permanent plans are developed.
"In these cases, the guardian company has full responsibility for supporting the people living there."
The council has also "ensured" GGM offers alternative accommodation, including help with moving costs, "for the safety of the residents".
Some residents have not chosen to take up the offer.
It says it has "acknowledged receipt" of the FOI request and apologised to the resident for the delay in response.
MB's experiences and research has led to a campaign for greater rights for property guardians. Visit www.propertyguardiansact.com for more information.
GGM has been contacted for comment.