Mark Cleary

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Marrickville Council has come under fire from the arts community after evicting local theatre group Short + Sweet from their offices on the Princes Highway.

The council has received a number of complaints from the community in recent months over a rezoning proposal that would allegedly make conducting a successful arts business more difficult.

New criticisms surround the sudden eviction of Short + Sweet in July from the property they have leased for eleven years.

According to Mark Cleary, Short + Sweet founder, Council fire safety officers inspected the Short + Sweet officers on three separate occasions in late June and July.

During the officers’ third visit, they allegedly convinced Mr Cleary’s elderly father that they were authorised to inspect Mr Cleary’s living quarters. Council officers are only authorised to enter private premises when invited by the occupant.

Following this inspection, Mr Cleary received a notice of eviction from council. This notice, delivered after 5pm, advised that a court hearing was scheduled for 9am the following day.

The legal proceedings ruled in favour of council’s decision to evict Mr Cleary, and Short + Sweet has since moved out of Marrickville.

Council’s reason for ordering the eviction was that Mr Cleary was living in his office space without council’s approval, however Mr Cleary told City Hub it was his understanding that council had known he was using his office as living quarters for over a decade.

While several other local government areas have zoning provisions to allow spaces for artists to both live and work, Marrickville currently does not allow this in any capacity, making it very difficult for artists to operate in the area.

Mr Cleary told City Hub he feels he was unfairly treated by council.

“For council to do this to an organisation that has supported them for years and years and years, and to do it in a vicious and backstabbing way is unbelievable to me. I feel betrayed by Marrickville Council,” he said.

Council has recently informed Mr Cleary he is expected to pay their legal fees for all legal proceedings relating to his tenancy. According to Mr Cleary, these legal costs may cripple Short + Sweet and force its closure.

Multiple members of the arts community, who preferred not to be named, said they had been unfairly treated by one council officer in particular. This officer reportedly often told residents and tenants he has “more power than the police”.

Marrickville Council said the eviction was required based on Mr Cleary’s noncompliance with fire safety standards.

“During the inspection of 8 July, Council officers discovered that the premises were being used for residential purposes without the necessary approval and without the necessary fire safety controls in place,” a spokesperson said.

“It is clear from these circumstances that Mr Cleary was given a number of opportunities to cease the illegal and dangerous residential use and failed to do so.”

The spokesperson said Short + Sweet’s eviction was exclusively a matter of safety.

“It has been put to council that Short + Sweet is an artistic venue and the action taken is inconsistent with Council’s support of the Arts. council’s responsibility in this instance was to ensure the safety of the building occupants irrespective of the identity of the business concerned.”