05/12/2019

Property Guardians, vanishing companies and still getting it wrong

licence agreement

Camelot! Camelot!
I know it sounds a bit bizarre,
But in Camelot, Camelot
That’s how conditions are.

Camelot! Camelot!
I know it gives a person pause,
But in Camelot, Camelot
Those are the legal laws.*

You may or may not have heard that one of the largest Property Guardian firms put itself (and all its related companies) into voluntary liquidation on 6 November 2019 (eg this one). But that is what Camelot did.

The reasons for this are unknown (effectively the Dutch parent company appears to have pulled in inter-company loans, making the child companies technically insolvent, so a deliberate internal decision. They are calling it a ‘re-structuring’. There is speculation that this may be related to Camelot pleading guilty to a failure to licence an HMO and multiple breaches of the HMO management regulations, with sentencing hearing on 10 January 2020, but I’m not sure that avoiding the reputation damage and fines would be enough to trigger this step.)

Now, it appears that the Guardians’ deposits have been transferred to a new company called Watchtower Security Solutions Ltd. Which, unsurprisingly, has the same directors as the Camelot companies.

Watchtower has been pressurising Camelot guardians to sign up to new licence agreements with them, for the properties that they are already in. Some of these, at least, are at an increased monthly licence fee. But here is the front page of these new licence agreements.

licence agreement

“This agreement is also excluded from the Protection from Eviction Act 1977”??

Oh come on, Watchtower, you know this is not the case (Our note from 7 YEARS AGO!). Camelot settled a number of cases precisely on their failure to comply with the Protection from Eviction Act 1977 notice requirements. (I may give details of a couple in the future, because any NDA in the settlement was with Camelot, not Watchtower, and Camelot are in liquidation and can have no interest or value in the NDA any more. We’ll see.) Camelot knew full well that the PfEA applied. Watchtower are the same people, so I don’t know why they are still trying to pull this nonsense.

Now, does A G Securities v Vaughan apply? There is an interesting question there. The whole point of A G Securities was that the licensees had been given licences of the whole property, but at different times, so could not be considered joint tenants. But if Watchtower are giving new ‘licences’ to guardians who are currently occupying a property, at the same time, that looks a lot like a joint tenancy of the whole… This might get interesting for Watchtower, who have clearly not bothered with advice from a competent residential landlord and tenant lawyer.

There is still a further question. From what I have seen Camelot’s ‘authorisation’ agreements with property owners would be likely to automatically end on Camelot’s insolvency. I’d be surprised if it was otherwise, as this would be a standard commercial clause. Did Watchtower get the agreement of every single property owner for Camelot’s authorisation to grant occupation licenses before or upon Camelot entering liquidation? I do not know, but unless such an assignment (or a new authorisation) was agreed with the property owner, Watchtower had and has no basis to be ‘granting’ new licenses to guardians, let alone requiring them to sign up to those licenses.

Of course, the guardians are the ones with no place or say in any of this, save that whoever actually has the right to bring possession proceedings (and it may not be Watchtower), at the least has to give them 28 days notice, then proceedings at court.

As ever, some Guardian companies conduct themselves as if landlord and tenant law doesn’t apply to them. This is not a good look, as well as being wrong.

(*I hate musicals on the whole, on the basis that I generally disapprove of life bursting into song at random moments, let alone with orchestral accompaniment. But there we are, it had to be done. Apologies to Alan Jay Lerner.)

 

Giles Peaker is a solicitor and partner in the Housing and Public Law team at Anthony Gold Solicitors in South London. You can find him on Linkedin and on Twitter. Known as NL round these parts.

29 Comments

  1. Ben Reeve-Lewis

    Is there any record anywhere of the amount of guardian let properties out there I wonder? I very much doubt it, given how fast they are springing up everywhere. As you know Giles my office is a quarter of a mile down Walworth Road from yours and in my 500 yard lunchtime walk to the Vietnamese grocers for my sweet pork bun, I pass 6 properties with posters on the front saying they are protected by guardians and another 3 on the short walk to the bus stop behind Burgess Park.They seem to be becoming as numerous as dodgy rent 2 rent HMOs. Not that I am suggesting that guardian companies should be equated with rogue landlords you understand.

    Reply
  2. Daniel N

    Got to wonder why they’re even mentioning the Protection From Eviction Act 1977 in the written agreement at all?

    Even from the perspective of trying to swindle the occupiers it’s just not a good idea. If the occupier doesn’t know what the PFEA1977 is, it just gives them (or any adviser they consult) the hint that they should look it up. If they already know what it is, they presumably also know that you can’t contract out of it if it applies.

    Reply
    • Giles Peaker

      It is odd. But the whole thing is odd.

      Reply
  3. Ben Reeve-Lewis

    Thats a good point actually Daniel. You dont usually see reference to the PFEA in contracts. Its like sayiing “You know that PFEA? Well thats nothing to do with us. We wouldnt even mention it normally” haha

    Reply
  4. Michael Barnes

    I am wondering about the legal standing of the “main residence” clause.

