Owners of empty properties had better beware – professional squatters could be moving in to "look after" your house and carry out repairs, whether you like it or not.
Even London's most exclusive streets, normally reserved for royals and the super rich, are not exempt: one of the multi-million pound properties on The Bishops Avenue recently became home to some of these unusual "guardians".
Three men moved into a £3m house on the north London street about two months ago and the "repairs" started. Yesterday they said they were providing a service to the community.
"The place was a mess. Now there is running water and electricity here. The toilets work but only because we fixed them up," said one who identified himself as Eduard from Romania. "We call up the owners and ask them if they want us to look after the place while it is empty. They are normally happy because we keep the house in a good state. So are the other residents because they don't want a mess on their doorsteps."
However, neighbours, who include a Saudi princess and the owner of the Daily Express, Richard Desmond, were not convinced. "You wouldn't even want to print my opinion," said one.
The squatters are representatives of PREP Ltd, a company set up and run by Calin Ciufudean and Dirk Cotze, which dubs them "guardians". "We work with the local council and with our own personal contacts to find empty properties. The next step is to contact the owners of the property to find an agreement," said Mr Ciufudean. "However, sometimes it is not possible to get in touch, in which case we try other approaches."
The guardians move into the properties and carry out any works or repairs deemed necessary. Whether they are necessary in the eyes of the owner or in the eyes of the representatives of the company which then bills for them was not clear last night.
Mr Ciufudean went on: "We call them guardians because while they do not pay rent, they are providing the owner with a service. In most cases they are just our friends. We call them up and ask them to carry out any service we deem to be necessary." Mr Ciufudean said that the company always tried to contact the owner of a home it wanted to "provide a service" for, but admitted that it was not always possible.
"Sometimes we have to ask the neighbours and the local authorities," he said.
PREP Ltd, which stands for Protection and Revenue for Empty Properties, charges for its services and also charges expenses to the home-owner.
Its director believes he is working to a standard business practice model of supply and demand.
"The whole thing starts with a problem," explained Mr Ciufudean. "We provide a solution which does not cost too much money, although we keep the receipts we have for any work we might do.
"The fact is, though, that a lot of the homeowners are in this situation because they don't have a great deal of cash. If they cannot pay, we find another solution. This could simply be occupying the house for longer."