A nice little way to save on the rent: Not all squatters are desperate, finds Imogen Edwards-Jones

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Indy Lifestyle Online
'THERE are two different types of squatter,' an old hand told me. 'There's the couple who are eking out a living, trying desperately to keep the whole thing together, and there's the middle-class clever dick who knows how to play around with the law.'

Andrew falls into the second category. He is a trainee solicitor who will be joining a law firm in the City in September. 'At around pounds 21,000, it has one of the highest starting salaries in the country,' he admits.

For almost a year, Andrew squatted in a flat in south London. He had not intended to squat but found a legal loophole that meant he did not have to pay. 'I soon realised that our landlord's mortgage statements were coming to our flat, which meant the mortgage company thought that our landlord was the owner-occupier. He was breaking the law by sub-letting to us. We refused to pay and there was nothing that he could do about it,' Andrew says, smiling.

' Eventually I discovered that he had committed this massive mortgage fraud with the 15 flats in the house. I began to move some of my friends in. My mate David moved in over the hall. He's a trainee barrister; in fact all of us were training for the legal profession.

'It was rather a nice flat, you know, good view of the park, great fitted kitchen, nice bedrooms . . . everything you would expect from a place you had intended to rent for about pounds 70 a week.'

Andrew admits that the money he saved dramatically improved his standard of living. 'I was rich. I could go out to the pub when I wanted. Drink loads, smoke loads. If you are living free the last thing you want to do is save money. It's like a bonus.'

Andrew only moved out when things 'started to get a little heavy and there was a lot of hassle'. He was attacked by a pit-bull terrier and men armed with planks. 'It wasn't that bad. I just decided that enough was enough. After all, we had had almost a year of free living. After I left I bought a car and went on holiday.' Andrew now rents a place in west London with a friend. 'But that is only until we find a way out of it,' he laughs.

Henry is an old Etonian who was working as an art director in the film industry when he and an Australian friend broke into a council flat in north London. 'He had squatted before so he knew the ropes,' Henry says. 'We repaired the door that we had broken down, changed the locks and put up a sign in the window saying that we had occupied the place. We stayed there for six months.'

He worked from home using a portable phone so that no one in the industry knew that he was squatting. 'I was working extremely hard at the time so I didn't really care where I lived.

'I was also waiting to go on a film in Africa so it was impossible to rent anywhere; I was hoping to leave the country any minute and everywhere requires you to sign a six-month minimum lease.' The job never happened.'

With the money that he saved, Henry went to Los Angeles. 'It was disposable income, so I disposed of it,' he says.

After four months the council issued an eviction order. 'The date came and went, so we assumed that they had forgotten about us,' said Henry. 'Eventually we went down to the Town Hall and tried to rent the flat. They refused and we were given two days' notice and had to move out very quickly when the bailiffs came.'

Duncan, a friend of Henry's, bribed someone at the council accommodation office to 'lose the deeds to his squat', and lived rent- free for five years. 'Eventually someone from the council came round and said they thought they owned the property,' he said. 'Now I rent the four-bedroom house for pounds 100 a week. It was a figure plucked out of the air and they seemed to agree. It saves them having to do the place up doesn't it? It's a mutually beneficial arrangement, I get somewhere cheap to live, they get a bit of rent into the bargain.'

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