Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Bring on the Squatters


In the London Borough of Westminster, where Mayfair is located, homes can cost up to £50 million. Yet Westminster is fifth among London's 33 boroughs in the number of unoccupied properties. In 2008, 1,737 homes had been vacant six months or more, the third highest number among all London boroughs, according to the Empty Homes Agency, a nonprofit group that seeks to put empty homes back into use.
Mayfair's homeowners aren't down on their luck, far from it. Rather, there properties serve as investments for owners who pay the bills to keep them empty -- something the neighbors and city object to when the homes fall into disrepair. Many owners decline to rent the homes due to local council tax rules, which tax properties at a lower rate if they are empty and unfurnished. A loophole that helps the filthy rich.

The high concentration of rundown, empty homes is striking for a posh neighborhood like Mayfair, with its ornately gated manses. The hub of aristocratic society before World War II, Mayfair's modern-day image is demonstrated by its prominent place on the British Monopoly board.

The problems surrounding the abandonment of posh homes was exposed last winter when a group of young squatters occupied two £20 million homes on Park Lane overlooking Hyde Park. Before the squatters settled in, the homes had been empty for seven years. During that time, the Council had tried three times to contact their British Virgin Islands-based property owners: Red Line Ltd. and Perfectil Ltd. Following two years of silence, the property owners surfaced once multiple British newspaper accounts outed the squatters.

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