Midnight, Mayfair, London: your £6 million investment, carefully boarded up and being readied for refurbishment. Suddenly a swarm of more than 2,000 people clamber up the building defences, bringing in music equipment, cans of spray paint and an idea to party the night away!
For many a London landlord, the above scenario is possibly the worst nightmare possible. Not only is the clean-up and damages bill horrendous, there could be charges brought against the landlord from neighbours or in extreme cases, from the revellers themselves, if they manage to hurt themselves while in the property.
Sounds like fiction? Current events prove otherwise. Thanks to the rise of social networking websites such as Facebook, the rise in illegal occupation of properties by ‘party squatters’ for one or many nights is becoming common.
In August 2006, squatters took over a £5 million property on Primrose hill, North London and trashed the place will all night parties. Police had to be called out on that occasion and also more recently in February 2010, a £6 million Mayfair property was occupied and vandalised by 2,000 plus ‘ravers’.
Although unlawful, squatting is not illegal according to UK law. Evicting squatters can prove to be an expensive and time-consuming process for the landlord. In some cases, public sympathy is with the squatters, especially in the case of long unoccupied or neglected properties, seen in the light of the lack of housing available in London.
Resources in terms of advisory websites and charities make it easy for potential squatters to find unoccupied properties and target them.
But whereas the genuinely homeless can claim to be occupying unused space, the real threat to London landlords still comes from parties and raves organised through Facebook. Ravers set up group invitations on their Facebook accounts and make it public, so that anyone looking at the invitation or having been forwarded the invitation can feel free to show up. Sometimes a small fee (£3 was charged for the Primrose hill event) can be levied, and generally people bring their own drink and often, drugs.
The venue selected for the party is normally a neglected or long unoccupied property, usually in a high-profile area like Notting Hill or Mayfair. The party organisers then infiltrate the premises with music equipment and other paraphernalia, and at the very last minute, the venue is released via social networking applications such as Twitter, Facebook or mobile texts.
Very soon, an overwhelming number of people, mostly young, descend on the property and break in. The authorities are called but can be swiftly overwhelmed simply by vast numbers and the nature of the crowd behaviour. At the Primrose Hill event, riot police in full gear had to be called out, as was reported by the media.
The authorities normally let the party die out and wait for the people to leave before they move in and arrest a few of the organisers or anyone who was particularly violent. After the event, the extent of the damage has been reported to be broken fixtures, graffiti on the walls, broken bottles, cans and drug paraphernalia littered all over the property resulting in a huge repair and clean-up bill.