City Hub has learned the City of Sydney council has issued an emergency evacuation order to the owner of the property at Quarry Street in Ultimo. The property has been the subject of a series of media reports regarding illegally overcrowded accommodation for international students and backpackers.
City Hub understands council will also pursue an injunction through the NSW Land and Environment Court to ensure the property does not reopen as an illegal boarding house.
The property was evacuated once before, in May of this year, but was reported by City Hub to be operational again by July.
A City of Sydney spokesperson confirmed action had been taken to evacuate the property.
“On Friday 25 July, an emergency order requiring the evacuation of all occupants was served on the property owners with a deadline of 29 July.”
“City staff executed a further search warrant when they returned to inspect the property yesterday with officers from the NSW Police Force and found the owners had not complied with the order.”
“The City has also sought a Land and Environment Court injunction to prevent this unauthorised use continuing at the premises which is listed for 8 August.”
While posing as a prospective tenant, City Hub visited the property on July 30, however, to find it still inhabited. It appeared the evacuation had not taken place.
A current tenant confirmed she was still living in the property, along with 40 others. One tenant was in the process of moving in to the property while the City Hub reporter was conducting an inspection.
A tenant confirmed they were aware of a council eviction notice but said no-one had come to the property and that they did not plan on leaving. The tenant also said they knew from previous evictions it would not be permanent.
Councillor Edward Mandla said the City should have taken this action much earlier.
“Council has had the power to do this the whole time, the only reason they didn’t do anything is because it was just too hard,” he said.
“The City has only decided to take action on this property because they have received so much bad press surrounding it.”
The City of Sydney council has also petitioned the NSW Government to amend relevant legislation in order to provide greater powers for local councils to police instances of overcrowding.
Cr Mandla said he said this was undertaken in the interest of assuring the public that council was taking the issue seriously.
“Petitioning the state government for more powers is just a way to show they are taking action. They already have all the powers they need,” he said.
“It’s like saying they’ll only work harder to fight the issue if they get a pay rise first.”
Another issue with this approach raised by Cr Mandla is that the legislative amendments required will only better enable council to inspect the properties themselves and therefore target tenants rather than operators.
“We don’t need to bother the tenants, they are the ones being exploited. We need to target the rogue operators. Even if stronger legislation is put in place, these rogue operators won’t be any more likely to abide by the law. It’s just more red tape.”
Councillor Christine Forster separately agreed that action against this practice needs to target operators first and foremost.
“We need to be proactive. These illegal operators seem to be routinely advertising on sites like Gumtree, so why don’t we start to monitor these sites for suspicious looking ads and try and identify them that way?”
City Hub reported last week that emergency evacuations of overcrowded properties followed by injunctions through the NSW Land and Environment Court have been effective in targeting this problem in the Waverly Council area, according to councillors.
This week’s developments follow a series of criticisms by councillors such as Jenny Green, Christine Forster and Edward Mandla, who argue that appropriate action had not been taken by the City or the NSW Government to shut down overcrowded international student accommodation.
“The blame game must stop and action must be taken quickly to have legislative support for all agencies to use to ensure safety of all people residing or working in any of these establishments”, said Cr Green.
“The City of Sydney has said it won’t tolerate businesses putting profits ahead of people’s safety, and will increase inspections and, where possible, prosecutions. But in the next breath it insists it does not have any power to enter private property and perform on-the-spot inspections,” said Cr Forster.
“The City of Sydney is committed to the safety of our visitors… I urge the NSW Government to introduce legislative reform to address this problem which is faced by Local Governments across the state,” said Lord Mayor Clover Moore.