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Adverse possession laws give ownership rights to a home after 20 years

Empty property taken over by developer

The claimant, Mr Bill Gertos a Sydney property developer, found the Sydney property empty in 1998 when he was visiting a client in the same street.

Mr Gertos changed the locks, repaired and renovated the home and started renting it out. He spent $35,000 on repairs in 1998 and a further $108,000 on renovations in 2014.


Developer tries to register property as his own – leads to court battle

When the claimant applied to the Registrar-General at the Titles Office in 2017 to be registered as the owner of the land under the NSW Real Property Act, he was challenged by the registered owner’s family.

The daughter and two grandchildren of the registered owner Henry Thompson Downie, who died in 1947, wanted to be recognised as the beneficial owners of the property and took Mr Gertos to Court. At the time of their application, the property was valued at $1.6 million.

The family claimed they had to leave the house sometime after the World War II because of a white ant infestation.


Court grants ownership to developer by ‘adverse possession’

The Court found Mr Gertos had sufficient evidence that:

  • he invested money into fixing the home,
  • he paid taxes on it and
  • he leased it to rental tenants; and
  • since about late 1998 he had been in factual possession of the land with the intention of possessing it.

In taking and maintaining physical custody of the land, to the exclusion of all others, he assumed the position of a landlord.

Mr Gertos was granted ownership of the property by adverse possession and the family was ordered to pay his legal costs.


Read the full judgment

You can read the decision in full by clicking here.


Please note that this article was prepared by Margaret Miller, partner of Bell Legal Group, for information purposes only. It is not legal advice and should not be relied upon.


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