House Sitters Bag Top Properties On Cheap
More and more young professionals, who cannot afford to get on the housing ladder, are bagging themselves plush temporary accommodation for very little money under "guardian schemes".
Becoming a guardian is a bit like glorified house sitting - often in grand and eccentric properties that would otherwise be left standing empty.
It saves the property owners from forking out on security costs and also keeps squatters at bay.
At the same time, the guardians get to live in buildings they could otherwise only dream of - while paying monthly fees which can sometimes be as low as 20% of the market rental rate.
Robyn Winfield-Smith is a theatre director who lives in a 10,000 sq ft building in the heart of London's West End.
Her bedroom is a spacious former dance studio.
She says being a guardian works for her and her housemates because they cannot afford typical rents in the capital.
"This enables us to stay within the careers that we want whilst living very cheaply."
Recent figures from LSL Property Services put the average monthly rent in England and Wales at £745 per month.
In London, it's £1,124.
Guardian schemes are only ever temporary, usually for a few months or years, and tend to be while the building owners await planning permission.
But Robyn enjoys the constant change.
"You can bring along all your furniture and create a brand new home every time you move ... Some of the buildings we've had have been extraordinary."
Properties managed by guardian companies include churches, pubs and other commercial buildings as well as privately owned more "normal" looking flats and houses.
Arthur Duke, managing director of Live-In Guardians, said the number of young professionals applying to be guardians in the past 18 months has grown.
"One of the attractions is the fact that they pay at least 50% of the going market rental which is all inclusive so there's no bills on top and no council tax either.
"We used to get around 8-10 on line applications a day, whereas now we are getting around 15-20."
Critics though warn it is not a solution to the housing crisis.
Antonia Bance, from Shelter, said: "We'd urge caution, [there are] very few tenancy rights attached to property guardianship schemes. If we're looking to solve our housing crisis the thing that we need to do is build more affordable homes."
Robyn admits there are some downsides too, but she is not put off.
"You're not allowed pets, not allowed smoking, and not allowed to have more than two people for longer than three hours - that's the kind of general rule on guests. But that's fine because what we're getting in exchange is this amazing environment to live in."