$1.7m ‘squatter’ slams dead man’s family
A Sydney property developer who successfully claimed squatter's rights on a $1.7 million home has slammed the family of the deceased owner and poured coffee on the head of a TV reporter.
Bill Gertos made headlines late last year after the NSW Supreme Court granted him ownership of the house on Malleny Street in Ashbury, rejecting a bid to block the claim by the surviving relatives of the former owner.
The court found Mr Gertos met the legal requirements to claim "adverse possession", having simply moved in after the death of elderly tenant Phyllis Grimes in 1998.
The house was last purchased in 1927 by Henry Thompson Downie, who died in 1947 without leaving a will. Ms Grimes remained a "protected tenant" ever since that time, paying a small amount of rent to an estate agent.
Mr Gertos, a former accountant, told the court he first noticed the property falling into disrepair while visiting clients on the street. After finding the house uninhabited, he "decided to take possession of it".
Mr Downie's 95-year-old daughter Joyce is the only surviving member of the immediate family. Channel 9's A Current Affair spoke to her nephews, Graeme and Colin, who believe the court decision should be overturned.
"This is the family home and it's lost, so it's pretty devastating really," Graeme told the program. "We didn't know that our grandfather owned (the house) until a policeman knocked on our door in November 2017."
The family refused Mr Gertos' offer of $300,000 to walk away from the case. "I was flexible and I do wish this matter resolved, but unfortunately they did not see it that way," the developer told the program.
During the episode, Mr Gertos poured a cup of coffee over A Current Affair reporter Steve Marshall's head, although he claimed Marshall "ran into" him.
Mr Gertos said if he hadn't taken over the property it would have become a "rat-infested squalor". "Why should these people be rewarded with what they say is a family estate when they couldn't care less about who died?" he said.
"They couldn't care less that their grandfather had, they don't care about their family. Maybe they do care, maybe they just never communicated, I don't know, but 70 years for God's sake."
Lawyer Barbara Coorey told the program the husband-and-wife real estate agents should have contacted the NSW trustee after Ms Grimes died. The couple declined to comment to the program.
In his decision last year, Justice Rowan Darke rejected the family's argument that if a legal representative were now appointed to Mr Downie's estate, that person could attempt to recover the land from Mr Gertos.
He said that would "create considerable uncertainty in the operation of the Act insofar as it concerns actions to recover land held by a deceased registered proprietor".
"If a registered proprietor was deceased but no legal personal representative had been appointed, the potential would exist for a cause of action in favour of a legal personal representative to arise at an indefinite time in the future and there would be no certainty that the cause of action would ever arise," he said.
"This result would be contrary to one of the evident purposes of the provisions of the Act, namely, that where land remains in adverse possession for a defined period, the titleholder will be barred from seeking recovery of the land and the title will be extinguished."
The point of the law, he said, was that "there is a public interest in ensuring that a person in long-term and undisputed possession is able to deal with the land as owner".