A council blunder has revealed that more than 1,600 properties stand empty in Kensington and Chelsea - the wealthy borough where scores of poor families were left homeless following the Grenfell Tower blaze.
A list accidentally sent out by the council revealed that a foreign billionaire, an American politician and a TV executive are among the owners of the 1,652 vacant properties, which reportedly include a mansion block and luxury homes.
As of Wednesday morning, just 12 families have been rehoused since the June 14 fire with 174 offers of accommodation made and 45 accepted. Campaigners say the council’s “inflexible” rehousing approach is causing some survivors “great distress”.
In the wake of the fire which claimed at least 80 lives, Jeremy Corbyn said empty properties in the area should be “requisitioned” to make sure residents are re-housed locally.
According to the leaked data, more than a third of the empty buildings have been vacant for more than two years, while a further 1,010 are unoccupied and “substantially unfurnished”.
The information was sent to multiple recipients, including the Guardian, and detailed the council tax information relating to vacant homes and their 1,197 owners.
The council has since said there was nothing they could do to force owners to live in the unoccupied homes.
Kensington and Chelsea council’s deputy leader Kim Taylor-Smith told the Press Association: “If a property has been left unoccupied and unfurnished for two years or more, property owners will be charged an additional 50% of the full council tax charge.
“Unfortunately, we have no powers to compel owners to live in their properties but we can and do offer support and advice to help bring long-term empty properties back into use.”
But who are the people who can afford to leave buildings unoccupied in one of London’s most expensive boroughs?
According to the Guardian, former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg is among those who own vacant buildings in the borough.
It is believed that the grade II listed, seven-bedroom Chelsea mansion he bought back in 2015 is currently empty.
Once home to the writer George Eliot, the impressive building is said to have a baroque ceiling mural painted by James Thornhill, who was also responsible for the interior dome of St Paul’s Cathedral.
The newspaper reported that the home is currently covered in scaffolding, suggesting it is under development.
Bloomberg has yet to respond to the Guardian’s or HuffPost UK’s requests for comment.
Included in the list of vacant buildings is the former Brompton Road tube station building, which was once a top secret command centre for Winston Churchill.
Bought by Ukrainian oligarch Dymtro Firtash for £53 million three years ago, it has reportedly stood empty ever since.
According to the Guardian, he intended to develop the building into flats, but was unable to proceed after being detained in Vienna on a US extradition warrant.
A lawyer for Firtash told the newspaper that he intended to continue with the plans once he was able to travel to the UK again.
HuffPost UK has reached out for further comment but it yet to hear back.
According to council data, Duke’s Lodge London Ltd - a 1930s mansion block valued at £85 million - is home to 26 empty flats owned by luxury property developer Christian Candy as part of his larger business.
The lodge is reportedly undergoing a major refurbishment, with plans to demolish the current block and replace it with “five interlinked villas, including a two-floor basement and underground parking”.
A spokesperson for CPC London, which is part of Candy’s business, told the Guardian the building had been “entirely stripped back to a base shell in preparation for imminent demolition”, making it “unsafe and uninhabitable for use”.
British TV producer and executive Peter Fincham is another property owner included on the list accidentally sent out by the council.
Fincham, who was the controller of BBC One and the director of television for ITV, told the Guardian that the £6 million home he owns in the area is currently being transferred to a new owner.
“We contracted to sell this property in December 2016 and are awaiting completion,” he reportedly said in a statement.