A recent decision of the Court of Appeal concerned a house located on a block of Māori freehold land. The land, which was owned by trustees, was leased to the Ministry of Forestry until 2066.

In 1989, the woman appealing in this case (the Appellant) was granted a licence to occupy the land by the trustees, for the duration of the forestry lease.

The Appellant moved a shed onto the land at her expense and paid for improvements to the shed over a number of years to make it a house. Improvements included concreting the floor and installing windows, doors, a bathroom, and a kitchen. She also paid for power to the house and the insurance costs.

The forestry lease was terminated in 2012. The Appellant and her whānau continued to occupy the house.

However, as a result of a dispute among whānau over the use of the land, the trustees for the block tried to get an injunction to prevent the Appellant from occupying the house, and requiring her to remove the house from the land.

In response, the woman also applied to the Māori Land Court for a finding that she has the right to access and occupy the house.

In the Māori Land Court, the Judge held that the Appellant’s rights did not include a right of occupation because the trustees had not done anything to create a reasonable expectation that she could continue to occupy the house. The Judge therefore granted the injunction sought by the trustees.

This decision was appealed to the Māori Appellate Court. The Appellate Court agreed that the trustees had not acted to create a reasonable expectation that the Appellant was entitled to occupy the house. The Appellate Court further reasoned that she had only made improvements to the house, not to the land itself. For these reasons the appeal was dismissed. 

The case was then appealed to the Court of Appeal.

The Court of Appeal disagreed with the lower courts, finding instead that the trustees had made a representation that the Appellant would be entitled to occupy the house until May 2066 when the forestry lease was set to expire, and that it would be unconscionable for the trustees to go back on that representation given the improvements she had made to the house.

The Court of Appeal also disagreed with the Māori Appellate Court’s finding that that the Appellant did not have a right of occupation because she had made no improvements to the land itself. 

The Court of Appeal therefore allowed the appeal, holding that the woman has the right to occupy the house until 2066.

If you are concerned about a dispute involving Māori land, it is helpful to speak to a professional experienced in this area to get the best outcome for you and your whānau.

 

Leading law firms committed to helping clients cost-effectively will have a range of fixed-price Initial Consultations to suit most people’s needs in quickly learning what their options are.  At Rainey Collins we have an experienced team who can answer your questions and put you on the right track.

Peter Johnston & Devon Tesoriero