Too squalid to live in, but where do tenants go now?
A LANDLORD has reacted violently to Herald questions about his squalid Beach Street property in Fremantle, making threats over the phone and later snatching a camera.
The incidents follow Fremantle council’s emergency eviction notice to tenants, on the grounds “the property is unsafe as it does not meet basic fire, safety and health requirements for the occupation of the buildings”.
Council officers descended on Giacomino (Jack) Fazio’s premises on Friday June 19, telling residents to be out by Tuesday June 23.
Despite the wretched state of the property, the evicted tenants are deeply anxious about their futures.
“The safety and welfare of the occupants within the construction site is of paramount importance to the city,” the council’s letter to the tenants stated.
It was accompanied by a list of crisis accommodation centres in the area.
Much of the property was illegally built and Mr Fazio has been extensively prosecuted for it: he was fined $240,000 in 2010 and $244,000 in 2011. His company Able Lott Holdings, the owner of 5 Beach Street, is listed on the WA attorney general’s website as the state’s second-biggest fine defaulter, owing $248,490.
The building contains small concrete rooms with single windows facing a half-finished interior chamber littered with old building materials, garbage and broken furniture and appliances.
Most windows to rooms are boarded up, and the dwellings are pitch-black when the doors close.
Tenants told the Herald they pay around $100 a week to live opposite Fremantle harbour. Mr Fazio says he doesn’t keep receipts or bonds because people just pay him what they can, cash in hand.
A single toilet at the top level services all the tenants: the downstairs dunny is smashed to pieces.
Mr Fazio says he keeps it spick and span, and recently pulled out four giant poos with his own hands to unclog it. He reckons he’s helping people who have nowhere else to go, and says he sleeps there himself. He feels victimised by the council and accuses its heritage committee of bias.
He’s fighting the council’s ongoing moves to shut him down and claims he’s fixed problems with wiring and fire safety. He’s appealing to the state administrative tribunal.
Three tenants passionately defended Mr Fazio, describing him as a top bloke helping people who’d otherwise be out on the street.
But David Gordon, a pensioner who supports a wife and children overseas, was less supportive, saying he’d only stayed there out of desperation.
“I’ll rip your fucking head off! You are a fucking idiot!” Mr Fazio told the Herald when we put Mr Gordon’s concerns to him.
On Wednesday the Herald stood on the public pavement to take photos of signs Mr Fazio had erected on gates, to ward off trespassers.
He physically assaulted this reporter, clawing at and grabbing a camera. After some negotiation he returned it, but without the memory card. It had included images from inside the property, taken the day before when the paper had been invited in by a tenant.
The Herald called police and Mr Fazio was arrested for theft and assault and taken to Fremantle police station. With only a couple of scratches, the Herald decided not to press charges against this Pied Piper for the poor.
We did ask the council why it had given residents just four days to find alternative accommodation, given the place has been in the same shoddy state for years. But straight answers were hard to come by.
CEO Graeme Mackenzie told us the council had acted on legal advice.
by DAVID BELL