There is a bit of a thing unfolding in Bristol involving property guardians, Bristol City Council and Camelot, one of the larger property guardian firms, upon whom we have had cause to remark upon several times in the past.
Several former nursing homes, owned by the Council, were standing empty. The Council went with Camelot to put in property guardians (and apparently gave maintenance responsibility to Camelot too – though I’d want clarification on the details of that). This is not, in itself, a surprise any more.
But it appears that the wagon is rapidly losing wheels…
The guardians were/are apparently paying rent of about 80% of market rent. They were also apparently given individual, lockable rooms by Camelot (I am being cautious as this is from a newspaper report). They were allegedly then left for some three years with no functioning hot water and saw showers removed after guardians complaining of electrical issues with the showers. Fire doors were also allegedly removed by Camelot and left in a main entrance of one home. (Source)
And then, it appears that at least one of the properties, with some 17 guardian occupants, was such as to be a licensable HMO. (We know Camelot have form on unlicensed HMOs). But the problem is that the properties are council owned. And the council are the enforcing authority for HMO licensing. So it appears that Bristol City Council agreed to the creation by Camelot of at least one unlicensed HMO – and this with potential issues about the condition of the property.
It was apparently only after guardians raised the issue with the Council in 2015 that Camelot applied for an HMO licence, and the council then sat on that application for a year. (Source). Once the licence was granted, a council inspection found breaches of its terms.
Now it turns out that Camelot served notice on the guardians in that HMO, but they are defending a possession claim. (Or perhaps Camelot have purportedly served notice – we have seen Camelot’s problems with compliant notices before and I have just seen another London based example in the last few days)
Now, I don’t know if the guardian defendants are legally represented – though trying to argue that they are tenants of the council would suggest not (after all, Bruton v London & Quadrant would be on point) – but it does sound like there might be arguments over a status as tenant rather than licencee (as we’ve noted before, Street v Mountford – separate, designated, lockable rooms and so on).
According to the Bristol Post:
Camelot advertise accommodation in the homes as ‘rooms to rent’, issue each property guardian with a key to a locked door to specific areas of the building, and charge different amounts of money depending on the size of the rooms occupied.
If true, none of this is straightforwardly consonant with a licence to occupy.
Apparently the county court has agreed that the defence is at least arguable and has adjourned for full hearing in February. We will hopefully see what happens.
And of course the history does not reflect well upon the council at all.
I was wondering what one could do about a council that encouraged, or assisted in the creation of an unlicensed HMO in one of its own properties. I suspect that might well be judicially reviewable, if it could be shown that the likely occupancy level was either known or ought to have been know to the council. After all, the council cannot lawfully encourage, assist, or permit the creation of an unlicensed HMO in properties under its control.
But regardless of the guardians’ specific case, this whole matter does illustrate that the spread of property guardian firms is meeting an increasing insistence that they comply with their legal obligations. And that the use of property guardian firms by councils should and must not be considered as separate from the council’s obligations to maintain and enforce property standards.