The City of Port Phillip spent more than $130,000 on a botched attempt to prosecute a St Kilda landlord for a noise complaint.
Mayor Bernadene Voss is claiming the prosecution is a victory for residents and ratepayers despite the council deciding to withdraw the criminal charges after waging an 18-month legal fight.
“We deem it a successful outcome for residents who complained of noise issues to council,” mayor Ross said.
The council spent $133,322.58 on fees with an external law firm in an attempt to prosecute the owner of two adjoining rental properties on Carlisle Street in St Kilda over allegations he failed to rein in his noisy tenants.
The council’s case rested on dozens complaints made by two residents – a mother and son – living in an apartment block overlooking the homes. No complaints were made by adjacent neighbours or by 41 other apartments in the nearby development.
The companies that owned the two properties, Sirocco Consulting and ICT Global, were charged with more than 40 counts relating to the “offensive” noise in Melbourne’s Magistrates Court.
The landlord was accused of repeatedly failing to stop the tenants from disturbing the neighbourhood by talking and singing in their backyards.
The court heard the case was almost entirely based on witness reports of one complainant and no scientific or noise testing was completed by the council to substantiate the claims.
Many of the charges were struck out or dropped amid concerns about the quality of the prosecution’s evidence. Sirocco Consulting and ICT Global were convicted on the remaining counts.
But the council decided to withdraw the charges and drop its case after an appeal was set to be heard in the County Court because the convictions were considered “unsafe”.
As part of the settlement deal, the companies agreed not to seek costs against the council for their legal expenses, which are likely to run into the tens of thousands of dollars.
When contacted by Farifax Media, the City of Port Phillip initially claimed its legal action had put an end to the noise problems.
“Since that successful prosecution, the building site where the noise emanated from has been demolished and there have been no noise complaints from neighbouring properties,” Ms Voss said.
But land title records show the two homes were sold to a new owner in February 2015, months before Sirocco Consulting and ICT Global were even charged in the Magistrates Court.
Mayor Voss later said: “We pursued the matter in court on behalf of our ratepayers as it was the only action afforded to us.”
City of Port Phillip spent more than $1 million on legal fees with the external law firms that were contracted to handle its criminal and civil matters in 2014-15 .
Solicitor Zarah Garde-Wilson, who represented the two companies, said the decision to prosecute was “absurd”. “The council needs to review its policy of outsourcing their legal services,” she said.
Source: The Age .AU