Village keen to end war over fees

SARAH DUNN
Last updated 13:00 10/12/2012

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After more than two years of conflict over rental fees at the Waimea Village retirement community in Richmond, owner Michael Wright and the residents' committee can only agree on one thing: the fighting has to end.

Mr Wright and wife Carolyn took over the Richmond retirement village in 2005. The village is run on a similar basis to a body corporate, where residents own their own houses but lease their land for a monthly fee.

The Wrights have come into conflict with the village's residents' committee during the last two years repeatedly after attempting to raise the fees from $125 to more than $280 last year.

Mr Wright said last month that the latest round of arbitration fixed the fees at $182.76, but the committee then disputed that the consultation even took place.

Committee chairman Jerry Rowland later said the committee now accepted the arbitration happened, but pointed out the committee never wished to take part in it.

"We had to [participate], we were forced to by default," he said.

Mr Rowland claims the group was ignored when they asked the arbitrator to terminate the arbitration process, which finished on November 13. He said the committee opposed arbitration because they felt the rent increase was unfair, and many of the residents could not afford to pay it out of their superannuation.

"It's a 100 per cent increase in two years," he said, stating concerns about attempts to raise the rent.

Mr Rowland said the committee approached Mr Wright to negotiate an agreement when Waimea Village attempted its first significant rent increase last year, but said the group never had the opportunity to negotiate.

"The day we objected, we got a list of four arbitrators," said Mr Rowland.

The committee employed barrister Warwick Heal to represent them against Mr Wright in mid-November. Mr Rowland said he hoped Mr Heal would be able to resolve issues that included the rent increase and the village's repairs and replacement fund after communicating with Mr Wright's lawyer Graeme Downing.

"There's so many different issues involved, it would be impossible for us to even come close to discussing all those issues at the present time," said Mr Rowland.

Mr Rowland denied Mr Wright's claim that the committee had instructed residents to disobey the arbitrator and not pay the increase.

"We have offered an option that they can take, and one of those options is that [they] can continue to pay [their] $125 because [they] have got 60 days from the first of December before any action can be taken," he said.

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Under the terms of the Waimea Village lease, a resident's lease is forfeit if part or all of their rental fees remain unpaid for 60 days or longer. The arbitration decision requires residents to increase their monthly rental fees by December 1.

This gives non-paying residents until January 29 before they can be served with forfeiture notices, and they then have 28 days or more to remove their property and/or home from village land. Mr Wright said back-pay of $635.25 was also due on December 14.

In anticipation of further struggles, the residents committee has set up a "war chest" fund which collects personal donations. It is jointly administered by the committee and ASB bank. The committee refused to divulge how much was in it.

Both Mr Wright and the committee confessed to feeling frustrated at the breakdown in communication. Mr Wright said he was upset that the committee never approached him directly to negotiate about the rent increase, while Mr Rowland said the committee was not given the chance to do so.

"There's people in this village who are scared to death," said Mr Rowland. "If something can come, either through [legal advice] or . . . through court, it's got to end."

Mr Wright said the uncertainty was very stressful. "I wish I'd never even seen that village."

Mr Wright said he would consider putting it up for sale if he thought he would get any buyers, but said it was not an attractive property for investors as it did not earn any income on top of his manager's salary.

"To my mind, it's just not worth it," he said.

- The Nelson Mail

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