A builder who, through a groundbreaking legal triumph, acquired a £400,000 house owned by a pensioner for free, reportedly sold it for £540,000.
Keith Best utilised an ancient law, tracing back to Roman times, enabling him to claim the vacant three-bedroom property in Newbury Park, Ilford, northeast London and discovered the house whilst working nearby.
Formerly occupied by Colin Curtis and his mother, the house had been largely unoccupied after Curtis moved out.
Over several years, Mr. Best renovated the property, eventually moving in with his wife and child in 2012.
Despite facing criminal trespass charges, he successfully secured permanent possession of the home through a court appeal. Recent reports suggest that Mr. Best has now lucratively sold the property.
The new owner Atiq Hayat, 35, stated “This property was sold to us by Keith Best who was the legal owner. His name appeared on all the documents related to this house and everything was done properly, and we have nothing to worry about.
"I never met Mr Best, but my sisters did twice, when they came to see the property. It was in a very good condition, and he seemed like a very genuine man. The sale was done in the proper legal way through solicitors, so we didn't have a lot to do with him."
Mr. Hayat asserts that at the time of purchasing the house, his family was unaware of its contentious history. He stated - “I don't understand how something like this can happen. How can you just take over an empty house and make it your own, isn't that theft? It doesn't make sense to me. How could the courts have just allowed him to become the legal owner?
"I'm quite shocked at hearing how Mr Best got this home. He never said anything to us, but why would he? Some neighbours have mentioned it to us in the past, but we've never heard the full details. It's crazy to think that you can see an empty home and just take it over and the court is OK with that."
The registrar sought to oppose Mr. Best's title application, submitted in November 2012, citing the criminalisation of residential squatting under section 144(1) of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPOA).
Mr. Justice Ouseley, presiding at London's High Court, noted that Mr. Best's legal team was hesitant to acknowledge that he had, in fact, become a criminal trespasser. He had been residing in the house "in violation of the criminal law" since September 1, 2012, when section 144 of LASPOA came into effect.
The judge acknowledged that Mr. Best could face consequences for his actions as a criminal but emphasised that this did not preclude him from claiming adverse possession. In ruling that the registrar had committed "an error of law," the judge clarified that section 144 was not applicable to squatter's title.
The legislation was designed to address situations where homeowners required swift police intervention to remove squatters who had entered their homes during their absence.