When one of the tenants in Graham Mansions, Hackney, in the East End of London, wants a bath, he takes the train to his sister's, two stops away. When the Pears family in Hampstead and Totteridge, north London, need a bath, they can choose from any of the numerous bathrooms in their palatial houses.
Graham Mansions, a crumbling Edwardian block on a main road, is owned by the Pearses, one of Britain's richest families with a fortune estimated at pounds 200m. Clarice Pears, 62, who heads the family, is the fourth wealthiest woman in Britain.
The Pearses have just hit their tenants with rent increases of up to 300 per cent, as much as pounds 500 per month in some cases for flats without bathrooms.
Mostly pensioners and the long-term unemployed, many of the 80 tenants live in the conditions of a bygone age. Apart from not having bathrooms - the tenants that have them have put them in themselves - they contend with crumbling brickwork, open drains, rotten window frames and gaping cracks in the exterior walls.
In a flat close to the man who takes the train to his sister's for a bath lives an 80-year-old pensioner. He has no bathroom and has received a demand for rent of pounds 500 per month, up frompounds 125. Like many tenants in Graham Mansions, his rent is paid by Hackney Housing Benefit. "Under section 604 of the Housing Act flats without bathrooms would qualify as unfit for human habitation," said a Hackney council press officer. Although the council pays the housing benefit, she said it could not enforce the installation of bathrooms.
Graham Mansions was bought by St Ermins Property Company in 1988. The block is managed by McDowells, a firm of chartered surveyors. Geoffrey Haig, of McDowells, refused to say who owned St Ermins. But a check at Companies House revealed it is part of the Pears family empire.
Every share in the company belongs …