City law firm Charles Russell has questioned the effectiveness of new legislation to tackle squatting, after a council house became illegally occupied following its sale for £2.9 million.
Squatters moved into the four-storey building near Borough Market on Tuesday (29 October), in what is believed to be a protest against the sale of social housing.
But Southwark Council has pointed to large upkeep costs of the Grade-II listed building and has said the most expensive ever sale of a council house in Southwark will pay for up to 25 new council homes.
Calling into quesiton new legislation to combat squatting, Emma Humphreys, partner at Charles Russell, said: "It is interesting to see this high-profile attempt to challenge the effectiveness of the new law against squatting in a residential building which was introduced in September 2012.
“We questioned at the time whether the police would be willing to use this new criminal offence, given their already stretched resources. In this case, the squatters seem to think that the police will not try to remove them because they are making a political protest.
“Of course, it remains to be seen whether this belief is well-founded and the situation is an important test for the police. If the police decide not to use their new powers to remove the squatters, the new owner of the building will be left with only its civil remedies – which means spending time and money on going to court.
"If this proves necessary, many will question whether there was any point in the new law being introduced and whether owners of residential property are really in any better position than before."
Councillor Fiona Colley, cabinet member for regeneration, said: "The costs of repair and refurbishment, coupled with the sale price mean that selling this building was always the best option. The receipt will contribute to our new 11,000 council house building programme."
A new website for the local community, which explains the council's plans for the regeneration of Old Kent Road, has been launched