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Over 100 Broken Hill properties to be auctioned off by Council due to unpaid rates

By Liz Brebner

Broken Hill City Council (BHCC) plans to sell around 120 properties across the city because of unpaid rates after agreeing the move in a confidential meeting.

“Council has initiated and exhausted debt recovery activities as required and outlined in our Debt Recovery Policy, and this sale is the last resort for Council,” a BHCC spokesperson has told the Barrier Truth.

BHCC Councillors voted unanimously to go-ahead with the sale of the properties in a confidential discussion at the last full Council meeting and agreed to hand responsibility for their sale to the Council’s General Manager.

The affected properties are a mix of vacant land, unoccupied houses and occupied houses.

An audit of Broken Hill houses carried out by Council has also revealed 1500 properties are empty.

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The BHCC can sell land if there are five or more years of unpaid rates, under section 713 of the NSW Local Government Act 1993 (the Act).

The BHCC must take steps to find out the identity of any person with an ownership interest in the land to notify them of the Council’s intention to sell their land.

“No specific date has been set for the auction. It is expected to occur sometime in the fourth quarter of 2022,” Council’s spokesperson says.

The BHCC can only sell a property if no current payment arrangement exists.

There are two ways to stop the Council from selling a property – pay the outstanding rates and charges in full before the time fixed for sale, and then the General Manager must not sell that property under subsection 715(2) of the Act.

Alternatively, Councillors agreed that the General Manager could withdraw property from the sale if an owner makes a suitable upfront payment and enters into a payment plan arrangement with the BHCC before the beginning of the sale.

Although selling these properties is a last resort for the Council, Councillors also hope the upcoming sales round will help ease the housing crisis currently facing the city.

Councillors also agreed to Councillor Marion Browne’s request that the list of properties be given to the relevant Committee to investigate whether any properties close to the Line of Lode might be impacted by lead, before those properties are advertised for sale.

While selling these properties may appear to be a straightforward process under the Act, legal proceedings have happened in other Shires that demonstrate there are complexities if the property is occupied, or if the land belongs to a deceased estate.

A sale or transfer is problematic in a case where a person is residing, lawfully or unlawfully, at the property and does not vacate after its sale.

One example was after Armidale Regional Council placed 41 properties up for auction in 2018.

Only 29 of the residential and farmland properties sold, and the Council raised less than half the revenue they had expected to recover.

Then after the auction, one of the property owners refused to vacate, so Armidale Council began legal proceedings against the owner and her two daughters.

The Judge presiding over the case said the power of sale was given by section 713 of the Act (based on a similar judgement in Harden Shire) and so the Court granted possession of land to Armidale Regional Council in 2020.

Not only did the family lose their home, but the Judge also ordered them (in their absence from court) to pay Armidale Regional Council’s costs for the proceedings.

There are, of course, many reasons someone may be unable to pay their rates, such as loss of employment, family breakdown, accident or illness, a death in the family, or a natural disaster.

Financial hardship can be limited or long-term in duration.

The BHCC recognises this in its hardship policy, which is designed to provide empathy and assistance to residents in Broken Hill.

Anyone experiencing difficulties paying their rates should contact the BHCC.

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