    Reply
    • Giles Peaker

      In what way? It will usually be the guardian’s main residence.

      Reply
  5. DCH

    There are three of us in an ex Camelot property. The owner hasn’t (and will not) sign up with Watch Tower. I have advised the other two NOT to sign with Watch Tower and NOT to pay the rent to the temporary bank account in Holland that we were told to. So effectively, we are now squatters until the owners decide what to do. I have no idea what has happened or will happen with our deposits.

    Reply
    • Laura

      Hello, I would like to connect with you as I have issues with Camelot too. Please see my comment below. Here is my email halaszlaura@gmail.com
      Thanks

      Reply
  6. Joe

    What a precarious mess. Everytime it’s the same state of affairs. It’s like they can’t put one foot right.

    Reply
  7. Laura

    I was a guardian with Camelot, and I can confirm that the company is extremely unprofessional. I moved in their building, a previous care home in Danehill beginning of October. During the viewing they confirmed that there will be a non-stop access to heating and and obviously hot water. I moved in, beginning of October, after 10 days I received an email that heating and hot water will be available only in restricted hours, between 6am-8am and 6.30pm-8pm. I immediately gave my notice of leaving and I left the building after 6 weeks. During these 6 weeks they not only restricted heating and hot water, but the house was without heating and hot water for 10 days beginning of November. I requested a refund for those days, and complained about their terrible service. Now, after 9 weeks still waiting that they refund my deposit.
    On the 9th week I received a kind email from the Guardian manager mr Noorbahar saying : “Regarding your deposit refund after the lease end date it can take up to 8 weeks before you get your deposit ( we aim to do it quicker than this)” . I received this answer on the 9th week, which means they don’t even know who they answer to.
    They caused me a very cold period, waiting my time and money, and very probably now I will need legal help to get back my deposit. AVOID IT AT ALL COST !!!!!

    Reply
    • Joe Public

      It’s not so bad. But I believe you, this what you can expect from them. I have more news for you. Most of these companies are like this, even the major ones, particularly the major ones. They all have such a strange work ethic. All it takes a just a tiny bit of common sense to fix issues. They won’t/can’t read what’s written in front of them in black and white. After five years in the industry I just can’t understand how all these people work. Not just at Camelot but elsewhere too. I know Camelot well. Check out my recent experience with VPS as well, search Twitter @No VPS Guardians.

      Reply
  8. Laura

    Hello Joe, I would like to connect with you, here is my email. halaszlaura@gmail.com.
    Looking forward hearing from you

    Reply
    • Dan Hayward

      For any other guardians at a loss getting their deposit back, I have had some success at least messaging and even talking to Watchtower senior management by sending a message on LinkedIn. (you have to sign up first, and I wasn’t too specific, just left my mobile number) have just messaged the MD Dominic White. I don’t hold out to much hope however as I’m sure they’re all singing from he same hymn book. Very helpful and friendly and promise you the world…. Will see what happens. If anyone wants to connect my email is naddrawyah@gmail.com

      Reply
  9. Kasia

    ‘“This agreement is also excluded from the Protection from Eviction Act 1977”??
    Oh come on, Watchtower, you know this is not the case (Our note from 7 YEARS AGO!). Camelot settled a number of cases precisely on their failure to comply with the Protection from Eviction Act 1977 notice requirements.’

    Would you have links to particular court cases or anymore information about those cases where Camelot settled because of this?
    It would be extremely helpful to us.

    We are also living at ex Camelot property.

    Thank you!

    Kasia

    please reply here or email at: kasia.kaszowska@yahoo.co.uk

    Reply
    • Giles Peaker

      As they cases were settled, they are not publicly available, I’m afraid. But the Protection from Eviction Act point is definitely correct.

      Reply
  10. Kasia

    Hi Giles,

    We are trying to put a list of court cases that Camelot was found or pleaded guilty to show a current building owner that they are not worthy of a trust.

    We live in an ex-Camelot property. We have been abandoned by them for the last 6 moths and now that the newly formed company is back on their feet they are trying to make us to sign a new contract with them. However we are not convinced they have a renewed contract with the building owner (a local council).
    I started wondering whether we have more rights without signing a new license agreement with Watchtower. The minute we sign it they can serve us a notice and as licensees we have very little rights. At the moment we are in the limbo as we’ve been living here continuously for the last 3 years and the last 6 months without anyone’s supervision or management. We managed and maintained the property as a community. I wondered if you could share any light on this situation from a legal point of view.

    Also are there any other guardians/ ex-guardians reading this and in similar situation. Please get in touch.

    Kasia

    Reply
    • Giles Peaker

      A search for Camelot on this site will turn up the public ones.

      The position for former Camelot guardians is uncertain and is going to depend entirely on the building owner. Your licences technically fell with Camelot, so continued occupation is at the discretion of the owner. If the owner enters a contract with Watchtower, then Watchtower can grant licences, but otherwise, Watchtower have nothing to do with the property or guardians (apart from apparently holding your deposits).

