A dispute with Tasman District Council has left Motueka homeowner Jacqui Griffiths washing her dishes in the bath and unable to work. She wants more than an apology.
In February 2015, Jacqui Griffiths started renovating a property she had bought at Motueka.
The work drew the attention of Tasman District Council officers, starting what Griffiths calls a nightmare of fines and stress that left her unable to work.
Council officers claimed Griffiths had installed a kitchen, bathroom and log burner in the original garage on the property without the requisite building consents. She was subsequently issued two notices to fix and an infringement fine, totalling more than $2000.
However, Griffiths said she told the council officers those changes to the former garage were made before she bought the property in December 2014. She provided evidence to back her assertion, including a real estate flyer when the property was on the market indicating the presence of the sleepout/hobby room along with photos of it at the time of the purchase.
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Jacqui Griffiths washes her dishes in the bath of her Motueka home.
Griffiths also provided a written statement, dated August 2018, from a former neighbour whose family had lived opposite the property for 30 years until 2016. In that statement, the former neighbour says the converted garage was like a self-contained dwelling from about 1990.
However, it wasnt until 2020 during a council review of Griffiths case following complaints from former council candidate Nick Hughes and the Motueka Community Board, that the former neighbour was interviewed.
It seems that some facts could have been established a long time ago by contacting some people especially your witness, and were not, says an email from the council staff member who reviewed the case.
After some inquiries, interviews and review, I do not believe you are responsible for the original installation of the bathroom, log burner and kitchen.
As such, a new owner cannot be held responsible for building work a previous owner has done, the email says. I must therefore apologise on behalf of council that you have been held responsible for a long time for the change of use and also the installation of some items, which you never did.
Although she has been managing without a sink and taps in her kitchen, Griffiths would like to have them reinstated.
Council chief executive Janine Dowding acknowledged this week that some council officers had made mistakes in some aspects of this matter. However, the council was not wholly responsible for Griffiths position, she said.
The notice to fix and infringement fines issued under the Building Act had been cancelled.
However, under the councils rules in its Tasman Resource Management Plan (TRMP), if a building has a kitchen it is considered a dwelling, and more than one dwelling on a property requires a resource consent.
The fact that Ms Griffiths did not personally install the kitchen within the garage is not a defence to any enforcement action under the TRMP/RMA [Resource Management Act], Dowding said.
Tasman District Council chief executive Janine Dowding says council officers do have sympathy for the position Jacqui Griffiths is in, and members of staff have apologised for the mistakes that the council has made.
Griffiths was advised that she could either retrospectively apply for a resource consent for the garage to be a dwelling or remove the kitchen facilities. She chose the latter and, following the removal of the taps and sink in the kitchen to comply, now does her dishes in the bath.
Compliance with the TRMP/RMA by removing the kitchen facilities came after Griffiths had been fined $780. As she had paid more than $500 towards another fine, which had been cancelled, that total had been transferred to the $780 fine and the council had agreed as a gesture of goodwill to meet the outstanding balance, Dowding said.
To be clear, council officers do have sympathy for the position that Ms Griffiths is in, and members of staff have apologised for the mistakes that council has made that might have contributed to Ms Griffiths current difficulties, the council boss said.
But Griffiths said that apology and the cancellation of the fines were not enough.
They’ve taken five years of my life, she said. I don’t feel like I’m in a better position. What about my [lost] income over all this period?
Griffiths has done a lot of work renovating her Motueka property since she bought it in December 2014.
The stress she was under caused her to spiral back into severe anxiety.
I was back at work, then this came up, and I got worse and worse, Griffiths said. I couldnt sleep; it was just awful.
She was under so much pressure that her GP in June 2019 wrote a letter, sent to the council, saying Griffiths had significant health issues, was under considerable stress and at present is unable to deal with any financial issues.
I would ask for your patience and tolerance until such a time that she is able to deal with her non-health problems, the GP wrote.
Priscilla Du Preez/Unsplash
The dispute with Tasman District Council created a stressful situation for Griffiths, who spiralled back into severe anxiety. (File photograph)
Griffiths provided Stuff with the email she received in reply, which says in part: I cannot grant you an extension of time.
It [the GPs letter] was totally ignored, Griffiths said.
However, Dowding refutes this.
Council officers did consider the letter and its contents (we have file notes confirming that the letter was considered by the compliance officer and discussed with his manager), Dowding said.
Griffiths said the apology came from a good guy a relatively new employee who had nothing to do with the ordeal she went through.
I want an acknowledgement from the people who have done this to me.
She also wanted her kitchen reinstated and the property all legalised and them to pay for everything … for all the trauma that Ive been through.
However, Dowding said the council was not willing to circumvent the resource consenting process to allow/pay for Ms Griffiths’ kitchen to be reinstated.
Griffiths said when she was visited by the council officer in February 2015, she was told she could continue with the renovation work.
I have witnesses who were present, Griffiths said, questioning why any issues with the property were not raised at that time. I wouldnt have spent all this money if I thought I was doing something illegal.