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Shameless squatter who moved into pensioner’s empty home then sold it for £540,000 insists he didn’t ‘steal’ the property – and says HE has been left £255,000 out of pocket because of legal fees


A squatter who took legal ownership of an empty house that belonged to a pensioner and then sold it for £540,000 today insisted he did not ‘steal’ the property.

Keith Best even claims he has actually been left £255,000 out of pocket after spending £400,000 in legal fees fighting a court battle to make the property his own.

He also maintains that he paid the pensioner’s granddaughter £245,000 in compensation – and spent £150,000 of his own money doing up the property.

Speaking to MailOnline, Mr Best, 58, a builder, said: ‘I’ve been portrayed as a thief who cheated an old man out of his home but that’s not true. The whole thing has been a nightmare.

‘It affected my health and cost me a lot of money. I never made anything from this and yet it’s being made out that I robbed a pensioner. I have not made a profit.’

The saga started in 1997 after Mr Best spotted that the house in Newbury Park, east London was vacant and began treating it as his own and renovating it.

Builder Keith Best (pictured) spotted the house in Newbury Park, London was vacant in 1997 and started treating it at his own and then began renovating it

Builder Keith Best (pictured) spotted the house in Newbury Park, London was vacant in 1997 and started treating it at his own and then began renovating it

MailOnline can reveal that after living in it for almost eight years, Mr Best has now sold it, pocketing the entire £540,000 profit

MailOnline can reveal that after living in it for almost eight years, Mr Best has now sold it, pocketing the entire £540,000 profit

The house was previously owned by Doris Curtis, who lived there with her son, Colin. Following her death in the mid 1980s, he continued to live there alone before moving out in 1996, leaving it empty.

Mr Best insisted that he had every right to take over the house because Mr Curtis never visited or maintained it.

He fumed: ‘He didn’t care about the house, never went there and he didn’t even know about it. He wasn’t poor. He inherited another property and never went back to the house in Newbury Park.’

When asked by MailOnline about his claim of having to pay extraordinarily high legal fees of £400,000, Mr Best insisted that he did this from his savings and money he earned at the time. 

He revealed that in addition to working as a builder he was also employed as a senior manager by Virgin.

He cried: ‘I had a very good job and was being paid £75,000 per year. But I lost it because of all the negative publicity at the time. I went to court eight times over the house, I was sick of it by the end. I tried to settle with the family (of Mr Curtis) before it even came to court.’

Mr Best also revealed that the stress of the legal battle for the house also led to the death of his mother two years ago.

He said: ‘It killed my mum, she saw the affect that it was having on me. It was awful. I regret the impact it had on my health and that I didn’t make any money from this.’

Mr Best drives a brand-new Range Rover and revealed that he now lives in a ‘large house’ in Essex and no longer works.

He was speaking from his mother’s home in south-east London, which he inherited and recently sold. He revealed that he had just fought a two-year legal battle with his family after she left her entire estate to him and her will was contested by them.

Colin Curtis (pictured) previously lived there with his mother but then moved out in the 90s

Colin Curtis (pictured) previously lived there with his mother but then moved out in the 90s

Mr Curtis, on the other hand, lives on £261 a week from his state pension and tax credits in a modest warden-assisted flat a few miles away in Romford

Mr Curtis, on the other hand, lives on £261 a week from his state pension and tax credits in a modest warden-assisted flat a few miles away in Romford

He added: ‘I’ve had enough of being in the courts and as far as I’m concerned after selling the property in Newbury Park and settling my mother’s will, all these matters are now closed.’

Mr Best revealed that he was alerted to Mr Curtis’s home being vacant by a neighbour while working in the area and that he had ‘every right’ to take it over.

WHAT IS THE LAW ON SQUATTING? 

Squatting was made a criminal offence in England and Wales in September 2012. To do it in a residential building can lead to six months in prison, as well as a £5,000 fine.

However before it was criminalised, squatters could claim ownership of a property by living in it for a certain period of time.

If the land was unregistered, a trespasser could claim rights to it after 12 years of so-called ‘adverse possession’. If registered, they could apply to be owner after occupying it for ten years. The original owner had up to two years to obtain possession – but if this did not happen, the squatter remained in possession.

Keith Best’s attempt to register ownership of Colin Curtis’ house was initially blocked because it was made a few weeks after the law was changed.

However he was then granted ownership in a High Court ruling in 2014.

The judge said previous legislation – which treated squatting as a civil matter – should apply.

He added: ‘I saw the house, it was vacant for years. It was falling in on itself, so I started doing it up. I never robbed anyone. I never did anything wrong. I saved the house and I’m very happy that I did because it’s now being used as a family home.’

After living in the property for eight years and becoming its legal owner, Mr Best sold it for £540,000 in July 2020 to the Hayat family, who still live there.

The legal battle for the home started in 2012 after Mr Best submitted an application for adverse possession – under which a trespasser can win rights to somewhere they do not legally own if they can demonstrate they had ‘control’ over the building or land for a considerable period of time.

He was initially turned down by the Chief Land Registrar as his claim came just a few weeks after squatting was criminalised under Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act.

However, this was overruled by the High Court in 2014, with Mr Justice Ouseley ruling

that the Registrar’s decision was ‘founded on an error of law,’ and previous legislation which treated squatting as a civil matter should apply, resulting in Mr Best being made the legal owner of the home.

Mr Best insisted: ‘Under the law I had a right to make this house mine so if anybody has a problem with that, they should be angry at the law, not me. I’ve done everything by the book. Nobody was cheated and I legally got what was mine.’

After losing the High Court hearing, Mr Curtis, who passed away aged 80 in 2018 launched a counter claim but this was dismissed by Judge Elizabeth Cooke on the basis that he was not a registered administrator of his mother’s estate and had no legal right to fight for her home.

Mrs Curtis had died without a will and her son had not realised he had to apply to become an administrator.

The house in Newbury originally belonged to his widowed mother Mrs Curtis, who died in the mid 1980s aged 88. Her divorced son then stayed there until the mid-Nineties, until he moved to live in another home that he inherited.

Despite the fact that Mr Curtis continued to pay council tax, he rarely visited the property and barely maintained it, giving Mr Best the ideal opportunity to take it over.

Speaking after losing his case, Mr Curtis fumed: ‘It’s not fair. The law is an ass. It’s like someone getting in your car then saying it’s theirs because they’re sitting in it.’

‘People can’t believe it when I tell them. They don’t understand how anyone could get away with it.



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