Increasing numbers of Scots are taking the plunge living in disused commercial premises or empty houses as they seek cheaper rents and the chance to live in unusual buildings such as disused former childrens' care homes.

Property guardianship – where renters provide security for owners by living in empty buildings in return for low rents – is said to have ballooned north of the Border over the past year.

The initiative is increasingly being used by organisations such as councils or companies with large property portfolios, which would otherwise fall into disrepair or become magnets for criminal activity if left empty.

Jacqueline McIntyre Campbell, 59, is one of hundreds of property guardians and now lives in Chapel House, a disused former council-run childrens' care home in Paisley which was put on the market for offers over £550,000 by Renfrewshire Council in 2014 after its closure.

The sandstone house comes with one and a half acres of grounds and was owned by the town's leading cotton mill family, the Clarks.

Ms McIntyre Campbell shares the vast property six other housemates. She said her motivation for doing so was the need to keep costs down.

Ms McIntyre Campbell said: “I am trying to build a business so the price of the property is important. It’s nice to have other people around, but it is £250 a month for my own bedroom and living room including all bills, so it’s a no brainer for me.

“I think a lot of people do it because it gives them the opportunity to find out about an area and discover more about somewhere before they take the plunge and buy somewhere."

Ms McIntyre Campbell, who is setting up a bistro with her son, recommended guardianship to anyone looking for a short term housing solution.

“To people thinking about it I’d say definitely do it. If you like having other people and you are looking for some where short term it is perfect. I want to do it for as long as possible to be honest. It works for me and financially it is fantastic.

“Also, the building is a nice place to live, it’s a wonderful big house and guardianship gives you the opportunity to live somewhere you would otherwise never be able to afford."

She added: “The youngest person here is 23, but it’s a real mix of ages. It’s a good way of meeting different people. You have the ability to keep to yourself if you want, we do not live in each other’s pockets. But if you want to socialise you can. It’s perfect.”

Chris McCormick, a manager at Ad Hoc, which has 2,000 guardians on its books and is one of the UK’s largest firms, said: “In terms of properties, we have more than doubled in Scotland since last year and the number of guardians has increased by about a third."

Mr McCormick said they are targeting Scotland where he believes there are as many as 27,000 empty properties.

He added: “For our clients it is good to have guardians from a security point of view and a maintenance point of view. For example if a pipe is leaking the guardians will make sure something is done straight away, but if the building was empty it could cause untold damage.

“It is also just about people living in the building and making it more appealing when it comes to selling the property.”

Instead of signing traditional tenancy agreements guardians – who must usually be over 21, employed and undergo vetting – sign licences, with fewer rights.

Guardians must, therefore, be prepared to move at short notice and can be told to leave if they breach their agreements, such as by having too many friends over.

Ad Hoc said they would expect a minimum tenancy to last three months and they would always aim to find a new property for their guardians if a building is sold.