Vacant properties to watch over

Meet the ‘guardian angels’ who live in exceptional properties for a fraction of the rent they would normally expect to pay


While the average price of renting a single room in Dublin city centre is €433 per month, and a one-bedroom apartment averages nationally at €825, there are a lucky few who manage to pay on average €200 per month including all utilities. Not only do they pay well under the going rate, they live in exceptional properties.

These are the guardians – live-in caretakers in vacant properties acting as deterrents for vandals and squatters, they help prevent dampness and dilapidation setting in. In exchange, the guardians get very low rent in unusual buildings and they become the eyes and ears of the owner, alerting a management company if there are problems. The owner of the property is reassured the building is in safe hands, and an occupied building can bring insurance rates down by as much as 60 per cent.

There are 165 people in Ireland living as guardians under Camelot Property Management, and the properties they live in range from hotels, libraries and offices to grand residences.

The guardians in Charles Haughey’s famed Kinsealy home Abbeville will be packing up soon now that a sale is imminent. The previous guardians of Tom McFeely’s house on Ailesbury Road must be a little more than surprised now, knowing that €200,000 was tucked away in the bathroom they used each morning.

Some guardians are married couples saving for a deposit for their future home, paying an average of €200 a month can help them save between €5,000 and €10,000 annually.

Great location
A lavish four-storey over basement 440sq m (4,736sq ft) Georgian house in Dublin city centre (which can’t be identified for security reasons), has had four guardians living there for the past year. Each guardian has their own bedroom and the large kitchen in the basement is their communal area.

Frank Hester, in his 60s and retired, has been a guardian for a little over two years, having spent his first year in a hotel in Kildare. He is delighted with his current accommodation – “just look at it, it’s a great property in a great location and it’s for half nothing”.

Hester’s bedroom is the diningroom of the original house and he pays €150 a month including utilities. He says it really suits his lifestyle as he loves to travel and doesn’t want to be tied down with anything permanent.

Monica Ennis in her 50s, also lives here and says that becoming a guardian has “been one of the best experiences of my life. I have met amazing people and live in this stunning house”.

Ennis is a costume maker for Riverdance, and has also worked for the Abbey Theatre. “I have a house in Loughrea and needed to be in Dublin also. I really couldn’t afford rent in Dublin plus my mortgage in Galway, so this just seemed an ideal scenario”. Her room is the original drawing room of the house which in itself is the size of a small apartment.

Ennis also lived in the hotel in Kildare, where she first met Hester, and along with four other guardians looked after the 65-bedroom premises. For many this might conjure up images of The Shining – the 1980’s horror film starring Jack Nicholson as the deranged guardian of a remote hotel – but both Hester and Ennis laugh, and say they were never afraid, despite tales of a resident ghost told to them by locals.

Strict rules
The third resident is Martha Marin, a 25- year-old Spanish intern. Having a third-floor bedroom, she is delighted with her accommodation. “I’m extremely happy here. I couldn’t believe the house, just look at the architecture, I feel I’m living in a movie.”

The one downside is that all three share a bathroom, which for Ennis and Hester means climbing three flights of stairs each morning. The three must also adhere to the strict rules in their contract, such as no parties, pets or children.

If they wish to have an overnight guest, they must first inform the management. Ennis believes that “yes, the rules are tight and don’t allow impromptu nights at home, but it’s the trade-off to live in such a wonderful house so cheaply.”

All three agree, it takes a specific type of person to become a guardian. “You must be flexible, practical and adaptable” says Hester. “I enjoy relocating. I’m not your average 60 year old, and travel a lot.”

For Ennis “you need to be sorted in your own head, it’s not for everybody, there is an element of Big Brother to it, but you figure it out”. She recalls having to ask a guardian in another property to leave .

“Basically, there was a woman who didn’t play ball, she never cleaned up in the communal area, and didn’t contribute in any sense, so the rest of us asked her to leave. Good manners and respecting other people’s private space is essential.”

Marin admits she was a little overwhelmed on meeting Hester and Ennis due to the age gap, but “ I have learned an awful lot and they really look out for me”.

There is a For Sale sign outside these guardians’ current home and all three sigh when asked if they will be sad to leave. They describe living together here as a “beautiful experience”, but know that the day will come when they have four weeks to move. Ennis then leaps with excitement. “I want to live in an office block next”.

Certainly, a spirit of adventure helps.

Watching brief: the ins and outs of house-sitting in Ireland
House-sitting has been popular since the 1970s and the Netherlands has more than 50,000 people living as guardians under 40 property management agencies. One such agency is Camelot, which opened an Irish office in 2010

In Ireland, guardians do not have the same rights as tenants and sign a guardian licence rather than a tenancy agreement. All guardians must be employed, have good references and provide financial statements. There is a four-week notice to vacate if the building is sold.

The cost, termed a licence fee rather than rent, depends on the property, and ranges from €100 to €250 per month, and may or may not include utilities. There is an administration fee of €75 and a refundable security deposit ranging from €300 -€400.

For owners of a property, they pay a fee to the management agency, which according to Damian Woods, of Camelot Ireland, is a fraction of the cost of full-time security.

He cites the example of a hotel which was quoted €30,000 per annum by its insurance agent for part cover which required a 24- hour security guard on top of the premium at an estimated further cost of €100,000. The insurance was reduced to €15,000 for full cover if the property had live-in guardians.

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