Greens NSW MLC Jan Barham was told she should be ‘planting flowers, not throwing stones’ after asking serious questions about recent changes to residential parks legislation in parliament last week.
Ms Barham indicated she had serious concerns with the legislation, particularly given recent ICAC revelations that disgraced former planning minister Chris Hartcher had received donations from the former president of the Caravan and Camping Industry Association, a strong supporter of the bill.
The legislation was passed in October but is yet to be enacted.
Ms Barham told Echonetdaily that she was particularly concerned about aspects of the new rules that would allow ‘cost shifting’ of maintenance and other expenses from park owners to residents.
‘Already we’re seeing park owners holding off doing scheduled maintenance until the new laws are enacted and they can pass the costs on to their tenants,’ she said.
‘I’m also worried about a provision that would allow owners to receive a percentage of the property when it is sold.
‘The fact is the changes are going to have the worst impact on people living on pensions, who are already being hit hard by the budget.’
Ms Barham asked Fair Trading minister Matthew Mason-Cox in the upper house last Wednesday whether, given the prominent residential park owner donated to Mr Hartcher campaign’s and hosted a campaign fundraiser in his home, ‘… and noting the strong concerns about the lack of transparency in the review process leading to last year’s introduction of new residential parks legislation, will the government now make public all submissions, correspondence and records [relating to the review]?’
In a convoluted reply that twice failed to answer the MP’s question, the minister commented, ‘I expected that question from the Labor Party, on its past form. Normally Ms Jan Barham is a person who plants flowers and does not throw stones…’
The minister continued, ‘The law is balanced and fair. It ensures that vulnerable residents are protected, whilst at the same time it ensures that residential community accommodation options are allowed to grow into the future.’
But Ms Barham told Echonetdaily she has serious misgivings about the legislation, including so-called ‘voluntary sharing arrangements’, which allow operators to charge entry and exit fees as well as receiving an uncapped share of the price when a home owner sells their home.
‘Voluntary sharing arrangements could see home owners signing over a portion of their home’s sale value to the park operator. These agreements could have a negative impact on costs and affordability across the entire sector. The choice for owners to enter into these agreements needs to be fully informed as to the long-term costs and benefits,’ Ms Barham said.
‘I’m concerned that the bill allows operators to justify site fee increases based on projected increases in their costs or planned improvements to the park. These things might never eventuate, yet residents will already be paying, often stretching their financial limits. Another issue is the change of use of sites – it isn’t clear that owners are protected from their site being changed from long-term to short-term use, leaving them subject to termination or a loss of value when it comes to the sale of the home.’
‘In NSW there is a shortage of affordable housing and residential parks are for many not only cost-effective but also provide a very important community particularly for many older persons. The legislation should protect the rights and interests of these people,’ Ms Barham added.
Len Hogg, resident of a Pottsville park and member of the Independent Park Residents’ Action Group, has also described the review process as ‘flawed’.
He said the group that was funded by the government to survey residents of the parks ahead of the new legislation was not representative of park residents.
Mr Hogg told ABC radio this week, ‘$100k was given to a residential organisation which has a membership of less than 10 per cent of the total residents in NSW, which means only 10 per cent of the [affected] people in NSW got involved in the survey. And quite clearly that’s a bit one-sided.’
‘We aren’t aware of any other aspect of the industry, anywhere in the commonwealth that would have provisions that could determine residential rents based on a landlord’s forecast expenditure,’ he said.
‘With respect of the security of tenure issues, the new act… has a notation that says a notice may be given if a home owner is occupying a short-term site on a permanent basis.’
‘I’m aware of two parks here in the Tweed… where there are 76 residents living permanently on short-term sites, clearly not knowing at the time this occurred of what danger they were in. And that concerns me greatly.’
Mr Hogg said at some parks in the Tweed, residents who owned their own manufactured homes were paying as much as $250 per week for the site alone.
‘I would consider anything about $150 a week to be getting towards unaffordability for pensioners on fixed incomes,’ he added.