Ex-politician and husband expelled from land they have occupied for 35 years
Maori Climate Commission
Donna Awatere Huata and her husband Wi have lost a court battle to stay on the land they occupy. (File photo)
Former ACT MP Donna Awatere Huata and her husband have been ordered off the land they have lived on for 35 years after a judge granted a request by the landowners to have them evicted.
The Huatas have occupied the Maraekakaho property, near Hastings, since 1986.
The 17.7 hectare block of land is owned by the Mangaroa 26N2 Trust. The Huatas say they received permission to occupy and improve the land as part of a “handshake” agreement with one of the trustees in 1987.
Over the past 35 years, there have been many disputes between the Huatas and the trust as to what kind of agreement they actually had.
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After the Huatas settled on the land, a lease was prepared, but they did not sign it. When the trustees received an offer from another potential tenant, they discovered the couple had occupied the land with “field labour, about 200 bales of hay and a few pigs”.
The trust asked them to leave, but they refused. A few years later, the Huatas built a shed and a double garage which became a kohanga reo.
Disputes persisted. In 1995, an eviction notice was served on them.
In 1996, the Huatas, through their Te Hua Whenua Trust, made an offer to purchase the land. Instead, in 1999 the trustees agreed to lease the land to the Huatas for 20 years. A memorandum of understanding was discussed but never concluded.
Discord between the Huatas and the trust continued, with rents and rates often going unpaid. Another lease was established in 2008, but again it was never executed.
In 2012, the trust served Wi Huata with a trespass notice. He refused to leave the property.
Unbeknownst to the trust, the Huatas had begun leasing 11 ha of land to an agricultural company which began grazing cattle and growing alfalfa there. The agricultural society, PC Raikes Ltd, assumed that the trust was aware of the arrangement.
Matters came to a head in 2015, with the Maori Land Court ordering the trust to comply with the 1999 Heads of Agreement.
When the lease expired in 2019, the Huatas still occupied the land and had no intention of leaving it.
In 2020, the shareholders of the trust voted unanimously against selling the land to the Huatas, or to pay them any compensation for the various structures they had erected without the knowledge of the trust.
The trust went to the High Court late last year to seek an order for the Huatas to leave the land.
In a recent ruling, Judge Christine Grice rejected Huata attorney David O’Connor’s claim that the memorandums of understanding included an “option to buy” clause that would allow the Huatas to buy the land.
Judge Grice acknowledged the existence of the clause, but said it was “absolutely clear” that any sale would require the consent of the beneficial owners, and such consent had never been obtained.
The judge noted that the Huatas had breached the 1999 lease agreement and “they made improvements to the land without the consent of the trust and in fact they did so knowing that the trustees were unlikely to give their consent”.
She concluded that the “option to buy” was invalid and non-binding. She also found that the trust had never consented to any improvements or buildings and that the Huatas had no right to compensation for them.
The judge recognized Wi Huata’s passion when he expressed his connection to the land, where they had raised their children and resided for 30 years.
But she said ‘it was a home for them only because they refused to leave it in the face of direct requests from the administrators for them to leave’.
The trustees had tried to do things legally, but perhaps hadn’t been as proactive as the beneficiaries wanted. This was understandable as they “didn’t like a confrontation with the Huatas”.
She granted the trustees the request for declaration that Huatas’ lease expired on September 30, 2019 and that the Trust can take possession of the land.
Wi Huata declined to comment.
In 2005, Awatere Huata was sentenced to two years and nine months in prison after stealing more than $80,000 from the government-funded Pipi Foundation – a trust set up to help underprivileged children.
Wi Huata was sentenced to two years in prison for a similar offense involving the foundation.