Property developer wins 'squatter's rights' to $1.8m Sydney home

A property developer in Sydney has scored himself a free house, claiming squatting rights after the last tenant died. reported the NSW Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday in favour of Bill Gertos, who was taken to court by relatives of the deceased owner.

The house in Ashbury, Sydney, was purchased by Henry Thompson Downie in 1927. He and his children lived there until just before WWII.

He died in 1947 and left no will, but the house was being rented out at the time to a Mrs Grimes, who lived there till her death in 1998.

Mr Gertos said he noticed the unkempt property when visiting clients nearby, and decided to "go onto the property to see what the state of affairs was".

He said the house was full of rubbish and falling apart, so "decided to take possession of it" himself. said Mr Gertos spent about NZ$38,000 on repair works, making the house watertight, changing locks and repairing doors.

He then began renting out the property through an agent, and has since spent another NZ$117,000 on further repairs and refurbishments.

In May this year, the three-bedroom, one-bathroom property was up for rent for NZ$650 per week.

Mr Downie's daughter said in court that her father had moved the family because of an infestation of white ants.

Rather than applying to recover the land, the family of Mr Downie applied to block Mr Gertos from being registered as the owner, reported

To claim adverse possession in Australia under Section 45D of the Real Property Act, 1900 - commonly known as the squatter's rights law - it must be "open, not secret; peaceful, not by force; and adverse, not by consent of the true owner".

Justice Rowan Darke said Mr Gertos' possession of the house was open and "no different from what commonly occurs where a residential property is held by its owner as an investment and is made available for lease".