By Rose Eclarinal, ABS-CBN Europe News Bureau
Sisters Lilia and Amelita Olasa spent the last 30 years in the UK working hard, preparing for a comfortable life in retirement, that includes a 3-bedroom house.
The retired nurses left in March for a holiday with family and loved ones in the Philippines, but upon their return, they found themselves strangers in their own home.
On August 24, the UK’s Evening Standard reported that squatters, who were thought to be Romanians, moved in to the £500,000 property of the Olasa sisters on Glenthorne Road, New Southgate. With the help of social media, relatives and friends, the news reached the sisters in the Philippines.
They flew back on September 6 to confront the squatters and reclaim their house.
“Para kaming stranger sa bahay namin. Wala na ang mga mga gamit namin. Kami ang nasa labas. We should be in, they should be out,” said Lilia.
“When you come home you will expect na maayos ang bahay mo tapos kung saan saan ka pala
makikituloy,” said Amelita.
After five hours of negotiation and police intervention, the squatters left. Eight of them including two kids vacated the house, with the condition that the neighbors who lined the street in support of the sisters go back to their houses and let them leave the premises peacefully.
The sisters said they would not have been able to reclaim their house from the squatters if not for the vigilance of their neighbors.
The neighbours on Glenthorne Road first discovered that the Olasa house was overtaken by squatters when they saw trash bags and litter in front of the property. They also noticed that some of the furniture were thrown out on the street. A van came everyday to collect valuable electronics, cabinets and many more.
Fellow Filipino neighbors Rudy and Prosperina Arenas said they knew that the property was taken over by squatters when loud music was heard from the house at night.
“Nagulat nga kami. Alam namin na wala sila ng matagal. Bakit may tao sa loob at malakas ang tugtog,” said Rudy Arenas.
The couple alerted their other neighbors, who reported it to the police.
The neighbors also decided to document the movement of the squatters coming in and out of the property.
At one point, 21 people were seen living in the house. The squatters were Romanian gypsies who claimed to have rented the property from the Olasas. They produced a fake lease agreement when the neighbors questioned them.
“I said you rented the house? Sabi niya, ‘no English.’ Rent, rent,” narrated Lily Vela, one of the neighbors.
Another neighbor, who did not want to be identified, said: “The sisters cannot even kill a fly. That’s how good they are. If squatters came back here again, we will hurt them. We will not even tell the police. They left scared because they knew we will hurt them but the police will not touch them.”
The sisters with the help of their neighbors have been cleaning the house for the last three days since it was reclaimed.
When ABS-CBN Europe visited the Olasas, neighbors came donating pots, plants and anything to help the sisters start all over again.
Squatting in UK is only a civil offense
There are growing fears that organized networks of Eastern Europeans are targeting London properties because of recent cases of squatting that were reported in the media.
An estimated 20,000 squatters in the UK are exploiting the lenient laws in the country.
Squatting in the UK is not a criminal offense, but merely a civil offense. But it is illegal to break into private property.
The police said there was no sign of forced entry in the Olasa property. The next step would have been to get an eviction order from the court. The Olasas would have spent a lot of money for court fees while waiting for an eviction order.
Thankfully, the Olasas didn’t go that route because the squatters chose to leave.
But Lilia is disappointed that criminals are protected by the law.
The squatters walked away without a criminal record after trashing their property, stealing everything from cash to valuables and leaving the house filthy, putrid and bare.
“I don’t want other people to have the same problem in the future. So I hope the law will be changed to avoid more damage to innocent, helpless people,” said Lilia.
Other victims of squatting in the UK do not understand that while mugging someone on the street or stealing a car is a criminal offense, squatting is not.
“A home is more than a mere possession. It is something we hold very dear,” Dr. Oliver Cockerell told The Daily Mail. Cockerell’s property was also squatted recently.
“When burgled, people feel it is the invasion and violation of their home that upsets them far more from the loss of items stolen,” he added.
For the Olasa sisters, it was a nightmare that they do not want to happen to anyone again.
“My only advice is not to leave the house without anyone there,” said Lilia.