Council taking steps over encroachment work

The Dunedin City Council is working to improve the information available on its encroachment policy following recent public concerns about its approach.

It has also reworded the notification letters it sends to property owners and is developing new information materials that will be posted on its website, sent to all Dunedin real estate agents and attached to notification letters.

A note about the importance of getting boundaries correct before building and getting accurate property details before making a purchase was also included in the council's most recent ratepayer newsletter.

The moves follow recent confusion and concerns about the council's encroachment policy and the manner in which it is enforced, after several property owners in the Dunedin suburb of St Clair were notified parts of their properties were encroaching on council-owned land and offered suggestions on how to resolve it.

The owners were not happy and reacted similarly to others in the past when they learned of the encroachments. Many of these are historic and only become apparent as technology improves the information available.

A three-yearly multi-department review of the council's approach to encroachments, road stopping and related fees should also be completed by early next year.

The council's infrastructure services committee this month welcomed the review, particularly that fees and charges related to resolving encroachments and stopping roads (a process by which people can buy council land) would be looked into.

Three property owners said they had had encroachments on their, or a neighbour's, properties.

Cr Mike Lord wondered if land sales could be settled at a ''much more reasonable rate'' so people could buy the land and start paying rates.

He asked if there was any reason why people could just refuse to do anything about legalising encroachments, to which council transportation policy engineer Jon Visser said it was an option for property owners willing to take the risk.

Cr Chris Staynes said the council had to be mindful the land belonged to the city's ratepayers and wondered if a targeted rate to pay off the land might be a sensible approach.

Cr Hilary Calvert asked that consideration be given to a more cost-effective way of surveying land, and who should pay for a survey.

Mr Visser earlier said the council dealt with about a dozen different encroachment matters each week, involving many different types of situations.

His report said the issue was being raised more frequently as the availability of more detailed information meant encroachments were being picked up during the consent and site inspection process.

High-resolution aerial photographs overlaid with accurate boundary data were now available on the council's website, making it easy for anyone to ascertain where encroachments might exist.

The council did not legally seek them out, and responded only when an inquiry was received from a third party.

Such information was now frequently referred to by potential property buyers, insurers and builders, who sought to reduce their risks by requiring encroachments to be legalised.

Legalising encroachments was intended to protect owners from problems that might occur when other structures were built in relation to the fence line, rather than the real boundary; when damage happened and insurance companies refused to pay out because the occupier had no legal rights to the land; or other parties required access to the land to install driveways, public infrastructure, widen roads etc.

''It is in the best interest of the owner to be aware of their legal rights, even if they don't think it is.''

Encroachments may not have been picked up before because typically property owners and council staff who attended sites were not surveyors and did not have detailed survey plans at their disposal and relied on the professionals who designed and laid out sites to have done so correctly. Council staff who did inspections on site were there to do that job and not to look for road encroachments.

Building consents showing incorrect boundaries may have been issued historically by the council because, without the electronic records available now, staff were as susceptible to being misled by professionals and documents as property owners were.

It was also considered unreasonable (and remained so) to require all building consents and site set-outs to be resurveyed by an independent surveyor on the off chance the original surveyor got it wrong, he said.

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