Menzies council resumes legal action against man in caravan ‘unfit for human occupation’
Legal action against a West Australian man who has been in a standoff with his local council for five years has resumed three months after it was deemed “not reasonable” to pursue during the coronavirus pandemic.
- Roland Gopel has twice been convicted of illegal camping
- Menzies council has resumed legal action, which was on hold due to the pandemic
- Mr Gopel says he would be homeless without the caravan
Roland Gopel has lived off the grid in a caravan on property he owns on the outskirts of Menzies in the northern Goldfields since 2015.
But his dilapidated property and caravan continue to fall foul of local government regulations, with two previous convictions for illegal camping.
The 61-year-old found himself back in hot water with the Shire of Menzies last year after building a shade structure over his caravan without a permit.
The steel-framed structure sheltered the leaky caravan from scorching summer temperatures of close to 50 degrees Celsius.
It collapsed during heavy winds but Mr Gopel was adamant he would rebuild, despite potential fines of up to $50,000 for breaching the Building Act.
Mr Gopel says the shade structure took a month to erect and 10 seconds for a willy-willy to knock down.(ABC News: Rhiannon Stevens)
The Shire of Menzies engaged a Perth legal firm in February, but put the action on hold in April amid the coronavirus crisis.
“It was determined that serving the building order just as the emergency management provisions were being implemented due to COVID-19 was not a reasonable thing to do at that time,” environmental health officer David Hadden wrote in a July 30 report to council.
But McLeods Barristers and Solicitors, acting on the council’s behalf, issued Mr Gopel a building order on July 2 to demolish the shade structure and remove the caravan from the property within 30 days.
Stand-off set to continue
Mr Gopel said he would not comply with the order, and said that he had not opened the envelope delivered by council staff.
“The bullies keep pushing and pushing and they will not stop unless more people like me stand up to them,” he said.
Roland Gopel has installed his own solar power system, water tanks and internet.(ABC Goldfields: Jarrod Lucas)
He said he had nowhere else to go, calling the council hypocritical for delaying the legal action.
“One minute they tell me I can stay here, and the next they tell me I must not stay here,” Mr Gopel said.
“It’s the only home I have … if I didn’t have this, I would be homeless.
“What is council saying? It’s mandatory for me to be homeless?”
Caravan ‘unfit’ for human occupation
In a letter to the council, McLeods Barristers and Solicitors said the caravan appeared to be falling apart, with one of its walls having become detached.
The firm described the caravan as “unfit for human occupation”.
Shire of Menzies president Greg Dwyer admitted the legal action would be costly, but said the council had no choice but to enforce local government regulations.
“We’re caught between a rock and a hard place,” he said.
“We have been delegated through the State Government to progress certain regulations, the building code and so forth.
“We just have to progress the law.”
Menzies is more than 700 kilometres north-east of Perth.(ABC Goldfields: Jarrod Lucas)
Round three of legal fight
The shire’s two previous legal battles with Mr Gopel were over breaches of the state’s Caravan Parks and Camping Ground Act 1995.
In August 2017, Mr Gopel was fined $1,000 and ordered to pay $1,745.50 in court costs.
Less than a year later, in March 2018, he was fined $1,000 and ordered to pay $3,000 in costs.
Mr Gopel has refused to pay the fines, while his financial situation has become more dire since he refuses to be part of the Federal Government’s cashless debit card trial for welfare recipients in the Goldfields.
He has been unable to pay his council rates and is concerned the shire may try to seize his land as well.
“It’s hard to pay your rates when you’re getting $20 a week to live on,” he said.
Greg Dwyer admits the legal action will be costly.(Supplied: Shire of Menzies)
Mr Dwyer said Mr Gopel’s refusal to pay fines or comply with any direction of the council or courts could lead to a scenario that ended badly for the grey nomad.
“Maybe eventually he goes to jail over non-payment of fines,” Mr Dwyer said.
“It’s a terrible situation in the long run, but Mr Gopel is sticking to his guns on that.
“I suppose time will tell where it all ends up.”