A group of retirees whose fight for their homes made it all the way to the Supreme Court say they have reached “nightmare stage” as they prepare to learn their fate after a tribunal hearing today.
The group from Hastings Point has been on the brink of homelessness for five and a half years, after a developer bought the park their demountable homes sit on and issued them with an eviction notice.
With the help of the Tenants Union of NSW, the residents have been fighting a court case for fair compensation.
“It’s probably ‘nightmare stage’, is what you’d call it at the moment,” resident Judy Tucker told the ABC.
“We’ve lived with stress for five and a half years and we’re about to go into a court case that could be our last.
“This is the time that we thought we’d be spending enjoying our retirement, and instead of that we’re living in just total stress every day, not knowing where we’re going to live.”
Advocates said their case highlighted the problems people face at the lower end of the housing market, and said it was an area of growing concern as older people were priced out of the traditional housing market.
Thousands of people live in residential parks across Australia, which are characterised by demountable homes with residents paying a weekly site fee without owning the land.
The Hastings Point residents have been arguing for fair compensation for their homes and their case made it to the Supreme Court, in complex legal wrangling that has lasted more than five years.
The developer offered compensation at a rate of less than half what the residents’ valuations showed their homes were worth.
TriCare declined a request for an interview, but in an email told the ABC the company is keen to resolve the matter as soon as possible and that it would not comment on the specifics of the matter.
“There have been some complex issues raised by the parties which explains much of the delay in resolving the matters,” company director Peter O’Shea said.
“TriCare believes the offers made to residents of the Holiday Park have been fair and reasonable, and importantly are consistent with legislative requirements.
“Importantly the development of the residual of the retirement community (expected to accommodate 100+ persons) will add further to the local economy, and address a shortage of retirement options for seniors in the northern NSW.”
Over the course of the case, NSW has changed its Parks Act which covers residential parks, and the residents say the change is their last hope for a fair outcome.
Residents Have Nowhere To Go
The group has called dozens of parks and none will take them and their homes, and the group is not being offered enough compensation to move elsewhere.
“The option many years ago was that you could pick up your home and have it relocated to another park, [but] that’s ceased very much in the last five years,” Ms Tucker said.
Lawyer Paul Smyth from the Tenants Union of NSW has been helping the residents fight their cause, which he said was shaping up as a test case for the amended laws governing residential parks.
“It may help to set the tone for how future matters will be dealt with, where home owners have received notices of termination,” he told the ABC.
“There are a number of factors in the new legislation which take into account for example the current onsite market value of the home.”
He said similar homes in other parks now sell for half a million dollars.
Consumer Group Calls for Retirement Housing Ombudsman
The laws governing residential parks have been reviewed by various state governments.
In Western Australia, residential park laws have been reviewed and recommendations made to Government, which include giving more certainty to tenants on fixed-term leases if a park is sold.
This week, a Victorian parliamentary inquiry into retirement housing continues in Melbourne.
The Consumer Action Law Centre (CALC) will this week tell that inquiry there should be a retirement housing ombudsman to specifically resolve disputes, including in residential parks.
“It’s a waste of public resources to be clogging up these administrative tribunals with these kinds of matters, for that amount of time and the strain it puts people under is outrageous,” Zac Gillam from CALC said.
“We need a simpler, more accessible, free and available form of dispute resolution.”
National Framework Needed for Residential Parks
The Council on the Ageing (COTA) Chief Executive Ian Yates said the idea of an ombudsman had merit, but first there needed to be appropriate legislation in place to make the system work better.
“Retirement Parks are the largest growth area in retirement living, exceeding retirement villages,” he said.
“But there’s quite substantial inconsistency around Australia in how they’re being treated.
“I think there needs to be a national framework even if there is some flexibility in it, some parameters about these issues of how you deal with security of tenure, how people can get out, how valuations are arrived at, and how disputes are dealt with.”
James Kelly from Lifestyle Community Limited, which owns a range of retirement housing businesses, said disputes were “low” in their industry.
“By way of example in Victoria, there has only been 18 complaints made to Consumer Affairs Victoria in two years from 2014 to 2015 from a resident base of 7,000 people living in parks in Victoria,” he said.