Short-life accommodation is accommodation that is used for a temporary fixed term period with a guarantee that the property will be vacated by the end of the period.  This form of accommodation is invaluable for ensuring properties are used in the period before demolition or refurbishment. This technique is invaluable in areas of high demand for housing and where there are empty properties facing an uncertain future. It is applicable for both private and public property and is a quick way of utilising wasted assets.

Most short-life accommodation is carried out by housing co-operatives.  The co-operatives use excluded contractual tenancies.  This means that when a co-op applies to a court for return of the property, there is no discretion allowed by the judge and therefore no rights available for the tenants.  Effective short-life operators begin legal proceedings for the recovery of the property six months in advance of the contract coming to an end to ensure that there is sufficient time to conclude proceedings.  Once the co-operative receives the possession order, this then lasts for six years.  Short-life operators also have the additional option of using replacement properties, which do not require legal powers.


The Benefits of Short-life Housing

The benefit of short life for the tenant is that they are offered better accommodation than they might previously have had in bed and breakfast accommodation or other temporary accommodation, and the rents are substantially lower than they might pay in other areas of social housing (this is still the case, but rents are creeping up – BCH used to be able to keep rents low as often we did not have to pass on rent to the providers – now they do in most cases).  In addition, short-life properties provide an effective solution to the way that empty properties attract crime and associated problems.  In many respects short-life accommodation can be seen as infinitely preferable to boarding up a property and it attracts an income stream.

It is interesting to note that of the BCH tenants, 75% are economically active.  They have made a big play recently in trying to attract key workers, and have succeeded in attracting staff such as hospital cleaners and porters, who all provide essential public services. In Hammersmith & Fulham the key worker Short life scheme houses only referrals from the following; health authority, social work, HM Prison service)

Short-life accommodation need not be sub-standard housing, for example, BCH has clear standards for their properties and the only difference from other social housing is the decoration and fittings.  Essentially short life is basic accommodation to a decent standard but with low rents and a fixed time period.

In many respects ‘short life’ is a misleading name for this type of accommodation; it could be suggested that a name like ‘guaranteed temporary accommodation’ might be a more appropriate description of this type of accommodation.


On The Right Terms

For each new tenant of BCH it is clearly spelt out to them that their tenancy is of a temporary nature. However, in the past some co-operatives have undermined the principle of short life by not giving properties back at the end of the agreed tenancy.

The Bruton ruling in 2000

Mr Bruton was a short-life tenant in Lambeth who had been accommodated in a property for a long period of time.  The property was identified for redevelopment, and a court declared that he had rights because he had a secured tenancy agreement.

Fully mutual co-operatives cannot give secured housing tenancies and can only give excluded contractual tenancies. If Mr Bruton had had such a contractual tenancy, the court would not have been allowed this discretion.  Brent Community Housing (BCH) has a copy of the legal ruling and copies are available.


Other Resources


Can I have an empty house? Yes you can! … One of the commonest questions we are asked at the Empty Homes Agency goes something like this “I need a home, but I can’t afford one, can I have an empty one?”

For reasons that are pretty obvious it’s a question we are getting asked more and more often. Our answer I’m pleased to report is the Obama like “Yes you can” In fact even better than that we can sometimes even offer a choice. Our answer goes something like this:  READ MORE > >


BSHF has published a report that looks at how self-help housing could play a greater role in the UK. It is titled ‘Self-Help Housing: Supporting locally driven housing solutions’ and can be downloaded for free from the BSHF website here.

This report is based on a Consultation that BSHF co-ordinated at St George’s House, Windsor Castle and research led by Professor David Mullins at the Third Sector Research Centre. The Consultation brought together representatives from groups undertaking self-help housing, academia, trade bodies, think tanks and government departments (the full list of participants can be found at the end of the report). This report offers recommendations – for central government, charitable trusts, local authorities and others – which would help self help housing to play a greater role across the country. These recommendations come at a time when major changes in housing policy are being introduced, providing a real opportunity for them to be implemented.


For further information please call the Empty Homes Agency on 0207 921 4450

Other contacts:

Brent Community Housing
Westminster Housing Co-op
Phoenix Housing Co-op
Alamo Housing Co-op

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