A New South Wales property developer has claimed ownership of a million-dollar home in a bizarre case of squatter’s rights.
Gertos spent a total of $35,000 on the Ashbury home over two decades, undertaking a complete renovation and even renting it out to draw an income. The house is now estimated to be worth $1.7 million.
When the house’s original owners learned of Gertos’s actions they tried to have him removed from the property, but were denied by the NSW Supreme Court, which this week ruled Gertos was the rightful owner thanks to a strange law that decries a person can claim title to a property through adverse possession by proving they have occupied the residence for at least 12 years.
Similar laws are in place in Queensland, Western Australia and Tasmania. In Victoria and South Australia, a person can claim ownership of an otherwise abandoned property if they have stayed in the home for 15 years or more.
To obtain ownership, there must be proof of physical control, such as placing a lock on the property, or fencing it off to the exclusion of others. Furthermore, there must be an intention by the person to possess the property.
Adverse possession laws don’t apply in Northern Territory and the ACT, meaning no person can claim rights to a home they don’t own no matter how long they have been squatting at the property.
Last year, the Registrar-General gave notice of its intention to grant the application made by Gertos to take ownership of the property, but he was stopped in his tracks when he was served an injunction by the family of Henry Thompson Downie, a deceased man who had bought the property in 1927.
They argued he shouldn’t be able to claim the property under squatter’s rights as he had rented it out and had not lived in the house himself.
Gertos said when he first came across the Ashbury property residents in the area told him an elderly lady had lived there for years, but had recently died.
“I made the decision to actually go onto the property to see what the state of affairs was,” news.com.au reports he said in an affidavit. “I recall walking to the front door and knocking on it. There was no answer. I found the rear door was off its hinges and placed to the side.”
Following the Supreme Court’s ruling, Gertos will be officially registered as the property’s rightful owner.