After the squatters at Hulme’s Hope Inn were evicted last week, MM speaks to people who are involved in a very legal alternative.
The squatters moved on from the former Hyde’s Brewery pub on Wednesday just hours before bailiffs arrived to remove them.
However one Manchester businessman believes he provides a realistic alternative to squatting, both for those who squat and those whose properties are occupied.
Shane Cooper, Managing Partner for Minae Property Management, said: “Squatting seems to be coming increasingly rife in areas of Manchester all the time now. More and more, it is one of the main factors in people’s decision to take up services like ours or other forms of security.”
Mr Cooper specialises in finding property guardians – people who live at low cost in disused buildings.
The companies or individuals who own the buildings pay Minae to protect the premises, which are not always standard housing.
He currently has clients living in care homes, office blocks and whole housing estates across the North West.
One guardian, 35, only wanted to be named as Shaun B. He is from London, works in security and is a property Guardian in North Manchester. He has been living in a disused office space for six months now.
He described to MM what it was like to move in to one of these properties: “Change for anybody is a difficult thing. That feeling of it being surreal has gone now though. At first it does bother you, but it goes.
“If you meet a girl, and you say that you live in this building, then they’re going to say something but if I bring them here and show them the space, they’d rather be here than take them to a bedsit.”
COMFORTABLE: Shaun B in the disused office he has made his home
Mr Cooper was determined to underline the difference between squatting and the service his company provide.
He said: “It offends me if people refer to this as legalised squatting as it clearly isn’t. We have all the contracts in place, the owner has agreed to it and the guardians pay for where they stay.”
Minae’s property guardians have to be in full-time employment and provide proof of wage slips, as well as a reference from their employer.
The tenants also pay a small licence fee of around £35-60 a week, with contractual agreements in place to move them on should a client require the property again.
And Mr Cooper also believes that squatters could use schemes like Minae as an alternative to squatting, and would even consider them to take on roles as a guardian with his company.
“I would have to discuss it with them and take each case individually,” he said. “If they could demonstrate that they are law abiding, could pay each week and could prove they are in full time employment, I wouldn’t be against it in principle.
“But I would definitely want peace of mind. I have to trust a guardian.”
However Mr Cooper does not believe that squatters, like those who recently occupied the Hope Inn, would support what Minae do.
“I would suggest they disagree with what we do as we are charging people to live there,” he said.
“Our ultimate goal is to protect the premises. I’m not so sure that their reason to live there is to protect the value of the asset, to protect the property.”
Rufus Stewart, a former Hope Inn squatter, was not aware that it was possible to be a property guardian in Manchester but had heard of the scheme in London.
When asked if he felt it was possible for people like himself to work with companies such as Minae, he said: “No, not really. We don’t work through those channels. We like to do our own DIY and things like that. Maybe we could work with them but I’m not sure how.”
But guardian Shaun B thought that this may not be the case across the board with other squatters.
He said: “I’ve known a lot of squatters and the scene quite well. It depends on the individuals. If they don’t want to live with that feeling of getting kicked out at any minute and if they are responsible, honest and want somewhere to live, then some may rather pay a little and not have that weight on their shoulders.”
LIKE HOME: Shaun B's bedroom in the North Manchester property is as cosy as any other
But Mr Cooper was keen to emphasise where businesses like his could play an important part in today’s economic climate. Primarily this is with property owners who do not want to see their properties left unoccupied and thus become run-down, but also with those for whom buying or renting property is not an option.
He said: “There are people going through messy divorces who really need something without a long term agreement and this is perfect for them. It is a valuable alternative that we are providing.”