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
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
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
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
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.