People refusing to pay rent for using council land may be taken to civil court as Western Bay of Plenty District Council strengthens efforts to pursue more than $80,000 owing to them.
And councillors have been warned to expect a fallout.
The subject of retrieving rent from encroachment on council land was brought up in a Performance and Monitoring Committee meeting today.
In a report presented to the committee, strategic property manager Blaise Williams said staff had already experienced "difficulties" in dealing with property owners.
A complaint has already been laid with the Ombudsman's office from a property owner regarding the cancellation of an existing licence to use the land, he said.
In 2016, the council formally began exploring options for charging rent to those people receiving "a significant private benefit" from using council land, such as unformed roads. The council has since been implementing a Rentals for Encroachments on Council Land Policy since it was adopted in 2017.
Williams said there were 182 encroachments on unformed roads, which were broken into three categories: Licences in place; no progress; and road stopping (the ability to buy a road from the council).
The 31 licences already in place provide an income of $28,728.20 annually. However, a further $80,986,26 per annum was being lost due to a lack of progress.
Williams said there were 137 encroachments "that are proving difficult to negotiate a rental for".
This was due to property owners refusing to engage with the council about the encroachment; refusing to pay to use the council land; not responding to council's requests to discuss any encroachments; and not being approached by the council yet due to low return on investment of resource.
"The ongoing negotiations relating to these encroachments will be the next immediate priority for staff," Williams said.
The council has the ability to remove encroachments if property owners refuse to adhere to the policy.
"However, this course of action is likely to result in unintended consequences that may lead to additional costs," Williams said.
Since the policy was adopted, the council completed four road stoppings - selling disused council roads - and earned $388,139.13 in income.
The council was still in the process of working on another nine applications. Four of these were nearing completion and were expected to provide an income of $648,174.16.
The other five applications were "under way" and income estimates were not yet known.
Williams noted such action was much more time-consuming than approving a licence but the financial benefit could be significant.
Already the completed and nearly completed applications contributed to a total income of more than $1 million.
In the meeting, Williams said he was telling the committee about the situation because he was anticipating trouble.
"There's going to be a little bit more effort in getting funding that's going to result in more queries and complaints but I want you to be aware."
He said there was going to be a "solid step-change" in how the council chased payment.
"It is proving to be quite difficult to get people who have historically used a piece of land, probably knowing in the background it was council's land, and getting them now to pay rental [costs] on it when, for the past 50 years, they haven't paid rental on it."
When asked by councillor James Denyer what legal measures were available to the council, Williams did not rule out taking matters to the civil court.
Mayor Garry Webber said the outstanding rent was a "reasonably big cost" and "we are getting a bit of kickback".
"The rubber has hit the road and it's getting a little bit difficult."
Councillor Mark Dean referred to a man he knew who cared for a piece of council land and claimed that if he didn't it would become overrun with weeds and become a liability. He asked if arrangements could be made for such situations, to which Williams said "yes".
Williams said the rent could not be included as part of rates due to it being a commercial debt, and while there would be scope to work in with some property owners "it's about being a bit more forceful".
The committee voted to receive Williams' report.