Dear Russian Oligarch…

I’m sorry that squatters broke into your £15m mansion. I don’t really agree with squatting, the stance that the law takes on it or that people seemingly think they have a right to be in your house without permission. It’s wrong. But you’re partly to blame.

You bought an exquisite property. Built in the 1820’s, no doubt packed with charm and character, it resides in one of Londons most prestigious and sought after neighbourhoods. The problem you have is that you don’t live there.

In fact you’ve apparently never been to visit the house since you bought it back in 2014. In all honesty, I wouldn’t recommend coming to see it now;

This is your property — 102 Belgrave Place — Banners/flags courtesy of squatters.

You reportedly own four London properties, with one of them valued at a whopping £120 million overlooking Regents Park. It seems safe to assume therefore that you’re likely an investor, probably not that interested in living in one of your ‘cheaper’ London properties, and that’s fair enough I suppose.

But owning large swathes of property that you nor anyone else lives in does have consequences, and one of those many consequences is squatters.

Let me be clear; I’m not saying you should have to move out of your “primary” mansion, wherever that is. You may not even like London. Nor am I saying you deserve to have squatters living in your property.

What I am saying, is that there are socially responsible ways you can stop people taking advantage of an empty building, and here they are;

  • Gift it to a small business/startup.

To be clear, I don’t mean let them use it for free.

But wouldn’t it be great if you let the property to either a company or a bunch of companies (because it is huge), perhaps insisting on start-ups who you ask to pay below average rents to help them reduce their initial costs.

I’m not sure if you’re aware, but renting space in London is expensive. A building like yours could accomodate several small companies or one big one. Any company would no doubt jump at the chance of securing a spot in a prestigious property such as yours for an affordable rent.

You’ll make a small amount of money from the rent, but in return you can ask tenants to provide basic building maintenance, as well as keeping the building secure, working in the interest of both parties.

Not keen on the idea of turning the mansion into a business hub? Then how about…

  • Rent the house to a family.

If you have no intention of ever living here, perhaps renting the house at a discount to a family could be the solution?

Plenty of families in London pay extortionate rent while also enduring an extortionate commuting time. Charging someone who works in the local area a modest but not insignificant rent will mean the property is occupied and that the house is maintained and secure.

  • Lastly, lets talk charity.

I’m sure there are potential tax benefits letting the building to charity, but i’m no expert. Hopefully though, the idea of saving a worthy cause tens of thousands of pounds every year in rent will appeal to you.

Again, you don’t need to let them use the building for free. Just offer a siginificantly discounted rent to a small charity, add basic building maitenance as part of the contract, and delight in the ease with which you’ve been able to help and support a worthy cause.

Whatever you do, social economic benefits are part of the deal. If you ever decide to visit or live in your extraordinary property, I presume you’d like some local bars, restaurants and a sense of community.

None of that will ever exist while buildings like yours are sitting empty. They deprive the local area of customers, visitors, neighbours, friendships, shops and restaurants…because nobody lives there to use them. If you tenant out your building at a discount, you will attract people who want to live there or work there full time, building a comminity around your property. Perhaps you could encourage your oligarch friends to do the same.

Hopefully none of these ideas sounds horrific to you. Making your investment work for someone else at the same time as it works for you can’t be a bad thing, can it?

The alternative is you do nothing. Make less money. Perhaps even pay a security company to check the building ever day.

Or you can wait for the next set of squatters to move in. It’s your call.

Best regards
Michael Firth