LONDON (Reuters Life!) - As property prices plummet and home repossessions increase, one enterprising group of squatters has solved its housing problem and taken up residence in one of London's most exclusive neighborhoods.
About 20 people aged between 21 and 45 moved into two seven-storey multi-million pound mansions in Park Lane through an open basement door about three months ago.
They now rub shoulders with London's super-rich in a prime location, nestling among sports car showrooms and expensive restaurants and enjoying superb views across Hyde Park.
The group pass their time by playing music, painting and "creating art," according to one of the squatters.
"We haven't heard from the landlord yet, but we hope he is a cool guy and understands our problems and (the) tough situation in London," 27-year-old Martin from South Africa told Reuters, as he left with his two dogs for a morning stroll in the park.
"We are a group of creative artists connecting with like-minded people, we hope to be here for a while," Martin said.
The two premises in 94-95 Park Lane belong to the Duke of Westminster through his property company Grosvenor.
According to the Sunday Times 2008 Rich List, the 57-year-old duke Britain's third-richest man worth 7 billion pounds, behind Russian Roman Abramovich, who owns Chelsea football club, and Indian businessman Lakshmi Mittal.
A spokesman at Grosvenor denied to comment on the squatters, but did confirm freehold ownership of the buildings.
A real estate agent at Mayfair's Harrods Estates said she estimated the value of the buildings at "several million pounds," but would not give a precise figure.
One-bedroom flats in the area next to the occupied 12-bedroom mansions sell for at least 1 million pounds.
"If the landlords leave the building empty and don't care, the squatters have the right to be here and have a roof over their heads," said a local resident, who did not want to give his name.
According to Britain's Land Registration Act 2002, squatting is not illegal in the UK and squatters cannot be evicted from premises without a court possession order filed by the landlord.
A spokesman at Westminster's Metropolitan Police office said no action was planned at the moment to remove the squatters.
Reporting by Martina Fuchs, Editing by Frank Prenesti