Today, a housing trend out of London — exorbitantly priced land of mega-basement-ed townhouses and subway exhaust-heated flats — that’s just begging for a reality series. Or at the very least, a situational comedy. Or maybe a horror film.
As reported by the Wall Street Journal, some Londoners struggling with the city's high rents are saving their precious pounds during the housing boom by taking up residence in abandoned office buildings in primo locations with enviable postal codes.
And no, they’re not squatting. They’re “guardians” — tenants-cum-security guards that, in exchange for a deeply discounted montly rent to live in these unconventional digs, help to help keep squatters away.
While unclear what the protocol for dealing with squatters is if, in fact, they do descend on a vacant building en masse (I’m guessing tea and biscuits all-around followed by a civilized chat), the Journal does go into detail about some of the drawbacks associated with paying a cut-rate rent in exchange for guardianship of a vacant property:
There are some hitches. No parties are allowed. She [31-year-old guardian Nicole Vloeimans] needs permission to go on vacation. There is a hole in the kitchen ceiling. She had to paint over a swath of graffiti. The four-week notice to move out can come any time.
Similar to proper renters, guardians must be employed full-time and are subject to background checks. When a guardian opportunity opens up, dozens of prospective tenants will arrive at a formal open house to check the place out and, if they feel that the space is a good fit, apply to live there. “Demand is out of control,” says Arthur Duke of Live-In Guardians, a firm that vets potential guardians — 5,000 eager Londoners are currently on the firm’s wait-list — for available openings and places those who make the cut.
Squatting, as you already may be well-aware, is somewhat of a national pastime in the housing-strapped U.K., where it’s legal to take-up residence in abandoned, nonresidential buildings provided that no other crimes (vandalism, theft, etc.) are committed after entering the building. Up until 2012, it was also kosher to squat in unoccupied residential buildings. Once squatters have moved in on an abandoned office or commercial building, it can be difficult — drawn-out civil eviction court procedures are involved — for a building owner to quickly send them packing. But it is, however, illegal for squatters to move into a nonresidential building that's occupied. And this is where guardians come into the picture.
Explains the Journal: “…developers looking to rehab — or tear down — a building will fill it with guardians to keep the squatters away before work begins. The presence of guardians is often enough to deter squatters …”
For some, the very thought of living, sometimes completely alone, in an empty office building in the middle of a bustling city might be terrifying. But those who count on this “respectable alternative to squatting” as a means of saving cash on monthly rent wouldn’t have it any other way. For example, Oreste Noda, a percussionist from Cuba who dealt with complaing neighbors everytime he brought his bongos out in previous "traditional" flats, is loving it. Same goes for Michael Angelov, a 31-year-old-filmmaker who has a grand old time romping around his massive living space, complete with two glass-walled bedrooms, when his girlfriend comes over to visit.
Would you pay a super-low rent to live in an abandoned office building in a prohibitively priced postal code — think of all that glorious space to spread out and decorate! — that doubles as a squatter-magnet?
Related stories on MNN:
- Ghost busted? Hong Kong's haunted housing stock vanishes in boom
- '16 Dollar House' squatter gets the boot
- Will abandoned retail shops help solve the U.K.'s housing shortage?
- Railway arch-repurposing housing scheme in London nothing to laugh at