10 Oct 2014

Activist battles house sale to pay bills

9:02 pm on 10 October 2014

Veteran Auckland activist Penny Bright is in a last-ditch legal battle against the court-ordered sale of her home to clear years of unpaid local body rates.

The self-styled anti-corruption campaigner owes the Auckland Council $33,000 after refusing on a point of principle since 2008 to pay outstanding rates.

Penny Bright.

Penny Bright says the Auckland Council won't disclose financial information she has requested. Photo: www.pennybright4mayor.org.nz

Ms Bright's home in the suburb of Kingsland is one of eight properties in the biggest single forced sale process undertaken by a local body.

"The sale process is an absolute last resort, where a ratepayer refuses to respond to repeated efforts to pay, and something we do very reluctantly," council chief executive Stephen Town says.

Ms Bright has lodged an application to set aside the court decision to appoint real estate agents to sell her home.

The woman, who describes herself as a public watchdog, declined to be be interviewed by Radio New Zealand but confirmed that she would fight the council.

The council is seeking the court-ordered sale of seven other commercial and residential properties with long-running unpaid rates totalling $270,618.

Top of the list in order of the length of time rates have been unpaid is a piece of land in Belmont on the North Shore, where $53,586 is owed. Ms Bright's home is the second-longest overdue.

Her home is mortgage-free and had a council valuation three years ago of $530,000, although property prices in Kingsland have risen steadily since then.

Ms Bright has long declared her refusal to pay rates, saying the council is declining to disclose financial information which she has requested.

The former welding instructor came to prominence in the late 1990s leading the activist Water Pressure Group, which opposed disconnections by the then Auckland City Council's Metrowater company of customers with long-unpaid water bills.

She has promoted her anti-corruption cause through campaigns for political office. She stood as an independent candidate in Helensville against Prime Minister John Key this year and in Epsom in 2011.

Ms Bright has contested the Auckland mayoralty, with her best result being last year when she polled 11,723 votes - a distant fourth among 17 candidates.

The Auckland Council says it is reviewing 179 further cases of historic unpaid rates, but expects many of those to be resolved through negotiation. It says the court-ordered forced sale process is rare and occurs about 10 times a year around the country.

Auckland Council chief executive Stephen Town said the almost eight year legal process had been driven by Ms Bright's ideological point of view, and seemingly not financial hardship.