'Real' slumdog millionaires help flush out owners who milk vacant houses for tax gains
SQUATTERS who take over multi-million pound mansions have been given the thumbs up by Westminster Council's empty property officer.
"At the end of the day, they have a similar goal of putting empty properties back into use," Paul Palmer told the Wall Street Journal.
"We just go about it in two very different ways."
In contrast, Palmer has little sympathy for the owners of empty properties. Typically, such owners prefer to leave a property idle for tax reasons, a waste of resources that frustrates the Westminster man.
"We shouldn't be rewarding these people," he said.
Palmer's job is to chase up "these people" and he finds squatters helpful in that process.
"I sat on the floor and had tea with [the squatters]," he said. "It enabled me to get into properties I've been chasing for a long, long time."
Once a council finds out who the owner of an empty property is, it can launch legal proceedings to make a compulsory purchase. This process takes years, but can be speeded up if entry is gained via squatters.
Westminster Council has a particular problem with vacant buildings, with nearly 2,000 empty properties on its patch, many of them in the Mayfair area.
One of those hit the headlines last year, when squatters - dubbed the Real Slumdog Millionaires - set up home in two £15M Mayfair mansions a few doors down from Madonna's London base.
Though the Slumdog mansions are still empty, the squatter publicity drew the mansions' owners out of the shadows and Palmer is now ready to kick off a compulsory purchase.