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MAYFAIR’S EMPTY HOMES HAVE BEEN TARGETED BY SQUATTERS FOR AS LONG AS ANYONE CAN REMEMBER, SO WHEN SQUATTING IN A RESIDENTIAL PROPERTY WAS MADE ILLEGAL LAST MONTH, YOU COULD ALMOST HEAR THE SIGH OF RELIEF. KATE WHITE EXPLAINS WHAT IT MEANS FOR HOMEOWNERS


RIGHT: ANTI-CAPITALIST BANNERS WERE HUNG FROM 61 CURZON STREET WHEN IT WAS OCCUPIED BY SQUATTERS PHOTO: ALEX MILAN TRACY / DEMOTIX / PA IMAGES


BELOW: THE MAKESHIFT LIVING ROOM AT THE OUBLIETTE COLLECTIVE'S HERTFORD STREET SQUAT


a few incidences of squatting in Mayfair and Belgravia. It concerns anyone who has an empty property, it’s a worry. A lot of our clients will put in a security guard if they have an empty building.” The change in the law will save homeowners the headache of evicting squatters, added Cyzer. “Previous to this legislation, proving that your home was squatted in was a lengthy and laborious process, that was time-consuming and often expensive,” he said. While there have been a flurry of high-profile squats in Mayfair in


“It’s an important step that should have been passed by parliament many years ago,” said Harvey Cyzer, head of Knight Frank’s Mayfair office. “Making squatting a criminal offence is the right thing to do, because it protects homeowners. “Previously the rights of owners haven’t come first, but with the new legislation and the fact that it’s a criminal offence, it will ensure that the police and agencies can take quicker and more decisive action when properties are squatted.” Agent Peter Wetherell agreed. “The new legislation is very well-


considered and long overdue,” he said. “The whole premise of squatting on the basis of ‘oh, well, there was a window open so I just walked in’ makes a mockery of property ownership. “We had an experience a few years ago of a house in Mayfair that was occupied by squatters. They trashed the lot of it. However, on the first floor there’s this incredible, hand-painted Chinese wallpaper that dates back the 1700s and is heavily listed. “Amazingly, and I don’t know what subconsciously made it happen, they didn’t touch it. They scrawled graffiti over everything else, but the wallpaper was completely untouched. “The property was empty, so some people might say: ‘Why


shouldn’t somebody have the right?’ But it was empty because it was an office building being converted back to residential use, and these things take time.”


Charles Lloyd, head of sales at Savills, also welcomed the new legislation. “It’s very good news for property owners who could potentially fall foul of squatters,” he said. “There have been quite


recent years, it is not a modern-day phenomenon. A famous case in 1969 saw 144 Piccadilly, now the Hotel InterContinental on Park Lane, squatted by the London Street Commune. They said they aimed to draw attention to an increase in homelessness. The People newspaper described activity in the squat as including “drug-taking, couples making love while others look on, a heavy mob armed with iron bars, filth and stench and foul language. That is the scene inside the hippies’ fortress in London’s Piccadilly.” After six days the 100-room building was raided by police, who


were pelted with roof slates and rocks before taking control of the property. The press dubbed it “the fall of the hippy castle”. Other buildings squatted in more recent years include Grade-II


listed properties in Charles Street and Clarges Mews, where a mansion was commandeered by a group who referred to themselves as the Temporary School of Thought. The former Mexican embassy and Tanzanian high commission on


Hertford Street were also occupied by the Oubliette squatters, who said they aimed to provide up-and-coming artists with a platform for their work. They turned the six-storey buildings into a ten-day art exhibition that was open to the public, showcasing paintings, photography and installations. There were plays and poetry readings, comedy improvisation and painting classes. “There’s a myth that all squatters are reprobates and scroungers, but those are a minority who let the rest of us down,” spokesman Dan Simon told this magazine at the time. “Most squats are very well looked after and we do contribute in an


alternative way. The litmus test of a free society is that it allows for alternative lifestyles.” While some might agree, the change in legislation is doubtless a comfort to homeowners who, should their property attract some uninvited guests, will now find the law is firmly on their side.


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