Queensland pensioners living in lifestyle villages are demanding action from the government, following an extensive investigation into the multi-billion-dollar industry by 9News.
Residents claim park owners are unfairly jacking up their rents, while others allege big corporations are failing to honour their rental contracts.
“When you move into a village like this, you move in for retirement, you don’t move in to fight battles in QCAT or a court of law,” Paul Miller, a resident at Regal Waters in Bethania, said.
Paul Miller moved into the lifestyle village 15 years ago with his wife, but earlier this year Sheila passed away.
Mr Miller asked operators, Hometown Australia, for a rent decrease from a dual occupancy rate to a single rate, as per his original site agreement — roughly $10 less a week for the pensioner.
“I got a reply back saying — not in these words, but more or less implying — tough luck old son, you’re paying the dual occupancy,” Mr Miller said.
Neighbour Marcelle Howden lost her husband earlier this year, but she won’t be getting the single occupancy discount either.
“Very hard, very hard, to talk about,” Ms Howden told 9News.
“It was in the contract, it’s the principle more than anything too.”
Hometown Australia rejects that, telling 9News they’re “genuinely sympathetic” to the losses felt by Mr Miller and Ms Howden, but claims, the “single occupancy rate… is a complex and technical legal issue”, and reducing rent “is unfair to their fellow home owners.”
Both residents are disputing the increases through the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal (QCAT).
“The dispute process is long and drawn out, and can in fact take up to 12 (to) 18 months for a conclusion,” Noel Wright, from the Associated Residential Parks of Queensland, says.
“And as soon as the park owner issues a notice of increase from a date, the homeowner is required to pay that whether it is right or wrong, adequate or inequitable, until there is a resolution in QCAT.”
That process is exactly what 103 residents at Burpengary Pines Village, who are disputing a rental increase and a charge for excess water, are going through.
“That’s $2.16 a week for the whole year,” resident Lyn Webber-Hill told 9News.
Residents claim the increases are unjustified. A year later, they’re still going through the QCAT process, waiting for a hearing date.
“The dispute resolution process is not fair,” Mr Webber-Hill said.
More than 40,000 Queenslanders live in lifestyle villages across Queensland. and many claim the rental increases come so often at lifestyle villages across the state that some are having to choose between buying their medication or food each week so they can still pay their rent.
In response, management for Pines Village called residents’ claims “unsubstantiated” and said that “there are appropriate dispute resolutions processes available to them through QCAT”.
Lawyer and former president of the Queensland Law Society Bill Potts says QCAT is underfunded and is calling for an independent umpire to deal with the industry.
“The re-locatable homes legislation needs to have a proper power within it for an inspector or an ombudsman to ensure any rental rise is fair,” Mr Potts told 9News.
That suggestion is something Queensland’s Minister for Housing, Mick De Brenni, is willing to look into if he’s re-elected in this year’s state election.
“I think it’s high time for a root and branch overhaul of that legislation to provide seniors with the sorts of protections they deserve,” Mr De Brenni told 9News.
“We’ve seen, over the last couple of years in particular, multinationals come in and buy these communities out and then treat the residents abhorrently.”
Mr Potts says the government is failing residents.
“The government has a general obligation to provide cheap and affordable housing to the people, it’s not doing that,” he said.
Hometown Australia told 9News it’s “committed to working with its home owners as well as the regulator on any concerns these important stakeholders may have.”
Full statement from Hometown Australia
We are genuinely sympathetic to the experiences of our home owners when their loved one passes.
We understand that it is a very difficult time and most certainly do not want to add an additional burden.
However, we have spoken with these parties at length and explained the conditions of their agreement.
The single occupancy rate issue is one that we have mediated with home owners in the past. While it is a complex and technical legal issue, it is the responsibility of the park owner to consider the impact and fairness to other home owners if it attempts to reduce site rents in this way.
We are honouring the terms of our site agreements and adhering to the applicable legislation.
We have had clear communication with the home owners’ committee on this issue, including the Chairperson of the committee who is representing one of the home owners at the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal (“QCAT”).
In our experience, the QCAT process has generally provided a fair outcome for both home owners and park owners across the industry.
One of the considerations of the park owner is the range of site rents being paid by all home owners across the community when considering whether it is fair to consent to a reduction for an individual home owner.
We can confirm that the current market site rent payable for home owners at our
Bethania park is $177.50 per week. In some instances, those who are seeking to reduce their site rent may be already paying a significantly lower site rent of around $20.00 per week. We see this as unfair to their fellow home owners.
As confirmed by Nine News Brisbane in a story which went to air on 16 July 2020, we have had an increase in charges levied on us by the local council, despite this we have recently advised home owners that we will not pass on the special increase of $5.50 per week.
We have absorbed this cost in good faith, with the interests of all home owners in mind.
We are committed to working with our home owners to improve the services and facilities as well as the overall amenity of the park at Bethania.
In addition to the typical increase in operating expenses, in the first year after acquisition, we have spent approximately $30,000.00 on refurbishment of the community hall and gymnasium, including new shade sails over the swimming pool.
In the second year of our operation we have spent approximately an additional $46,000.00 on large infrastructure upgrades as well as further work to the swimming pool, increased street lighting and a bowling green upgrade.
These are all items that have undoubtedly benefited and assisted our home owners. As proven to date, we will continue to work with our home owners to improve all the communities in our portfolio.
As mentioned in our previous communications, Hometown Australia Communities is a proud Australian company that is committed to working with its home owners as well as the regulator on any concerns these important stakeholders may have.