UTILITIES DISPUTES CASE NUMBER 76404
Outcome     Recommendation - upheld

The Complaint
Mr T complained about a sewage odour from a biofilter [1] across the street from his home. He said he raised the issue with the water company in November 2016 but it took too long to resolve the complaint. The water company said it acknowledged the odour issue and did everything it could to resolve the complaint. It said it investigated the odour each time Mr T complained. The water company said it identified, monitored and fixed a series of issues with the biofilter.
Mr T said he asked the water company to remove the biofilter and install an alternative treatment system. He said the water company did not remove the biofilter. The water company said in March 2018 it replaced the media in the biofilter and this would take some weeks to reduce the odour. It said it could not install an alternative treatment system and explained this to Mr T.
Mr T said the odour affected his family’s quality of life. He said he could not have visitors to his property and the odour was impacting his family. Mr T said the water company did not offer him any meaningful compensation. He said he asked the water company to move him to a suitable rental property while it sorted the odour, but the water company declined. The water company said it offered to move Mr T and his family to a motel while it sorted out the issue. It said Mr T declined the offer. Mr T said moving to a motel was inconvenient and disruptive to his family. Mr T said the water company offered him a $100 supermarket voucher and a gift basket. Mr T said he asked the water company to pay him $20,000 for the impact on his quality of life but it refused. 
The Outcome

The parties held a conciliation conference and resolved part of the complaint. 
In the conference the parties agreed the water company would:

  • install an air-conditioner in the front of Mr T’s home so the windows near the biofilter could remain closed
  • erect a sign at the biofilter so others could complain about the odour if it was causing problems
  • look into a backup odour treatment system for when the filter was being replaced, and update Mr T on the replacement every few months. 

The parties could not agree on an outcome to the remaining parts of the complaint and asked the Commissioner to issue a recommendation.
The Commissioner considered the agreed outcomes and further recommended the water company pay Mr T $200 as compensation for the impact of the odour. 
The Commissioner found the biofilter caused the odour at Mr T’s property. She said the water company had a duty to respond to the complaint and found it took appropriate actions to remedy and mitigate the odour. 
The Commissioner looked at the customer service given to Mr T over the course of his complaint and found the water company responded appropriately. She looked at the water company’s response to emails, listened to phone calls, confirmed it conducted site visits and met with Mr T, and gave updates to Mr T on a regular basis. The Commissioner noted the voucher and gift basket offered to Mr T. She also noted the offer made by the water company for Mr T and his family to stay in alternate accommodation. Mr T said this was inconvenient and disruptive, however the Commissioner considered it a reasonable offer from the water company. 
The Commissioner considered Mr T’s alternative proposal to install a different system at the site. The Commissioner found the water company did not have to replace the biofilter as this was a permitted activity under the local district plan. 
The water company accepted the recommendation. Mr T did not accept the recommendation and the Commissioner closed the file. 

Footnotes
 [1] A biofilter is a biological way of treating odorous air. The biofilter draws air from waste water pipes into a bed of organic material (soil, bark and so on). Micro-organisms in the bed break down the organic compounds that cause odour and discharge relatively odour free.