Squatbusters: The biggest con of the year

I’m loving that the Evening Standard is free now. I barely ever bought it when it cost 50p, but now it is clearly the superior choice to the London Lite (which, it seems, is on its way). I also admire the Standard’s new editorial approach under Geordie Greig which stresses optimism and pride over cynicism and defeatism wherever possible. Sometimes, however, a dose of cynicism can be rather healthy.

This week, the Evening Standard fell for a massive con. Page three of the paper was given over to Forbes Risk, who offer to “squat proof” swanky West London houses for the extortionate fee of £2,600 per week. The picture gives the impression that these men, dubbed ‘The Squatbusters’, mean business, and implies that they would not be afraid to resort to violence if needs be. Just look at those black coats and crossed arms. Grr.

Who ya gonna call? Squatbusters (Photo: Evening Standard)

However, anyone who knows anything about squatting will point out that squatters can only claim residence if the house is empty. If someone is already inhabiting the house when the squatters attempt to enter, then it is trespassing and they can go to jail. So all Forbes Risk’s Squatbusters are doing is living in a house for £2.6k per week. Hardly taxing stuff; this is basically glamourised house-sitting. I wonder if they also offer to check the TV on a daily basis to make sure it’s still working, or provide a sofa warming service for the gullible owners.

This is a perfect example of having much more money than sense. Surely the owners should be making money out of this, not spending. The example of ‘protection through occupation‘ is well established in the case of vacant offices, whereby office space is rented out at a reduced rate if the occupiers agree to leave on short notice if needed.

In my part of East London, long-term squatting is quite a serious problem. There are two disused pubs within five minutes walk from my flat that are occupied by squatters and the owners seem powerless to remove them. Squatting is a major concern all across London, but paying people to live in your flat seems to be the most absurd solution possible.