Property Guardians coming West

The Galway Independent reports: Property Guardians coming West Fancy residing in a plush period property at a cut price rate or perhaps adapting to more modern living in an office block? A Dublin-based company is allowing members of the public to do just that.

The Galway Independent reports: Fancy residing in a plush period property at a cut price rate or adapting to more modern living in an office block? A Dublin-based company is allowing members of the public to do just that.

Property management company Camelot installs 'Property Guardians' in empty commercial and residential buildings who act as a deterrent to vandals and inform the company when issues such as leaks arise.

It's a “low cost way of living” for guardians, according to Regional Manager Ireland Damian Woods, with monthly costs starting from €100 inclusive of bills. And they may also get the opportunity to live in extraordinary properties, such as Charlie Haughey's former home Abbeville or “brand spanking modern new hotels”.

“We would look after, say, convent buildings, hotels, period properties and a lot of very ordinary smaller properties where there might be a temporary situation where they might need protecting,” said Mr Woods.

With Galway's commercial vacancy rate higher than the national average, there is considerable potential for Camelot's guardians here and the company is currently developing its Galway portfolio. With offices in Dublin and throughout The Netherlands, United Kingdom, Belgium, France and Germany, Mr Woods said the initiative is particularly “huge” in The Netherlands, where an estimated 50,000 people live as guardians.

Explaining the logistics of installing a Property Guardian, Mr Woods explains that Camelot creates a “living space” within a building. “If it's an office block for example...basically offices one, two, three, four, five and six become bedrooms, the general office becomes a communal area, the tea station becomes the kitchen. We then go into the toilets, we take out one of the toilets and stick in a temporary shower, we put in hot water, electric heaters, for washing and cooking.”

Guardians live under the terms of a 'temporary occupation license' not a tenancy agreement, which is “comparable to that which you sign when you check into a hotel”, according to Mr Woods, adding that “guardians are there as a security solution, not as a housing solution”.

“It's not for everyone, it's a very cheap way of living but you have to be flexible and you have to enjoy that variability,” he said, explaining the company has around 170 guardians across Ireland at the moment, with retired gardaí and mature students who have gone back to college among them. 88 per cent are over the age of 25, 43 per cent are over 35.

Guardians are obliged to inform the company of any issues with properties, such as broken windows or electrical faults, with Camelot operating a 24-hour helpline for this purpose. Mr Woods suggests that when a building is empty for more than three months it starts to “fall apart”, but guardians can help keep a premises in good condition.

“This is a preventative type of security; instead of learning that water has been running through the building for three days, you get to learn at four in the morning that there has been a hissing noise.”

The initiative is a “very effective” way of protecting the value of an asset, according to Mr Woods, who also suggested that it is cheaper to insure buildings that have guardians living in them, with a 50-60 per cent reduction on premiums possible.

And he suggests that guardianship is more effective than security systems or having security guards patrolling premises, with guardians acting as a deterrent to common complaints such as vandalism, arson and metal theft.

“Buildings don't just get burnt down. What happens is the fence at the back gets broken down, then some kids get in to play football in the lawn or something, then a football breaks a window and another window, then someone comes into the building once and then they start coming to the building and then it's cold one night and they start burning things and then, three or four occasions later, the whole place goes up in flames,” he says.

“People will be less inclined to break in, less inclined to try and light fires, less inclined for anti-social behaviour if there's somebody physically living there, it's remarkably effective," he says.

In Ireland, Camelot typically works with receivers and private companies but regularly works with local authorities in other European countries, for instance during the refurbishment of council housing, and Mr Woods points out that this reduces the costs for councils of maintaining empty buildings.

The organisation is now working with the Office of Public Works (OPW), which manages and maintains the State's property portfolio and has responsibility for the running of national monuments, with Mr Woods suggesting the company is particularly interested in maintaining vacant schools, libraries, garda stations and other public properties in Ireland.

Camelot will hold a workshop for owners of vacant properties in Galway on Thursday 30 January from 8.30am to 12noon at the Radisson Blu Hotel. For further details, see www.cameloteurope.com/roadshow.