Independent investigations by the I have revealed the number of private companies across the UK housing tenants in “dangerous and dilapidated” buildings.
According to reports, the investigated accommodations lacked running water, smoke detectors and working fire escapes, leading to cross-party calls for the industry to be regulated.
‘Property guardians’ sign up to live in empty buildings – often an abandoned police station, schools or office block – with the premise of lower-than-market rents.
The investigation also revealed that one local council is taking a property guardian company to court for housing 30 people in an unsafe former care home where a fire escape was ‘nailed shut’.
If successful, the landmark case could result in many property guardianships being classed as ‘Houses in Multiple Occupation’ (HMOs), which would force companies to license them and adhere to stricter regulations.
The government is under cross-party political pressure to further regulate these companies.
Responding to the investigation, Liberal Democrat peer Olly Grender said: “This undercover investigation shows how desperately bad the housing crisis has become.
“More and more people are living as property guardians in buildings that are dangerous and insanitary, and the law fails to protect them.
“Safeguards must be introduced before the government has another tragedy on its hands such as Grenfell. This is a hidden crisis for people caught in a trap of poverty and lack of decent housing and needs urgent attention.
She added: “The fact these properties are unsafe and unhealthy to live in should result in a rapid review of the relevant laws.
“It is vital that the government now re-evaluate our HMO regulations to ensure that this form of tenancy, in all but name, cannot be ignored and left out of all important legal protections.”