Exclusive: Squatters - London's new million pound property barons

Exclusive: Squatters - London's new million pound property barons


How easy is it to squat in London?

Following recent press coverage of a group of squatters living at a £10 million ten bedroom mansion in Highgate – one of the most exclusive areas in the capital – Bridging and Commercial  decided it was time to investigate the realities of squatting in London.

A quick Internet search brought us to squatter.org.uk, where within a few minutes of chatting on their forum, followed by a couple of short phone conversations, we were able to arrange a house viewing for that very day in Kilburn, North West London. Our reporter arrived at the address to find a boarded up property with six bedrooms, worth approximately £1.3 million according to zoopla.co.uk, inhabited by a gaggle of dreadlocked Spanish and French students.

Under the impression that our reporter was interested in staying in the spare room, one of the squatters, Manuel, explained how they had broken in the previous week through a back window. They had managed to get the electricity running via an illegal hook-up, though they still had no water supply, and they had already begun to ‘decorate’, as seen in the picture below.

'This house is a ruin' in Spanish slang

However, when they discovered that our reporter was employed, the offer of the room was swiftly retracted.

The next stop was Hampstead Heath in search of Harry Hallowes, the 70 year old who’s been living in a shack there for 24 years. His home is in the grounds of Athlone House, and when developers purchased the former nursing home and attempted to have Harry ousted in 2002, a three year court case ensued, resulting in Mr Hallowes being awarded the deeds for the 60ft-by-120ft plot, estimated to be worth over £2 million.

Our reporter found Harry’s abode in a fenced-off field concealed by a row of over-grown oak trees, but the barefoot resident – busy repairing his ramshackle shelter in the freezing wind – was clearly unimpressed with the unexpected visit. He refused an interview saying he’d had “enough attention for a lifetime.”

However, he was happy to have pictures of his home taken, evidently proud of his tarpaulin construction surrounded by an orchard of pear trees that he’d planted. He also said he was hoping to get planning permission to build a brick house on the land, although he hadn’t “spoken to [his] solicitor for a while now.” Though perhaps slightly deranged, he was also clearly very happy. As he put it, “I don’t need to work, do I?”

So, how easy is it to squat in London? Ridiculously so, it would seem. The Advisory Service for Squatters (ASS) will provide potential squatters with all the information they need regarding legality, while the locations of empty properties can be discovered in numerous forums on the Internet. So, is it surprising that Jason Ruddick - one of the squatters in the Highgate mansion - travelled 1,500 miles from his native Latvia for that very reason? As he said when speaking to The Times, Britain is an “easy touch” because squatters’ rights are so strong here that it’s “almost impossible” to get them out.

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