$100,000 fine for running secret hostel in Sydney supermarket
Jimmy Thomson—Flat Chat columnist
May 25, 2016
The shop's proprietor was convicted and fined $100,000. Photo: City of Sydney
When City of Sydney’s anti-illegal rentals task force looked behind the
scenes of a low-rent supermarket in the city’s centre, rather than cans
of food and crates of produce, they found a store room set up with four
The shop’s disability toilet had been converted into a makeshift bathroom, complete with shower and plastic covering the walls.
Its proprietor Amr Hassan was this week convicted and fined $100,000 –
plus legal costs of $61,426 – in the Downing Centre Local Court for
converting part of the ‘Banana Supermarket’ in Regent Street,
Chippendale for residential use.
The makeshift bathroom. Photo: City of Sydney
“This result was thanks to a long and resource-intensive investigation,” former Scotland Yard detective Roy Cottam said.
Mr Cottam, 47, is the investigative specialist on the City of Sydney’s Illegal Accommodation Strike Force.
“Amr Hassan had established the largest syndicate of unsafe and illegal
accommodation that we have identified in our area to date,” Mr Cottam
added, explaining that the discovery of the supermarket store room had
led to investigations of a number of other potentially illegal
“This is a fantastic result for the City,” said Mr Cottam,
“particularly in light of the lengths the defendant was prepared to go
to in order to avoid liability.
Mr Cottam told Fairfax Media Hassan was originally due to appear in
February when he pleaded not guilty. The case was delayed until this
week when Hassan said he was too ill to appear in court.
However, the magistrate, having allowed several hours for Hassan to be
contacted and brought to court, decided to proceed with the case, which
ended in the conviction and fine.
“It is hoped that this conviction and penalty imposed by the court
sends out a strong message to the community, that this type of criminal
and dangerous activity will not be tolerated,” Roy Cottam added.
Since it was established in May 2015, the City has successfully
disrupted a number of large-scale illegal accommodation networks, says
It has executed 30 search warrants and interviewed suspects as it
gathered evidence for at least two more significant cases that have yet
to come to court.
Meanwhile the team has also inspected more than 100 separate premises
and issued over 80 notices and orders and issued fines totalling
$75,000. It is currently undertaking criminal proceedings in the NSW
Land and Environment Court in relation to unauthorised use of an
industrial estate for short-term accommodation.
It was just over a year ago that the squad discovered 58 people living
in a non-descript house in Ultimo. Then, in the course of executing 20
search warrants, they also found 10 people sharing one bedroom as well
as others sleeping in bathrooms, and in one case, a pantry.
The City is the first council in NSW to establish a dedicated
investigation team to crack down on illegal and unsafe short-term
Lord Mayor Clover Moore said this week’s court victory demonstrated how
seriously the City takes the risks to the safety of Sydney’s most
vulnerable young residents.
“This case sends a message that illegal, dangerous accommodation
networks will not be tolerated in the city, and the people who profit
from them will be prosecuted,” the Lord Mayor said.
Ned Cucher, Senior Policy Officer with NSW Tenants Union, told Domain
that sometimes he hears from people who live in such places, asking
about their tenancy rights.
“Invariably, they’re in that kind of accommodation because they can’t
find affordable housing through mainstream sources,” he said.
“Their rights are extremely limited, if they have any at all,” he
added. “Fair Trading is currently reviewing the state’s renting laws,
from which such accommodation is excluded. They’d do well to consider
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