Waimea Village residents get legal warning

SARAH DUNN
Last updated 13:00 28/02/2013
Waimea
SARAH DUNN/FAIRFAX NZ

Concerned: Waimea Village resident Rupert Souch, left, has been served with a notice saying his lease will be cancelled if he does not pay an increased rental fee. His father, Robert Souch, right, has a half-share in the property, which is pictured at rear. 

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Notices warning of an impending lease cancellation have been issued to residents at Waimea Village retirement complex, following a standoff of more than three months.

Owner Michael Wright and residents have been embroiled in conflict over rental fees for more than two years. A controversial arbitration last November saw the monthly fees raised from $125 to $182.76, but several residents refused to increase their payments accordingly. They also declined to pay back-rent of $635.25.

The villagers' lease agreement gave them the right to remain in arrears for up to 60 days from December 1, but this grace period ran out on January 29.

Mr Wright has now issued notices to 10 residents advising them they have 28 days from receipt of the notices to repay the original sum, plus a new legal fee of $480.

He said the new charge reflected the cost of paying solicitors and other professionals to draw up and serve the notices.

"The first ones to be served are the ones who are quite adamant that they are not going to pay. Then the second on the list from that are people who own rental properties, and then we go down to committee members who perhaps haven't paid, and then we'll go down the line to just regular villagers. There is a structure to it."

Mr Wright said about 30 residents still had outstanding payments, saying those who were regularly behind with their rent could also expect an early warning notice.

Waimea Village resident Rupert Souch had a notice sent to his home and also his bank on February 15. A furniture restorer and antiques salesman by trade, Mr Souch split the cost of the house with his father, Robert Souch, before moving in in 2011.

He shares his home with a boarder who helps offset the mortgage.

"It's cool because they're not charging people too much [for the houses], and it's really quiet," Mr Souch said.

After taking advice from the Waimea Village residents' committee, Mr Souch decided he would not increase his rental payments after the second round of arbitration at the end of last year.

He received a debt collection notice from Baycorp earlier this year, but the notice was withdrawn after his father contacted the company to inform them the debt was in dispute.

Robert Souch has been vocal in his campaign against the rent increase. During the residents' fee protests last year, he placed a sign saying "Greed is wrong, Wrights are wrong" in the window of his Soucheby's Antiques shop.

While he mentions "letters continuously coming in" from Mr Wright, Rupert Souch remains sure that withholding payment is the right thing to do.

"I don't want to pay until it's just completely open and honest about the truth of what we have to pay and where the money is going."

Mr Souch said he did not take the conflict particularly seriously until he received word from the bank that it planned to cancel his mortgage on the basis of Mr Wright's notice.

"Only when the bank wrote me saying ‘You have 14 days or we'll cancel the loan', that's when I realised the possibility of losing the house was real."

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This is no longer a concern for Mr Souch after a meeting between himself, his father and the bank, but the family are now in talks with their lawyers regarding court action against Mr Wright.

While the younger Mr Souch has not let the situation get him down, the older Mr Souch is concerned about its impact on the community of elderly folk his son shares the village with.

"If there were not 200 elderly there, I can say without a doubt that we would sell out and Rupert would walk away, but it's wider than that," he said.

Both Souches agree that the ideal solution would be a change in ownership at the village.

- Nelson

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