A man who claimed an empty, derelict home in Sydney 20 years ago just won a court battle to keep it, and it’s now worth $1.5 million


A man who claimed an empty, derelict home in Sydney’s inner-west 20 years ago as his own just won a court battle to keep it legally, and it’s now worth $1.52 million.

The NSW Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that Sydney-based property developer Bill Gertos is the rightful owner of the 3-bedroom, 1-bathroom, 1-car park house in Ashbury, about half an hour from Sydney CBD.

The previous owner, Henry Downie died in 1947, leaving the house intestate.

At the time of his death, a woman was leasing it from him. After Downie’s death, she periodically paid a small amount of rent to the agents, but when she too died early in 1998, the house sat unoccupied.

Gertos was visiting clients in Malleny Street, Ashbury in late 1998 when he noticed the house at number six was falling into disrepair.

When he entered the house, he found evidence that squatters were living there, like “rubbish… assorted old furniture… an empty wardrobe… a bed… a dirty mattress… and some broken chairs,” Gertos said.

“The bathroom was dirty, fouled and disgusting. Water was dripping from the roof into the bathroom and into the hallway.

“I was satisfied in my own mind that the property was not occupied and it was uninhabitable.”

Water was still running, but the electricity had been turned off.

It wasn’t clear how long ago squatters had left, but the next day he hired labourers to make the house inhabitable, and changed the locks.

He claimed that he spent $35,000 on repair works, and essentially took ownership of the property from late 1998, and leased it out.

In a quirk of the law, someone can claim rights to own a house in NSW if they can prove that they have had possession of it for more than 12 years, as long as the rightful owner doesn’t object.

The house is estimated to be worth $1.52 million by Domain. It was last rented out for $600 a week.

Downie’s daughter and two grandchildren brought the case against Gertos to court to hopefully retrieve ownership of the house, but were ruled against in favour of Gertos.

In addition to losing the house, Downie’s daughter and two grandchildren had to pay the court fees.