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Court supports ‘charity’s’ appeal against CVC

Clarence Valley Council (CVC) will seek the support of Local Government NSW to change the act, in regard to what is a “non rateable” property, following the NSW Court of Appeal’s decision to rule in Community Housing Limited’s favour. The court ruled that five properties owned by Community Housing Limited were of ‘non rateable status’ and therefore did not have to pay $35,025.38 in general rates, backdated to 2013. The Land & Environment Court, in December 2013, had previously ruled in favour of the council, dismissing Community Housing’s application for exemption from the payment of rates. Prior to that, the council’s staff had “rejected the rate exemption request from Community Housing Ltd on the basis that there was insufficient information provided … to allow [staff] to be satisfied that each of the properties for which the exemption was claimed was being used or occupied … for the purposes of the institution or charity”, the report to last week’s council meeting states. “The properties were all residential properties leased for the purpose of ‘low cost’ housing.” Community Housing Ltd also challenged the rulings of five other councils in the Land & Environment Court and the NSW Court of Appeal: Parramatta City, Port Macquarie Hastings, Nambucca Shire, Gosford City and Coffs Harbour City councils. The council has accepted the advice of Marsdens Law Group, which represented the councils jointly, to not take an appeal to the High Court of Australia. In last week’s council meeting business paper, Marsdens advised: “It is not the view of Counsel instructed on behalf of the Councils in this matter that the decision of the Court of Appeal discloses any grounds that would allow the Councils to be successful in obtaining leave to appeal and thereafter be successful on appeal.” At the time of the report being tabled, Marsdens advised CVC that “Port Macquarie, Nambucca and Gosford councils … do not wish to appeal”. The staff’s report to council stated that “due to the poor prospects of success … Council would incur additional further costs of its own, with the likelihood of having to pay further costs of the other side”. Staff asserted that a “policy decision of the state government to transfer the responsibility for ‘low cost housing’ to charitable entities has resulted in these properties now being non rateable”. This, the report to council states, was previously the “responsibility of the NSW Department of Housing”. Further, the report predicts that “as the state government transitions its affordable housing strategy to this model … more properties will become non rateable, reducing Council’s rate revenue, which, in effect, is a form of ‘Cost Shifting’”. The council’s legal costs to date total $35,495.65. Clarence Valley Council’s one sixth share of paying Community Housing Limited’s legal costs in the Land & Environment Court and the NSW Court of Appeal is yet to be calculated. “At this stage the details of these costs are not known,” the report to council states.