COMMENT:

Imagine being a landlord and discovering your property has been occupied by squatters. Even worse, after expecting that the usual remedies of the law would be available to remove the illegal occupants, you find that the law is not on your side, or at least not immediately.

That is the bind an Auckland family has experienced since May last year, and can expect to endure for some time yet as the property owners in this case have fallen into a legal no man's land.

They have taken action in both civil and criminal jurisdictions, but given the matter is accorded a low priority in a crowded legal landscape, any resolution appears some way off.

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The dispute involves Ravina Prasad and Neelesh Chandra, whose names have been on the title of an Ōtāhuhu property since 2015. But that is about as far as their connections with the rental currently stretch.

As our disturbing reports this week have revealed, their Albert St property has been occupied by squatters for over eight months. Locks were changed at the house, and belongings installed. The occupants include, according to police, Abraham Wharewaka Jnr, a man with Black Power connections and who was jailed in 2005 on organised crime charges.

Police say that Wharewaka was arrested for wilful trespass at the house around the time he settled there. His partner Shirlena Julian was also arrested. However when the matter went to court in July it was adjourned until this year. Prasad says police advised her to not to visit the property or approach Wharewaka for safety reasons.

Understandably upset by this delay, Prasad commenced civil proceedings in August, seeking a court order that her and Chandra are indeed the owners of the property. The question of ownership is contested by Wharewaka, who according to Prasad's affidavit asserts that the house is owned by his late father, Abraham Wharewaka snr, the kingpin in a drug syndicate which based its lucrative business in a cluster of Albert St properties during the 1980s.

Prasad's lawyers dispute this claim of ownership. Property records show a company linked to Wharewaka snr lost ownership of the section when the company was liquidated and the asset sold by Housing New Zealand.

To confirm their claim to ownership, Prasad and Chandra say they have spent thousands on legal bills and foregone a considerable sum in lost rental income. They say, unsurprisingly, the dispute is taking an emotional toll.

It is an unsatisfactory state of affairs when squatters can defy the law and force home owners to go to great lengths to assert their property rights.

And while this particular case seems on the face of it to be an unusual set of circumstances, it may not be unique given that most landlords would be unlikely to go public with such disclosures.

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But it seems unconscionable that property owners with clear title need to confirm that status through a lengthy and costly process before they can reclaim what is rightly theirs. The law is clear. There is no reason why it should not be upheld, and soon.