Residents whose homes have been compulsorily acquired for the WestConnex road project are paying thousands of dollars in rent to the acquiring authority, Roads and Maritime Services, for the privilege of staying while pondering or being forced to appeal to the courts.
Richard Capuano and Pauline Lockie didn't know each other before Australia's largest road project, the $16.8 billion WestConnex, threw them together for the worst of reasons.
It was bad enough when each had their inner-city St Peters home forcibly acquired by the state government at a price they say means they can't afford to move elsewhere in the area, given the strength of the Sydney property market.
Now, after an 18-month struggle, they and others are paying thousands of dollars in rent to the acquiring authority, Roads and Maritime Services, for the privilege of staying while pondering or being forced to appeal to the courts.
"I'm totally trapped," said Mr Capuano, who must pay $665 a week until he is forced to leave by early September on top of an existing $30,000 legal bill to date.
"I understand that they need our homes. But the way they've gone about it has been unfair and unjust. They stress you out to get you out."
Ms Lockie must pay $875 a week to remain in the home, with around $16,000 in legal costs to date and while paying a mortgage. "It's just cost, after cost, after cost," she said.
If Mr Capuano and Ms Lockie decline to transfer the money, RMS says it will deduct the weekly rent from their eventual compensation.
Each received official notification from RMS on Melbourne Cup day in 2014 that their homes would be acquired.
Living in different streets, they were brought together over WestConnex. Ms Lockie is now a spokeswoman for the WestConnex Action Group.
Mr Capuano, who is single, has owned his four-bedroom, two-storey Campbell Street terrace since 1998.
Ms Lockie and her husband, who have a seven-year-old daughter, bought their three-bedroom Brown Street home in July 2014. She says she had been told by authorities that there were no plans for WestConnex to affect the house.
Under the Land Acquisition (Just Terms Compensation) Act, their home is valued by an RMS-appointed valuer. If they are not satisfied with the valuation, the NSW Valuer General decides the appropriate compensation level.
But Mr Capuano and Ms Lockie, who have had their own valuations done as part of their compensation claim to RMS, believe the Valuer General's offer is significantly below what they should be paid.
Mr Capuano has been offered "under $1 million" - a figure that is close to half of what his independent valuation says is the current market value.
"Essentially, I can't afford another home within the inner west," Mr Capuano said. "They've basically kicked me out of the market."
Ms Lockie, who on legal advice did not disclose the precise difference in amount between her claim and the Valuer-General's determination, described it as a "six-figure sum".
"Covering that gap is the difference between whether you can afford to stay in the area, or not," she said.
The law says RMS may start charging a person whose home has been compulsorily acquired from the date of acquisition to when they agree to give vacant possession.
Rent may be enforced even during the 90-day period owners have to appeal the Valuer-General's determination in the Land and Environment Court.
Mr Capuano is proceeding with court action, while Ms Lockie is still considering her options.
Other residents are in the same boat. Last week, the Greens wrote to Premier Mike Baird and Roads Minister Duncan Gay about the plight of one resident being charged $600 per week in rent.
It comes after Fairfax Media revealed that a landmark review of the compulsory acquisition system was handed to the NSW government two years ago, but is being kept secret and a parliamentary committee called for an overhaul of the compulsory acquisition system.
Greens MP for Balmain Jamie Parker said it is "disgraceful that people have no option but to take protracted and hugely expensive legal action as they are being uprooted from their homes and communities".
"Premier Baird knows that the whole valuation and compensation process in NSW is broken and he must step in and act to reform the process."
Mr Gay said: "Like the Premier, it is of upmost importance to me that property acquisitions are carried out with compassion and understanding.
"We always try and work with property owners to make the transition as smooth as possible."