The owner of a troubled West Auckland wedding venue has been ordered to pay back a $1000 deposit to a customer whose booking was canned, and faces several similar dispute tribunal hearings.
At least a dozen weddings booked to be held at Cassels, a popular wedding venue located on Scenic Drive in West Auckland, were cancelled earlier this year when the owners got into financial difficulty.
Each couple holding a booking had paid $1000 to secure their reservation, a cost described in Cassels' contracts as a "not refundable" administration fee.
Speaking to the Herald in May about the cancellations, owner Scott Browne said it was "unlikely" any of the couples would see the fee again.
However, a Disputes Tribunal decision from June provided to the Herald on Sunday ruled Aroha Trading Ltd, operating as Cassels, was to pay the money back "on or before 5pm on July 26 2018".
According to the couple involved in the tribunal hearing, this money transfer had not yet happened.
The tribunal referee's decision, which called the payment a "deposit" rather than an "administration fee", looked at what the terms of the contract were, whether the cancellation was valid and whether the couple was entitled to all or any of the $1000 claimed.
Discussing the dispute in Waitakere District Court, the referee found Browne had "repudiated the contract". The applicants were therefore entitled to seek damages.
"I am not satisfied that Cassels had provided sufficient evidence to support its position that the cancellation of the contract was valid," the decision read.
The couple who won the tribunal hearing was one of three spoken to by the Herald on Sunday who were taking legal action to retrieve their money.
Another of Cassels' customers, Hamish Turnbull, had a tribunal hearing against Cassels scheduled for September.
The Aucklander and his fiance weren't holding out much hope that they would get the money back but said the legal action was more on principle.
"We thought about it for ages and originally my fiance and I decided to write it off as lost money."
"But we work so hard for our money and we really value it ... so we thought we'd fight it."
The pair had since rebooked their big day at a venue in Westmere, which had approached them after hearing they were wrapped up in the ordeal with Cassels.
This was a happy relief, Turnbull said, following a "horrible experience".
When contacted about the situation by the Herald on Sunday, Browne said he had received documents relating to four disputes tribunal claims.
He did not want to comment on the decision and order made by the judge, as he was still deciding whether to appeal the outcome.
Discussion as to whether the property would be sold, was also ongoing.
"We're just waiting on a decision from Westpac as to what happens from here," he said.
Browne said the land on which Cassels sat was still in their ownership, however they were no longer taking bookings.
"Until we know with certainty that we can perform weddings, we're not prepared to take bookings."
Back in May, Browne told the Herald the decision to close the venue came shortly after another couple, who had started up the company with him and Leigh Browne back in 2013, stepped back from the role.
"Since we've acquired the building there had been a long-running dispute over how the business should be run," he said.
Browne said the disagreements and eventual resignation of the other couple was upsetting, as the four of them had been "very close" for a number of years.