WA's biggest council is looking to impose some of the toughest heritage protection laws in the country in a bid to stamp out "demolition by neglect" in its suburbs.
The City of Stirling will tomorrow vote on new laws to give their officers the power to enter neglected heritage properties, order repairs and charge the bill to owners.
If the laws are passed, Stirling will set a precedent for other councils to follow with the City of Vincent and the City of Fremantle looking at similar proposals.
The process of allowing heritage buildings to fall into disrepair is known as demolition by neglect. The usual intent is to allow the building to become so dilapidated that it needs to be demolished.
Fraser Henderson, manager of Stirling city planning, said the practice was an international problem but difficult to regulate.
Mr Henderson said the city was aware of almost a dozen past and present examples of demolition by neglect.
"While not a large number, the impacts of derelict buildings on the surrounding neighbourhood can be significant, given their propensity to attract squatting, vandalism, antisocial behaviour and environmental health issues," he said.
Real Estate Institute of WA president David Airey said the laws were heavy-handed and a threat to property owners' rights.
"Property owners have rights to their property and their rights should be protected," Mr Airey said. "If all they (councils) are thinking about is barging into people's property and making laws to force them to do things, I think it's just another reason why local government needs serious reform."
Under the proposed policy, there would be no monetary limit for repairs ordered - it would be the minimum cost required to prevent the property's eventual demolition.
Only deterioration that leads to a loss of structural integrity, for example missing roof tiles, or the loss of an integral heritage feature like a chimney or veranda would qualify as demolition by neglect. Financial hardship and the owner's ability to pay for repairs would be considered.
Mr Henderson said the policy would be applied only as a last resort.
The Heritage Council of WA broadly supports the proposal but recommended buildings that were the owner's primary residence should be excluded.
Stirling's planners rejected this, saying it was "administratively difficult" to implement and a loophole could be created where owners lived in the building to take advantage of the exemption.
The City of Stirling has more than 470 properties on its heritage inventory, mainly in Menora, Inglewood and Mt Lawley.