Landmark judgement in Court of Appeal “confirms legal status of property guardianship operational model”

A unanimous judgement announced in the Court of Appeal earlier this month will “set a precedent” and, more importantly, confirms the basis of the Licence Agreements under which guardians for the dedicated property guardians business Global Guardians operate in order to occupy and secure properties left in their care by their clients.

These clients are many and varied in nature, large and small in scale and span the public and private sectors. They include a large number of NHS Trusts, London councils and leading housing associations.

The case arose when a former guardian refused to comply with the terms of the Licence Agreement that had been signed when the individual concerned moved into one of Global Guardians’ vacant properties (owned by an NHS Trust) to ‘protect by occupation’ under the terms laid down by BS 8584:2015.

When the property owner wanted the building back, the individual was given due and proper notice to leave the premises under the terms of the signed agreement with Global Guardians. However, the individual refused to vacate the building and, instead, claimed a ‘tenancy agreement’ which conferred certain tenant’s rights. A claim was also made that the Licence Agreement as signed had no proper legal foundation and was ‘a sham’. According to Global Guardians, this was an “attemp to sully the company’s considerable reputation” in terms of the way in which it operates the business.”

Business model

The Court of Appeal’s decision in the case (involving Global 100 Limited v Maria Laleva [2021] EWCA Civ) effectively validates the company’s business model of using Licence Agreements for guardians’ occupancy. It defeated claims made by the former guardian and her associates that their occupancy was, in reality, a tenancy rather than a licence to temporarily reside in the property.

This unanimous decision reached by Senior Judges in the Court of Appeal not only clarifies a formerly grey area in terms of guardians’ rights, but also “consolidates Global Guardians’ position” as a leader in the field of guardian-based property protection services by dint of taking steps to finally clarify the position, once and for all, in a Court of Law at the highest level.

In reaching its decision, the Court of Appeal closely examined Global Guardians’ proprietary form of Licence Agreement and its Property Protection Proposal with owners, as well as the system used in selecting and placing guardians in the relevant property.

The Court of Appeal was satisfied that the Licence Agreement was not a disguised lease agreement, and that the guardians’ occupancy was an essential part of their provision of guardian services at the property. Therefore, the Judges concluded that the guardians had no real prospect of establishing that they were tenants, while the County Court initially hearing the case had properly ordered that possession be granted to Global Guardians.

Significant aspects

There are other significant aspects to the Court of Appeal’s decision that clarify the law in connection with Civil Procedure Rules, as well as property law concerning estoppel and title to property. However, the most important part of the Court’s decision is that it confirms Global Guardians’ (and its legal team’s) position on the legal relationships between property owners, the guardian company and the individual guardians – to whit it is, and has always been, correct and proper.

The case went right up to the Court of Appeal as the individual concerned and her other guardian colleagues refused to accept the previous judgements handed down. The appeal was finally dismissed in this unanimous verdict handed down by Lord Justice Lewison, Lady Justice Macur and Lord Justice Snowden, who also commented in the judgement that, in their opinion, the case should never have been allowed to progress so far. “On the proper interpretation of agreement, considered in light of the surrounding circumstances and the purpose of the agreement, the argument that it created a tenancy rather than a licence had no real prospect of success.”

Landmark legal decision

Speaking after the judgement was announced, Stuart Woolgar (CEO of Global Guardians) commented: “We are all immensely pleased at this landmark legal decision as it has finally laid to rest a conflict which has bedevilled both ourselves and our industry from time to time over the years and, regrettably, caused problems for us, our clients and some of our guardians.”

Woolgar continued: “It also reassures all of our clients and others in the wider property and security sector that my company has always operated to the very highest ethical standards and complies with both the spirit and the letter of the law at all times with respect to our clients and our guardians, many of whom have been with us for years, happily living in and safeguarding their properties.”

In conclusion, Woolgar noted: “We are, first and foremost, a property security company, not a housing supplier, although that is a by-product of our business. However, if we can provide some hard-working and deserving people with more affordable accommodation, then that’s always a bonus. I’m delighted that our reputation has been vindicated. Our properties are always secured by professional and ethical personnel. We are a safe pair of hands now and into the future, with our standards confirmed by the highest levels of the judiciary.”

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