Probe into illegal Sydney rental squalor
A Sydney industrial property owner who charged foreign nationals to live in squalor on his inner city site before it went up in flames could face a penalty of more than $1 million.
The horrendous living conditions of 15 Japanese and Korean nationals were only revealed after a major blaze at the Alexandria property on Wednesday.
They had been sleeping on mattresses in caravans, a brightly-graffitied bus and shipping container at the back of the bus parking business and managed to escape the 20-metre high flames.
Four people had to be rescued because they were too frightened to try to escape by themselves.
The business owner, Masaaki Imaeda, who also claims to live on the industrial property, is now under investigation from City of Sydney council and police for the illegal lodging.
An advertisement posted on a Japanese classifieds site by Mr Imaeda offers a camper at the Alexandria property for $130 per week – or $190 for two people – with a shared toilet, shower and washing machine.
On the same property, Mr Imaeda offers bus parking spots for about $70.
Mr Imaeda refused to answer media questions about the unusual lodging, which includes sharing one toilet.
He went with detectives on Wednesday morning after confirming to fire investigators the number of people living on the property.
City of Sydney says any residential accommodation on the land, zoned a business park, was illegal.
He has not been charged, but given the site is zoned for industrial use, housing would be prohibited under the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act, a NSW departmental spokeswoman said.
“The maximum penalty for a breach of the EP and A Act is $1.1 million,” the spokeswoman said.
A man who had been staying in the squalor, who did not want to be named, said he did not know it was illegal housing.
“I live there because it was cheap and near work,” he told News Corp.
The deplorable living conditions has appalled the state’s fire chief, who said the renters could have died.
“I’m outraged that there would be something like this in the heart of Sydney,” NSW Fire and Rescue commissioner Greg Mullins said.
“It looks like someone has been taking advantage of these people; maybe they were squatters we don’t know yet.”
NSW Acting Police Commissioner Nick Kaldas said detectives were questioning Mr Imaeda about the lodging.
“The reality is there were people living in an industrial complex who were probably not entitled or it was inappropriate for them to be living there,” he told reporters on Wednesday.
“So we just need to have a look at the circumstances and totality and we will find out what the story is.”
A spokesman for Immigration Minister Scott Morrison said the 15 foreign nationals were in the country lawfully.