Rental Reforms a Win for Older Residents

Housing for the Aged Action Group (HAAG) has welcomed proposed changes to the Residential Tenancies Act 1997 (RTA) that bring stronger protection for older renters in caravan park and residential parks.  In recent years, hundreds of home owners across Victoria who thought they had security in retirement have found themselves suddenly facing homelessness as developers closed the parks in which they lived.  Under the proposed reforms, residents will be able to access compensation if their parks close down and they are forced to move.

“These are vulnerable older people and their modest dwellings are often their only asset, their life savings. To date they’ve faced huge financial losses and possible homelessness when land owners sold out from under them. This is a great improvement for residents of caravan parks and residential villages,” said HAAG spokesperson Fiona York.

Due to increases in land value, recent years have seen a spate of park closures and redevelopments.  Residential park residents own their own homes, but lease the land on which their home is located.  This makes them especially vulnerable. Over the past year alone, at least six residential parks in Victoria have closed down, not only leaving residents with nowhere to go but often having to bear the cost of moving their units, if they are able to move at all. With few vacant sites in the state and high costs to transport their dwellings, many are forced to abandon their homes.

Wantirna Residents Action Group (WRAG) became active when 112 home owners were told that the park they were living in was to be closed by the new owner.  The majority of residents at Wantirna Park had lived there for over 15 years and 85% of the residents were over 60 years of age, many living on the pension. They were forced to sell their houses for a pittance, losing life savings and their only asset. Five people died during the process, including one to suicide.

“We were let down by greedy developers and by the government.  Considering owners, developers, the local council and State Government all make a lot of money out of such deals, the home owners in residential parks should at least get a fair deal as well,” said WRAG spokesperson Peter Gray.

HAAG has been calling for stronger protection for older renters for many years.  The Bill proposes measures that strengthen the rights of older tenants, including security of tenure, minimum standards and rights to carry out disability modifications. The introduction of mandatory accreditation standards, excessive fees and reducing the complexity of contracts fall outside the scope of the RTA review, but will remain urgent priorities for retirement housing residents.