Recently it was reported in the media that a wily property investor had been awarded “adverse possession” of a property in Ashbury, Sydney by the New South Wales Supreme Court. The property has been valued by real estate agents at around $1,600,000.
In this case “adverse possession” refers to what was colloquially known as “squatter’s rights”. In NSW it is possible to be awarded legal title to land which has been lying vacant for 12 years if a squatter can assert physical possession of the land to the exclusion of others (including the documentary owner – if applicable). The period of time required under the property law of each state of Australia varies – in South Australia and Victoria it is 15 years, while in NSW, Queensland and Western Australia it is only 12 years.
In this case, the property developer in question found the property lying vacant and derelict in 1998. The property had been left empty after the previous tenant passed away in that year. Finding it to be clearly deserted, the property developer claims that he then went about renovating the property – he installed new locks and opening mechanisms on the doors and windows and repaired the interior. He spent a substantial sum of money in doing so. He then proceeded to lease the property out to a series of tenants. He undertook a further renovation in 2017. In doing so he intentionally asserted his possession of the property in the position of a landlord.
There are very good reasons for why this archaic and little-known law persists in our Real Property Act. As Associate Professor at the University of New South Wales, Cathy Sherry, told the ABC in an interview published online, there are circumstances where it would be unfair to deny legal title to someone who has resided in a property for decades.
So, is this a viable investment strategy in today’s inflated market? It is not as unheard of as you may think. According to the Daily Telegraph, 36 people obtained title to land in 2018 through adverse possession.
Sometimes possession really is nine-tenths of the law.