All Lee Kirkman wanted was to live her dream life in a self-sustainable, low-cost, purple tiny house on a slice of rural paradise in Mamaku. She started organising everything well in advance and now the home is finished. But there's a problem - she can't legally use her toilet. After months of trying to resolve the issue with the regional council, she has taken the unusual step of invoicing it nearly $10,000 for 'mental and emotional anguish'. Zizi Sparks tells her story.
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A woman living in a tiny purple ''fairy house'' is demanding nearly $10,000 from the regional council for "causing mental and emotional anguish" over her toilet and wastewater.
Lee Kirkman moved her tiny house on to a Mamaku section this month and thought it would be ''my forever home".
It has been 10 years since she first started looking at the possibility of a tiny house and living mortgage-free. Her dreams came true when she moved into the purple "fairy house".
But there is a problem. She cannot shower, use her dishwasher - and cannot legally use her toilet.
Her frustrations at trying to sort out the issues with greywater and her toilet have prompted her to invoice the Bay of Plenty Regional Council $9600 for "causing mental and emotional anguish".
The council says it will not pay.
Kirkman said she first contacted Rotorua Lakes Council about building a tiny house in July 2018.
She moved to Rotorua in November 2018 and met a "helpful" Rotorua Lakes Council staff member in May this year. She had already signed a contract to get the house built.
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It was then she found out she needed Bay of Plenty Regional Council permission for greywater and a dehydrating toilet - a special toilet which dehydrates solid waste the user then takes to an effluent centre.
Kirkman said the toilet supplier told her the toilet met New Zealand standards. It could be hooked up to a septic tank for urine and greywater while the dehydrating toilet would treat solids.
Kirkman said she contacted the regional council for a meeting to resolve the issue.
But she said a meeting never happened.
Kirkman said from her perspective she had trouble dealing with the council.
"By September my house was weeks away from arriving on site and I was frantically trying to find a solution."
The regional council acknowledged more could have been done to help her navigate the process.
Earlier this month, Kirkman's $110,000 house arrived but issues with the septic tank and toilet have yet to be resolved.
Now, all trade staff are on hold, she is showering at her aunt's, washing dishes in a bucket, her clothes at her mother's, and she is not meant to use her toilet.
Her frustrations have taken a toll.
"Trying to get information from the regional council is like pulling teeth," she said.
"It's bullying, belittling people trying their best. I'm trying to do this right so my house is above board and legal.
"To ignore me, to not help; the mental and emotional anguish they've caused because of the stress of trying to get answers is unacceptable."
The frustration led Kirkman to send the invoice to the regional council and contact the Rotorua Daily Post.
She charged the council $24 for 20 hours per week for 20 weeks and she expects to be paid.
In a statement, the regional council's regulatory compliance manager Alex Miller said the council understood Kirkman's frustration.
"This matter overlaps both district council rules and regional council rules, which has led to some misunderstanding and further frustration.
"We've since visited the property and will continue to try and help Lee identify a suitable solution for managing wastewater at her property in a way which protects our environment."
He said the regional council took pride in the level of service provided.
"We reject any notion that we have bullied or belittled her. On the contrary, we have and will continue to try and assist Lee to find a solution which will work for her property and situation, whilst complying with the relevant rules."
Miller said the system Kirkman wished to use had not been put through the On-site Effluent Treatment National Testing Programme and as far as he could tell did not meet New Zealand standards.
"Toi Te Ora has indicated that the proposal for managing biosolids is unlikely to meet required hygiene standards."
Miller said the council had stressed concerns about the proposed system to Kirkman.
The regional council has rules around on-site effluent treatment systems including specific rules for properties in the Rotorua Lakes catchment.
Miller said if standards were not met, depending on the severity of non-compliance, council staff worked with individuals to bring them into compliance before considering enforcement action.
When asked about the case, Rotorua Lakes Council said it would "speak directly with Ms Kirkman to discuss her concerns rather than dealing with this matter through the media".
Toi Te Ora medical officer of health Phil Shoemack said on-site effluent tanks or septic tanks could be effective for disposing of waste while protecting the environment if used in the right situation and well-designed.
He fully supported the regional council's "cautious" approach. He said if systems did not meet required standards there were health risks.
"Sewage is full of bugs, micro-organisms, viruses, bacteria, you name it. If the treatment system does not function effectively there's a risk of people on the property or neighbours having direct contact with that effluent.
"The other thing to consider is . . . we've got responsibility to make sure what we're putting in place now will continue to function for many decades."
Kirkman, meanwhile, fears she will have to completely redo the bathroom if the toilet is not acceptable - and she said she cannot afford that.
"I feel destroyed, frustrated and desperate ... I'm an honest, hard-working woman who doesn't deserve to be treated like this.
"If the council wanted something different they had five months to tell me."
"I did this so I would have a fabulous life, which I'm still going to. I adore my home, I love it. To design a house that's yours, I didn't have to compromise with anybody, it's all me.
"I can't save the world or the planet but I can do my bit to save my part of the world."