      Reply
  11. Kasia

    Thank you Giles, I started collecting the court cases from this website.

    The owner of this building is a Croydon Council and we are making a presentation for them tomorrow to illustrate how bad Camelot is. Also we are intending to form a housing coop and have w proposal to that end. If there is no new contract with Watchtower ‘what are we’ while still living is in this building? Squatters?

    Does the council have any residential obligation toward us? Considering that they engaged a negligent company who let us live here and that for months we couldn’t contact anyone from the guarding company or council. It took us months to set up this meeting.

    Thank you for sharing your knowledge.

    Kasia

    Reply
    • Giles Peaker

      You are effectively there under a licence from the building owner. That could be terminated at any point. The council has no residual obligation to you, I’m afraid.

      Reply
  12. Joe Hans

    You are wasting your time idi*ts.
    It is well known how bad Camelot is. All guardian companies are like this.
    It is well understood implicitly that if you are a guardian then you are asking for it.

    Reply
    • Scott Fox

      Hi all. I too have £350 owed to me for deposit. In touch with the liquidators but being told I’m an unsecure creditor so not looking to good. Is citizens advice worth seeing?

      Reply
      • Giles Peaker

        According to them, Watchtower hold former Camelot guardian’s deposits.

        Reply
    • Kasia

      Hi Giles,

      Thank you for all the useful information so far. We had the meeting with council which went really well but we need some specific legal advice about our current situation. Could you please let us know what is the best way to contact you and if you available for a consultation. We left a message at your firm today.

      Thank you.

      Kasia
      kasia.kaszowska@yahoo.co.uk

      Reply
  13. Laura

    Hello, I received my deposit back on 10th week. I wrote reviews on their business profile on Google, contacted them via Facebook pages literally everywhere. Called Noorbahar every day.i think the best if you contact them via the Dutch company… let me know if you need more ideas.

    Reply
  14. Ian Dixon

    I was involved in setting up housing coops in the seventies as part of a career with housing associations.. In law if directors are convicted of harassment or illegal eviction they can be barred from any new directorships for a number of years.Trouble is that one has to spend money on lawyers and insolvency practitioners who , in my experience, are mainly concerned in identifying enough assets to pay their fees. Insolvency law allows rogue directors to go bust and buy back the company the same day with a new company comprised of the same directors..
    Your best bet is to public;y discredit the new company and , if the owners of the property are Croydon Council . to take your story to the investigative journal network called “Inside Croydon”.
    The latter have been having a field day over the borough’s planning abuses, and their financial crisis. They would welcole more input.
    If you want to speak with me ring daytime on 0208-660-0093.
    Cheers
    Ian Dixon.

    Reply
  15. Anonymous

    I came across this article quite by accident. Out of curiosity I wanted to see what Camelot were doing with themselves. More than a few years ago, I used to be a ‘Guardian Manager’. it was my job to show people around these properties and sign them up.

    The only thing that surprises me here is just how long it was before Camelot were prosecuted for something. I personally witnessed some atrocious living conditions that we put Guardians into. No/limited hot water, 1 Shower between 15+ people, leaking roofs, locked doors, pests etc. Given the age and state of repair of some of these buildings I would not have been surprised if there was asbestos in some as well. More than a few of these buildings were earmarked for demolition (for various reasons), but given the state of some of them it was easy to see why.

    I was encouraged to lie to Guardians as once they ‘signed up’ they could not do anything. The director at the time (different to the one i worked for) also encouraged the use of ‘breaches’ as an income stream. for example, if someone ‘breached’ the agreement there would be a financial penalty, so if someone’s room was ‘messy’ we would ‘breach’ them, usually around 30 pounds.
    Another way of making money was when they vacated the premises, we would charge them for a skip/clearance at the end of the term (fair enough given that guardians would frequently leave rubbish behind for us to clear) but we would charge way above and beyond what it cost us. We would also often either not return deposits or complete deposits based on something being wrong like keys not returned etc.

    In certain areas of London, you would inevitably attract different demographics, in one rather heated exchange with the director he told me ‘No Sub Saharan Africans’. I was a bit taken aback by this statement and when I asked for clarification, he shouted at me ‘NO SUB SAHARAN AFRICANS!’.

    I left the company because of these reasons. morally and legally what we were doing was questionable at best and I could not keep doing it and keep a clear conscience. Working here was also a miserable affair, the Director had a hair trigger temper and would lash out randomly.
    Whilst pressuring the Guardians so resign with Watchtower, they probably do not have any kind of permission from the building owners to be occupying the buildings given the original company does not exist any longer. I encourage all Guardians to not sign anything. They cannot do anything to you from that perspective. Be careful though, they have demonstrated time and again that they will use questionable and even illegal tactics to get what they want.

    Reply
    • Joe Hans

      I can assure you there are guardian companies still engaged in this sort nefarious behaviour. If they have a business to run it’s illuminating that they pinch pennies as a revenue stream. Actions like these don’t happen off the cuff. There’s planning involved from multiple levels of an organisation. Property sector in general seems to have low ethical standards.

      Reply

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