Kapiti Coast District Council, already under siege from a raft of legal battles, may have another expensive legal fight on its hands against a huge number of disaffected residents and ratepayers.
"KCDC's proposal of asking all landlords to recover costs from their tenants for ongoing water use may be so flawed it is against the residential tenancies act," says Councillor Jackie Elliott.
The advice of KCDC senior manager Sean Mallon, in the news this week, was that Council is advising landlords to review tenancy agreements before charging kicks in on 1st July. The public are then referred to the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment's (MBIE) Tenancy Advisory Line for further advice.
"However, one Kapiti resident has alerted me the advice he received from the MBIE was that KCDC's planned charging may be illegal," says Cr Elliott.
"It is the opinion of the Ministry, that asking a tenant to pay for water, when they have never been required to in the past would meet the definition of a prohibited transaction under section 137 of the act.
"Further advice from the Ministry is that requiring a tenant to "waive their rights" (by agreeing to pay for water) shall be of no effect, under section 11.3 of the act, says Cr Elliott.
She says the resident also felt his only option was to charge his tenant well in excess of the proposed volumetric charges to cover any future over use of water, or associated costs.
"It is completely unacceptable for Council to create this situation and offload any responsibility to figure it out onto landlords and tenants," says Cr Elliott.
"Increased costs on tenants with fixed incomes will cause unnecessary added hardship to our community.
"On Friday, I requested the Mayor, who was voted in to build the dam, and the CEO to meet Councillors urgently to discuss this and to delay commencing any charging until it's ironed out. I have yet to get a reply from either of them."
Cr Elliott says there are still a great many unanswered questions at this stage and for Council staff to charge ahead with indecent haste and abdicate their responsibilities is unacceptable. "I remain against any volumetric charging for water as are a vast majority of people in Kapiti," she says.