Following the death of Sydney resident Henry Thompson Downie in 1947 who apparently did not leave a will, his property in Ashbury remained unclaimed.
From 1947 until April 1998 when she died a Mrs Grimes lived in the house as a tenant, AP reports.
Former accountant and now property developer Bill Gertos, told the court Mr Gertos told the court he saw the “abandoned Malleny Street residence in 1998 sitting empty while visiting a client who also lived on the street.
It appeared that the house which is now worth about $1.6 million sat empty since Mrs Grimes died.
Mr Gertos said that with his “curiosity sparked” he asked around about the owners as “the house was open and the rear door was off its hinges and placed to the side”.
He decided to take ownership and change the locks; according to his testimony he spent about $35,000 on repairing the house the same year.
He straight away started renting it out, “within weeks I had signed a lease as the landlord and started paying council rates, water levies and land tax,” he told the court.
In 2014, he spent a further $108,000 on renovations and finally in 2017 Mr Gertos applied to Registrar-General to be registered as the owner as in New South Wales, squatters can be awarded ownership if they have occupied a property for more than 12 years.
His application, however, was contested and the Greek Australian was taken to the Supreme Court by three plaintiffs that wanted to be recognised as the beneficial owners of the property. The daughter and two grandchildren of Mr Downie who was the original owner, claimed they had to leave the house some time after World War II because of a white ant infestation.
Supreme Justice Rowan Darke who granted him ownership in his judgement, said that:
“I accept the evidence of Mr Gertos about deciding to take possession of the property for himself, including his evidence to the effect that it was in his mind that if he possessed the property for long enough he may be able to become its owner.”
“I further accept that Mr Gertos thereupon took steps to secure the property including by changing locks and have works carried out in order to make the property habitable.”
“The 12-year limitation period for someone to recover the property would have expired in late 2010 and therefore Mr Gertos’ claim of adverse possession is made out,” he ruled.
“I am comfortably satisfied that since about late 1998 Mr Gertos has been in factual possession of the land with the intention of possessing the land. In essence, Mr Gertos succeeded in taking and maintaining physical custody of the land, to the exclusion of all others, and he has assumed the position of a landlord.”
Mr Gertos had told the court many years before he came across the Malleny Street house he was employed by a senior accountant who relayed his own experience of obtaining a property by adverse possession.
Meanwhile, Justice Darke also ordered the family of the late owner to pay Mr Gertos’s legal costs.
Downie’s grandson Graeme Hugo, said his family “emphatically rejects the description of how Mr Gertos came across the property, disagreeing that the home was in poor quality”.
Neighbouring residents are reportedly also unhappy regarding the ruling as former accountant Mr Gertos has a reputation about how he became a developer, “taking advantage of property in adverse conditions”.
Moreover, back in 2015, Mr Gertos was ordered to pay $250,000 dollars’ in fines after deliberately and illegally demolishing a heritage building in Sydney.