The Member for Ballina says the devil is in the detail in the 48 recommendations of the Statutory Review of the Residential (Land Lease) Communities Act 2013 that was tabled in parliament on Tuesday 30 November.
People who live in residential parks - known as 'residential (land lease) communities 'can be homeowners that lease the site on which the dwelling is located from the park operator, or are tenants who rent their home from its owner. The laws and regulations governing residents and operators of these parks is the Residential (Land Lease) Communities Act 2013, and the review was required under legislation.
In September 2021, there were 36,000 permanent residents of residential parks in NSW and 518 communities. In the Ballina electorate there are 25 residential parks and 70% of residents are aged 65 or over.
Ms Smith who made a submission to the review said that there are some improvements in the report but that there is no real teeth in the law to protect vulnerable people in park communities from losing their housing security as a result of ongoing and unnecessary increases in site fees and other costs.
Ms Smith said, "The biggest problem residents face is not knowing what they are walking into once they purchase a dwelling in a residential park as they have to pay rent for the rest of their lives, even though they own the home."
"The review recommends the introduction of a prescribed 'Sale Information Sheet' (SIS) to be prepared before a home is put on the market, to provide potential purchasers about ongoing costs and factors that they need to be aware of. The review recommends that the disclosure statement and site agreement be made available to prospective purchasers within five days of being requested" said Ms Smith.
"This is a welcome improvement to the law as it means potential residents are fully aware of site fees and the potential for ongoing site fee increases over the life of their ownership."
"It is good to see that the review recommends that operators should be responsible for maintaining infrastructure. We have met and talked to dozens of residents and heard absolute horror stories about constant site fee increases but no improvements to roads or amenities that residents are supposedly paying for."
Ms Smith said "Even though the review seeks to address constant site fee increases for residents, unfortunately it merely requires operators to explain the reason behind the increase - there is no opportunity for residents to disagree or challenge the decision other than to take the matter to NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal (NCAT) or the Fair Trade Commissioner on a case by case basis."
"Electricity pricing is also an area where costs can be outrageous and where residents have very little say over. The review recommended that further work be done to provide information to residents and set a reasonable standard for costs and frequency of bills for utilities in park communities."
"A 2015 Senate inquiry report into affordable housing noted that residents in residential parks faced problems with security of tenure. In particular, the report highlighted the issue of park operators selling residential parks to large-scale developers, which can subsequently displace residents who have few other housing options available to them and who may lose their home if they are unable to relocate to another park."
"I am not suggesting that all operators are scurrilous, however more must be done to hold operators to account for unnecessary costs and poor maintenance, particularly to reign in overseas corporations that are park operators. Penalties under the Act for breaches of Codes of conduct are a joke and would not deter anyone." Ms Smith said.