A tree outside Natalie and Dan’s property recently caused damage to the pipe which flows from their property to the council main.  They called the council and were shocked to find that they had to pay for the damage to the pipe, even though the tree wasn’t even on their property! 

Most people don’t know what a lateral pipe is, let alone the fact that it is their responsibility to pay for maintenance and repair of them!

Property owners in Wellington are responsible for maintaining and repairing their lateral pipes, including damage caused by tree roots.  However, if damage to the drain is caused by a tree on council road reserve the council will clear the blockage or repair the damage the first time, but from then on it is the owner’s responsibility.  Unfortunately for Natalie and Dan, the previous owners had had the council clear a blockage caused by the same trees’ roots years before and they therefore had to pay for the repairs themselves.  

If the damage to the pipe is caused by a utility company then they are responsible for repairing the damage to the pipe and the council is responsible for all repairs to the public main.

Natalie and Dan came to us wondering if there was some way they could legally challenge the council policy on lateral pipes.  The council have a variety of ways for the public to have input into plans, decisions etc, and to challenge or petition certain rules or decisions of the council. 

The public can speak at Council meetings, contact councillors directly and make submissions or offer petitions.  The council website lets property owners know what consultations are coming up and gives people the opportunity to make submissions on those topics.

Natalie and Dan decided to grin and bear the cost of the repairs, but they became much more aware of what their responsibilities were and what they could do to challenge a policy such as this if they thought it was unreasonable. 

In extreme cases the Council’s actions and policies are subject to judicial review.  If  ratepayers consider that the Council has a policy or a rule that is unfair they can ask the High Court to review that rule or policy.  This is a complex area of law which requires specialist legal advice.