On 20th April 2016 a group of campaigners squatted a council house in Avonmouth to stop it being sold.
Six dramatic weeks later the squatters left, having successfully stopped the sale.
In March 2016 the then Mayor of Bristol, George Ferguson, announced 15 empty council residential properties were to be sold at auction. Ferguson said the money raised would be invested in current council stock and 75 council homes then under construction.
The sale of council houses while homelessness in Bristol is at crisis point was controversial. With a mayoral election on 5 May 2016 and all the other candidates opposing the sale there was also a question of democratic accountability.
On 20th April – the day of the auction – 44 Richmond Terrace in Avonmouth was squatted to try and prevent it being sold.
It was auctioned anyway and the buyer was not told the Council did not have vacant possession.
The Council now had 28 days to gain possession of the house and complete the sale. They asked the police to evict the squatters. The police refused as the occupiers were not living in the building and were therefore not breaking any laws.
The Council then did nothing, unable to make any decisions until after the mayoral election on 5th May. This was won by the Labour candidate, Marvin Rees, who had pledged to review council house sales.
After the election the Council again asked the police to evict the squatters. The police again refused.
The Council then issued a claim for possession in the County Court, with the hearing on 25th May. At the hearing the Council was awarded full possession entitling them to evict the occupiers. Unusually the court order specified the eviction had to happen before midnight on 1st June.
The Council attempted to evict at 5.30am on Tuesday, 31st May. However they had completely underestimated the occupiers who had heavily barricaded the building and built a roof platform. It would take a substantial team of qualified and properly equipped climbing bailiffs to evict the squatters. The Council attended with about four contractors, a County Court bailiff and a council officer.
After causing minor damage to the front door and waking the whole neighbourhood up with pointless banging the Council gave up on the eviction attempt.
Meanwhile the squatters were in contact with the buyer who now wanted to withdraw from the sale. She’d found out the property required about £30,000 of repairs that the Council do not appear to have fully disclosed. Her solicitor had served a notice to complete the sale on the Council, expiring on 7th June (or thereabouts). After that the sale has failed and the Council has to return her deposit and pay compensation.
On 1st June the Council’s court order timed out. They met with the buyer and agreed to release her from the contract. The sale had now failed.
With the house no longer being sold and a new Mayor opposed to further council house sales the occupiers handed possession back to the Council on Monday, 6th June.