A man in the U.K., who took over a retiree’s empty home in London and gained legal ownership of it under a “quirky” ancient Roman law, has sold the property for a profit, local media reports.
A British construction worker identified as Keith Best spotted an empty three-bedroom, semi-detached home in London’s Newbury Park back in 1997 while working a construction job nearby, according to Express. Best began renovating the property and ultimately moved his family into the home in 2012.
The house, however, belonged to retiree Colin Curtis, who lived on the property with his mother until the late 1990s, when he moved out. Curtis inherited the property, but under what has been described as a “quirky” ancient Roman law that allows “someone in possession of a good without title to become the lawful proprietor if the original owner didn’t show up after some time,” Best became the home’s legal owner, the Guardian previously reported.
Best had filed an application for adverse possession about a decade ago in order to legally obtain the property. The Chief Land Registrar initially denied the application following a law that criminalized squatting, but the ruling was overturned by the High Court in 2014 when a judge ruled the Registrar’s decision was “founded on an error of law,” the Daily Mail reported.
The judge ruled that previous laws approached squatting issues as civil matters, and despite the judge finding Curtis committed criminal trespass, he was granted ownership of the home. The judge found that at least 10 years had passed “without effective action by the owner” to take control of the property.
“This judgement recognises that making residential squatting a criminal offence was not intended to impact on the law of adverse possession, which is an old and quirky law,” Best’s attorney said back in 2014. “It is a quirky law that benefits the economy because unused and unclaimed land and property gets recycled back into use.”
Curtis died in 2018 at age 80, the Daily Mail reported, and had filed a counter-claim against the judge’s ruling. However, it was dismissed due to him not being listed as the executor of his mother’s estate. His mom, Doris Curtis, died in the 1980s and had no will. Curtis said before his death that he was unaware he had to apply to become the administrator of his mother’s estate.
After moving out of the property in 1996, he continued paying council taxes on the home, but rarely visited the house, the Daily Mail reported.
The home was in the Curtis family since World War II, and neighbors told the Daily Mail that Doris Curtis would be “turning in her grave” over Best legally taking over the property.
“This house has a very troubled past because there is no way Best should have got his hands on it for free. A lot of people around here are still very angry that he was allowed to get away with it and that the law backed him,” a neighbor told the Daily Mail
“Doris would have been turning in her grave. They were a very hardworking, east end family and her descendants should have benefited from this house. But the family who live there now are wonderful and it’s nice to see it as a loving home once again. You can’t blame them for what happened.”
The home was worth roughly £400,000 when Best took over the property. He sold the home to Atiq Hayat, 35, for £540,000 – the equivalent of roughly $682,000 – meaning he made a profit of roughly £140,000, or $177,000, the Daily Mail found.
“His name appeared on all the documents related to this house and everything was done properly, and we have nothing to worry about,” Hayat told the outlet, explaining he never knew of the home’s legal past until journalists contacted him for comment.
“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,” he added.
Hayat even balked at the home’s legal history and asked, “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?”