A Sydney squatter is attempting to take legal ownership of an abandoned million dollar inner-city terrace house.
The man, who goes by the names of Andrew James or Andy Robert, has told neighbours he is a banker and has been seen entering and exiting the Redfern property. He has also told neighbours he intends to make a claim of “adverse property” on the house, Domain reports.
The legal owner of the property is Chinese-born Paul Fuh, who bought the house in 1991 as an investment property but hasn’t been back to the terrace since he returned to China in 2007.
A City of Sydney spokesperson confirmed that in 2008 and 2009 work was completed on the Elizabeth St terrace at the council’s expense, which included removal of waste and minor repairs to ensure the property was in a safe and stable condition. The total costs of repairs, including legal costs, was $35,580.
“To the best of Council’s knowledge the owner has not returned from overseas,” a council spokesperson told The Newsroom.
“No amounts have been paid in relation to this court matter.
“The City has no rights to take occupation of the property. However if the rates are not paid, the City may consider selling the property to recoup expenses owed.”
Paul Wilton is a neighbour of the disputed property and has reported Mr James/Robert to police for trespassing but was informed by police that only the owner of the property can make such a complaint.
“My understanding is that he hired a locksmith and went in through the front door one day and, when I confronted him, he’s now saying he’s taken vacant possession. He told me he’s planning to renovate the property, then will rent it out and, when the time comes, he’ll claim it under the adverse possession law,” Mr Wilton told Domain.
The adverse possession law, also known as squatter’s rights, is where someone occupies a property continuously for a length of time until the legal owners lose their rights to that property. In NSW that length of time is 12 years.
Gerard Knapp, another neighbour, has fears this could cause a precedent that would apply to other empty homes.
Mr Knapp said: “It’s an extraordinary situation. Someone described it to me as ‘legalised theft’ and with thousands of properties in Sydney bought by overseas investors, it could lead to real lawlessness.” – Paul Burns
Photo of the Redfern property by Peter Moon.