Adjournment: Retirement Housing
My adjournment matter is for the minister representing the minister for consumer affairs, and my ask is that the minister expedite reforms to the retirement housing sector to introduce an independent housing dispute service.
Victoria’s retirement housing sector has been overdue for reform for over five years now.
The LSIC inquiry into the retirement housing sector, which my Greens colleague Colleen Hartland referred in February 2016, investigated a wide range of issues within the sector, including long and unfair contracts, complicated exit fees, operators with little to no training in managing retirement housing, and difficulty resolving disputes.
The inquiry made a number of recommendations for reform, including a government review of the Retirement Villages Act and the introduction of a new dispute resolution service for the sector—as they described it, ‘a new alternative for low cost, timely and binding resolution of disputes in the retirement housing sector’.
The government has begun a review of the Retirement Villages Act, which is also looking at internal and external dispute resolution processes and how these could be improved.
However, we’re still waiting on the finalisation of that review and the introduction of a bill to reform the act—legislation which we were promised we’d see before the end of this term.
In that time, the issues within the retirement housing sector are ongoing, with residents still struggling to resolve disputes with their village and park management.
Many older people are living in housing with inadequate, intimidating, and unfair internal dispute resolution processes, where managers are easily able to manipulate or bully residents to stay quiet.
I’ve met with retirement housing residents who have told me about some really poor behaviour on the part of managers and operators of retirement housing. Examples of managers ignoring urgent requests for maintenance or bullying residents into accepting unfair contract terms are some of the really concerning stories I’ve heard.
If residents attempt to resolve their dispute externally by going to VCAT, they are then left to navigate a complicated tribunal system and rack up thousands in legal costs, and no guarantee of a timely or effective outcome.
There are also concerns that the review of the Retirement Villages Act may not produce reform for the whole of the sector, especially the many people who live in other types of retirement housing like residential parks, caravan parks, independent living units and rental villages.
In fact, the concerns about dispute resolution are widespread across the housing system as a whole. We know our renters are commonly in a similar situation when resolving disputes with their landlords and property managers, having to wait months at VCAT to get maintenance requests addressed.
And we’ve seen this especially in public housing, where the department has done a really poor job of responding to concerns from residents about their safety, security and quality of life.
Where there is a power imbalance in housing, there is almost always someone willing to exploit it.
We need an avenue for dispute resolution to address this, and empower our renters, public housing tenants and retirement housing residents to resolve issues in a low-cost, easily accessible way.
And for older Victorians in retirement housing, the solution needs to address the whole of the sector, not just the villages governed by the Retirement Villages Act.
I ask that the minister expedite reforms to the retirement housing sector to introduce an independent housing dispute service.