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'Squatter' Property Developer Succeeds In Keeping $1.7 Million Home

A property developer has upheld his right to own an abandoned home he discovered in Sydney's inner west 20 years ago, after an appeal was dismissed. 

Last October, the NSW Supreme Court handed Bill Gertos the estimated $1.6 million Ashbury home, which he found empty and had been renting for two decades.

Gertos, then an accountant, told the court at the time he stumbled across the property in 1998 while visiting a client on the same street.

An elderly woman had been living there for some time but died earlier that year.

The Ashbury home. Photo: 10 News First

Henry Thompson Downie was the last registered owner of the property, but he died in 1947 and left no will. His family never knew until last year the house was theirs.

Gertos told the court he found the property open and falling into "disrepair", believing squatters were living in the "dark and smelly" building.

He then decided to organise repairs, change the locks and renovate the home before beginning to rent it out.

In 2017, Gertos applied to be recorded as proprietor of the land under archaic 'squatter's rights' laws, which allows a person to apply to take ownership of land if they have occupied it for at least 12 years.

He was challenged by the registered owner's family, who wanted to be recognised as the beneficial owners.

READ MORE: Can Squatters Really Legally Take Someone Else's House And Call It Their Own? 

But Supreme Court Justice Rowan Darke found Gertos had sufficient evidence he invested money into fixing the home, had paid taxes on it, and leased it to tenants.

"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,"  Darke said at the time.

"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."

The family called for the Supreme Court decision to be overturned. But on Wednesday, both parties agreed the appeal would be dismissed.

The court ordered each party would pay their own legal costs.

Featured image: 10 News First