Australian historians usually treat the term “squatter” romantically. “Squatters” were those pastoralists who moved to the country and took possession of land without paying for it. They were seen as heroes of the outback.

A squatter however, in law, is a person who is sitting on your land without permission. We often think it belongs to people on the lowest socio-economic rung or people who are struggling with some form of addiction. This is not always true. There are people who make squatting a profession. And, by the way, they are not always those who are poor and can’t afford it.

Leverage has had a case brought to its attention where a person in the Eastern Suburbs of Sydney has become a professional squatter. They take up a tenancy, pay rent for a small amount of time and then stop paying. They stay there for as long as the court will allow them.

The $15,000 limit in the Residential Tenancies Act 2010 is not sufficient to cover modern day rental properties. This is a property in the Eastern Suburbs with a rental cost of $3500 a week. The tenant had found a way to delay getting to NCAT for almost six weeks. When they arrived at NCAT, they used a number of technical legal arguments as a means of delaying the hearing. This is at least the second time that we know of this person performing this trick.

The tribunal cannot award the full damages to the landlord. At best, they can only provide vacant possession and award $15,000. If the place is left in a mess, the property is damaged and there is still outstanding rent, NCAT cannot provide a full remedy. This is unfair to the landlord!

Some years ago, Leverage also had a case where a tenant rented properties always over the value of $4000, never paid any rent and would use a court system to delay payment. In fact, that tenant was able to hold up the system so he received 12 months rent-free before he reached the court of appeal.

The upper middle class squatter is absolutely troublesome for property managers. They are usually educated, have good street and business acumen, have friends who can assist and can pay for a little bit of legal advice along the way. The rich squatter is a blight on the property industry.

How did this all occur? Well, the tenant provided a false CV and indicated that he’d been working overseas. He did provide good financials, which permitted them to pass the capacity to pay. Not being able to check any tenant witnesses and having good money, led the agent to thinking they had an excellent tenant.

How it really happened was that property managers no longer talk to each other. Because there is no effective property management network within the Sydney basin, these people can perform miracles with lies. If the property manager were able to check with their colleague just down the road, the problem would not have occurred. By the way, the two agencies are known to each other but because it is not the trend to communicate with each other, the tenant slipped through the cracks.

When a tenant states that they have been working overseas, I would do the following:

  • Sight their travel documentation; or
  • Ask for a copy of the contract or a payslip from overseas.

We always look forward, however at times it is worth looking back.


This article was written by Bailey Compton, Principal Solicitor & Director at Leverage Group.

To get in touch with Bailey, please email or call 1300 438 538