By Georgia Kriz and Lucia Osborne-Crowley
On Monday (August 4), City Hub was informed the furniture and personal belongings of the tenants of The Hat Factory squat in Newtown had been removed from the property and destroyed.
The residents’ property was destroyed and placed in a large skip early on Monday morning. The residents had not been informed of the clear-out, nor had they given their permission, according to long-time resident Ben. Ben preferred not to divulge his surname.
Ben said he arrived at the scene and attempted to salvage some of his personal belongings without success.
Last Thursday (July 31), the squat on Wilson Street in Newtown was forcibly evicted by riot police, causing concern among residents and local politicians over the legality of the sudden eviction.
The squat has operated in its current state since 2001.
According to information obtained from NSW Land and Property Information, the building’s private owner bought the property in 2003 – two years after it become a squat.
A long-term resident of the building who preferred not to be named said the tenants had entered into verbal agreements with the owner to allow them to use the premises as a squat since he acquired the property. According to the resident, the landlord changed his mind very suddenly and ordered the eviction.
A hearing to determine whether tenants’ rights were upheld in the eviction was scheduled at the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal (NCAT) for August 8. Residents were not expecting any action to be taken before the case was heard, however the forced eviction occurred over a week before the scheduled hearing.
Ben said that the eviction was an “extreme and unexpected reaction”.
“They clearly wanted us out very badly,” he said. “They completely overstepped normal police procedures and used a massive amount of resources.”
“Everyone was pretty upset – I know the other residents of Wilson St were really confronted and outraged by this massive scary police siege.”
“The amount of force they used was just unnecessary.”
The building, known locally as The Hat Factory, has allegedly been occupied by squatters since 2001.
City of Sydney Greens Councillor Irene Doutney said that the plight of the Wilson St squatters highlighted the worsening affordable housing crisis in Sydney.
“Instead of paying exorbitant rent, these people have chosen a political action and they have been met with a terrible overreach from the police and the City. This is just extremely heavy-handed and it has created a lot of fear in the area.”
A spokesperson for the City of Sydney Council said council had inspected the property following a resident complaint, but that the eviction and surrounding incidents were ordered by the owner.
“NSW Police were involved in the removal of the squatters on Thursday. The operation was instigated by the owner of the property.”
The Sydney City Local Area Command of the NSW Police said the eviction occurred “without incident”.
It is expected that NCAT will hand down its ruling this coming Friday (August 8).
If NCAT determines the eviction was unlawful, the owner could be facing a fine of up to $22,000.