OWNERS of old Queenslander homes who allow them to fall into disrepair could be fined under moves by Brisbane City Council to protect them from demolition.
The council is considering radical measures which would lead to city officials preventing owners from neglecting historic homes or bulldozing them for units or subdivisions when they became unsound.
Deputy Mayor and Urban Planning Committee chairman Tim Quinn said the council could introduce stronger powers to ensure owners looked after the pre-World War II structures. These would be in addition to council controls introduced in 1995 relating to their removal or demolition.
"We will be looking at ways to encourage and require owners of character and heritage houses to maintain them in reasonable condition," he said.
But doubts remain about the council's capacity to force people to outlay large sums of money to maintain the properties. Built between 1860 and 1945, the unique Queenslander-style timber homes are considered a crucial part of the state's identity.
A lawyer specialising in town planning, Mark Ruddy, said the council would need to amend the town plan to create some sort of "non-compliance" offence.
"The question is, where are they going to draw their authority to make the law," he said. "I think they could only fine you rather than force you to do it."
Controls on the removal and demolition of character houses were introduced by the council in 1995, but Councillor Quinn said obliging people to take "reasonable care" of them would not be easy.
"It would be quite a challenge to frame provisions that council would find workable," he said.
Councillor Quinn said the council was concerned that some owners and developers were allowing Queenslanders to slowly run down until they were beyond repair.
"It is not a great drama across the city but we are coming across isolated incidences and I think we need to give more thought to how we can deal with it," he said.
Council Opposition Leader Michael Caltabiano said council was using a "big stick" approach rather than encouraging people to look after properties through rate rebates and other incentives.
"The capacity for council to control people's activities on private property is very limited and all they are going to end up with is a lot of upset people throughout the suburbs of Brisbane," he said.
Architect Kevin Hayes, who works mostly on character houses, said the buildings were "maintenance intense" and any plan to penalise owners would impact on those who could least afford it. A lot of old people live in old Queenslanders and they do not have much money," he said.
"They are the classic case of asset rich but cash-flow poor. To come along and fine them because they are not painting their house or fixing their gutters or roof sheeting is getting into dodgy territory."
Mr Hayes said it often cost more for major renovations on a Queenslander than to build a new house. And he said the council had to be careful not to destroy the "flexibility" of the houses.
"One of the great things about them is you can lift them up and down, move them around and do some interesting work," he said.