More than half the homes in London's most exclusive postcodes are empty

If you splashed out £18m on a mansion, you’d imagine you’d want to actually live in it, right? Pick out some classy rugs, splash some Farrow & Ball paint around, and then put some cheesy garden gnomes out front just to piss off your oh-so-tasteful neighbours? Well, not everyone thinks that way. In Westminster neighbourhood Chesterfield Hill, 53% of homes are unoccupied. And that’s despite homes on its streets going for nearly twenty million, attracting stratospheric prices thanks to their seven storey size and prime location just minutes from Mayfair.

New data from This is Money shows that Chesterfield Hill is London’s most unoccupied neighbourhood, and that’s backed up by a look around this pricy street: the blinds on many of its mansions are down and everything looks eerily immaculate, with few traces of human activity to be found. Their billionaire owners often appoint receptionists or concierges to protect these valuable houses, but seldom visit them, either leaving them empty as investments, or staying there for the odd flying visit each year.

The other neighbourhoods with the highest unoccupied rates fall in the boroughs of Westminster, Kensington & Chelsea, and Camden; the places where London’s priciest residential properties are to be found. It’s all particularly galling given that London’s in the grip of an intense housing shortage, with the latest SpareRoom figures showing that average rent jumped by a whopping 20 percent in the first quarter of this year as demand outstrips supply.

Last spring, four squatters/activists made a statement against unoccupied homes by occupying the £50m mansion of sanctioned Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, arguing that it should be used to house Ukrainian refugees instead of being left empty. They were removed by the police, but the conversation hasn’t stopped there. Pressure group Action on Empty Homes is calling for government action to put unused houses to use, and overseas, countries are coming up with novel solutions to the problem. Canada recently introduced the Underused Housing Tax (UHT), a penalty on unoccupied homes owned by overseas buyers, charged at one percent of the properties’ value.

Let’s hope something changes soon, or some of London’s most prestigious neighbourhoods could end up feeling like ghost towns, with not so much as a cheeky gnome to bring personality to their shiny streets.

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