Village rental fees row unresolved

A two-year dispute over fees at Waimea Village remains unresolved, despite the owner saying an arbitration decision has been made.

Residents and management at the Richmond village have been embroiled in a bitter argument over monthly rental fees since January last year. The residents own their own homes but lease their land for a fee from village owners Michael and Carolyn Wright.

Mr and Mrs Wright first proposed raising the village's rental fees to $280 in 2011 but, after the residents' association protested, an independent arbitrator set the rental fees at $125.

This prompted the Wrights to lodge a complaint, and in January this year the couple attempted to raise the rent to $284. A second arbitrator was appointed during March and April this year to sort out the situation.

Mr Wright said the arbitrator's decision on Tuesday had set the rental fees at $182.76, a lower rate than he anticipated. He said that, as the decision was based on the village's running costs from 2011, the rental fees produced were out of date. However, he was satisfied the arbitrator had addressed the heart of the dispute by providing a mechanism for working out the running costs themselves.

"Certainly, if we use his decision as a template for future reviews, it will make matters a whole lot easier," he said.

Mr Wright said of the 172 leaseholders in the village, about 160 residents will also be liable for back-payments dating from January 1 this year. Those who had moved in during the year would pay back-payments from the first day of the month they moved in, and the previous owners would provide the rest.

The difference between the current rent of $125 means a bill of $629.75 for each long-term leaseholder.

He said the village rentals would be reviewed again next year. Mr Wright said residents needed to respect that the arbitrator's decision was legally binding on both parties.

The residents' association has scheduled a meeting on Sunday to discuss the outcome. Association member and editor of the residents' newsletter, Anne Senior, said the group did not believe that any arbitration had taken place.

"It's a ploy," she said. "As far as we're concerned, we haven't had anything to do with arbitration."

Mrs Senior said the residents' association had not heard from any arbitrator, but only had a letter from Mr Wright explaining the decision. She said the letter did not include any material from the arbitration process, but contained an offer to send a transcript of the arbitrator's decision to the residents' association's legal team if they opted to take Waimea Village to court.

It also came with a form for residents to take to the bank and arrange their rental increase, which Mrs Senior said was designed to "frighten, intimidate and pressure" people.

She said the association had instructed residents to continue paying their original rent of $125 until they reached a decision on Sunday.

Mr Wright would not name the arbitrator who, he said, had been appointed by Waimea Village's lawyer Graeme Downing.

Mr Downing said today the arbitration had definitely taken place. He said the written decision was distributed to both parties from the arbitrator directly, and he had received an email from residents' committee chairman Jerry Rowland confirming he had received the ruling.

Mr Rowland declined to comment.