Freedom News

Dear property guardians …

Print out and post.

We get it. You’re looking for cheap rent in an expensive world. A way to keep a roof over your head while having time and money to pursue your goals and desires. And hey, maybe you get to live in some quirky buildings and situations!

This is a letter to you all. To explain why we disagree with Property Guardianship and to propose something else.

Property Guardianship came about as an idea in the Netherlands in the ’90s. A company called Camelot started advertising their services as anti-squatter security services, using people living in buildings as protection from people … living in buildings.

Essentially, Camelot and the other companies that subsequently sprung up found a way to make an absolute killing out of a grey area of law. They charged owners for security and charged the guardians again for the privilege of living in a building with none of the rights afforded to renters. People were subject to moves with only 24 hours’ notice and given none of the freedom or privacy that the fee they paid should have entitled them to.

Things have moved on a little in 30 years, but while some things have changed, others remain the same. While your guardian contract now might offer a four-week notice period, this is still half the eight-week mandatory period for someone with a rental agreement, or lease. Non-exclusive use of the space means intrusion by the company or property owners without due notice, and you’ve probably had to sneak guests in because it goes against the terms of your agreement. And, of course, the rules usually require you to say if you intend to be away for more than a few days because, let’s face it, their only interest is the security of the building and their income.

Another firm, Dotdotdot, even requires people to “volunteer” 16 hours of community service a month to access their properties to appear “ethical” off the back of free labour!

But more than this, more than some of the issues you face day-to-day as a guardian, Property Guardianship is a political issue.

Realising how easy it is to circumvent housing regulations, some properties are now being renovated to the minimum level that allows them to place guardians instead of bringing them up to a decent standard.

Consent for this type of housing denies some of the most precariously housed people in society the basic conditions they should be entitled to for what they pay. It allows Property Guardian companies to ignore health and safety regulations and profit from people’s lack of alternative options. It is a false answer to the housing crisis.

Tellingly, Camelot started to shut down in 2017 when a court decided that a guardian should be considered to have a tenancy. Rather than risk this happening across all their services, the firm was liquidated in 2019.

Courts suggested YOU should be entitled to the same rights as a tenant, and the company shut down in opposition to that. What does that tell you about how these companies think of you?

As anarchists, we’re not here to argue for more regulation, but while the government violently protects private property, it’s not like we can just take back these buildings…

A proposal to anyone living as a property guardian or who might be thinking about it:

Consider that, like so many things in today’s world, what is convenient might be damaging for others, whether that’s homeless people left outside because of the security you are paying to provide for the owner of an empty building or the surrendering of renters’ rights that is normalised as guardian companies are left unregulated to take advantage of yourself and others in your position.

At the very least, take these bastards to task and don’t let them exploit you more than they already are. Some guardians have gone through the courts to fight for their rights, and new cases are brought every year.

And if you want to look further, why not squatting? Take charge of your life, and take a building! Have autonomy over how you live. Explore living without the fear of a “head guardian” snitching on you. Paint the wall because it makes you feel better, for fuck’s sake!

So many buildings that would be on the radar for squatting are occupied by guardians. These companies make life more difficult for homeless people so they can line their pockets with middle-man money.

Visit the Advisory Service for Squatters; attend a Practical Squatters Evening; maybe you’ll find like-minded people, and it will be the beginning of something beautiful.

And hey, if it’s not for you? Perhaps when you’re made to leave your guardianship building, you might help the keys find their way into the hands of those who need them.

This article first appeared in the Winter 2023-4 issue of Freedom Anarchist Journal

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