Property Stolen

Reporter: David Richardson

This man may soon be calling the steps of his local council chamber home. The very council that sold his property from under him.

He didnt have a clue. He never stood a chance. His only asset seized as council activated a hidden power. A power they can impose on every single homeowner.

Tarago is a tiny village between goulburn and canberra in the southern highlands of NSW. It was here Jeff Sadlowski found a block of land almost 20 years ago to build his retirement home. The former telecom linesman had moved all his belongings onto his vacant block of land but he lost his job, fell on hard times and was forced to move to sydney to find work. Jeff had fallen behind in his council rates with interest a little more than 3-thousand dollars and the local council claims it couldn't find Jeff to pay up. Jeff says "after 5 years they can sell your land for unpaid rates but I would have thought they have to contact you and demand it. "

Instead council took the land sold it and removed all Jeff's possessions and he claims he never had a clue. Council documents show Jeff's block of land was sold for $45,000 but he was charged more than 12-thousand to remove his possessions even a 500-dollar council admin fee. Next door neighbours Mick and Alicia bought Jeff's block of land they had no idea what had happened to the former owner, until they met for the first time. "Did you know that the owner was still alive? No, we didn't know nothing, not much at all about the owner. apparantly they said they just couldn't get in contact with him or nothing. now that you've heard his story what do you think? typical of council isn't it. not nice."

Also not nice, where Jeff found his long lost possessions the local tip. Here were his containers with all his personal belongings and one truck gathering rust open to the elements, "they were good chairs. and they couldn't close the gate" Solicitor and consumer advocate Tim O'Dwyer as seen a massive jump in the number of council fire sales over rates and no ratepayer is safe.

So how hard did council try to find Jeff Sadlowski? This is the council's breakdown of everything it did in Jeff's case, the attempts it made to contact him emails and letters to various addresses but it also shows council was convinced Jeff was in jail for fraud from 2004 onwards.

Jeff Sadlowski now has 28 days to tell council what he wants it to do with all of his property still being kept at the local tip. If he does nothing council will simply sell the lot. No-one knows exactly how many ratepayers across australia have had land resumed for unpaid back-rates but it is a weapon in a council's armoury as for Jeff leaving his rates unpaid could now cost him everything.

For WA owners

www.landgate.wa.gov.au/corporate.nsf/web/TitleWatch