Devastating impact of the floods in the Tweed Chinderah Area
By Sandy Gilbert (TRPHA) and Eloise Parrab (Tenants' Union of NSW)
Residential land lease communities in the Northern Rivers region of NSW were severely impacted by floods in early 2022.
Many land lease communities are located on low lying, flood-prone land which means that flooding events like the one earlier this year can cause severe destruction and devastation to the community.
Sandy Gilbert from the Tweed Residential Park Home owners Association (TRPHA) has been on the ground in the Tweed Chinderah area providing advice, advocacy, practical and emotional support to residents of the eight land lease communities that were severely impacted by the floods in February 2022.
28 February 2022 will be forever etched into the minds of the residents from the communities affected. The SES put out a warning to residents to evacuate but were unable to provide assistance, as they were assisting with floods in Lismore at the time. This meant that residents had to swing into action to help each other. All the roads were flooded with the water up to people’s waist, and boats and canoes were needed to evacuate the residents. At 1.30am residents were still being evacuated from communities with only the clothes they were wearing. There were many brave souls who risked their own lives to make sure everyone got out safely.
The floods have brought to light the inadequacy of planning from operators for these types of events. Many operators have no flood plan (emergency evacuation plan) in place. When the flood warnings were made two operators closed up their offices in the communities and the employees left with no guidance or assistance provided to the residents.
The day after the floods some of the members for TRPHA set up a sausage sizzle for the mud army and all the wonderful volunteers helping clean up and residents after the water subsided. Since then the Hub has grown and now has its base on the site of the old Cudgen Leagues Club. Thanks to Syliva Roylance from Tweed Council who worked hard to source shipping containers which have become the working space for the Hub. From the Hub, volunteers have been providing services for the residents impacted in those eight Residential Land Lease Communities for nearly five months. There are wonderful volunteers that have been at the Hub since day one and there is at least another 12 months work ahead.
Many residents are still living in terrible conditions in the shell of their homes. Walls are missing and they are living without kitchens and heating which is especially hard during winter. The Hub has provided yoga mats, blow up mattresses and blankets, also high framed beds for residents who are sleeping on the floor of their damaged homes. The conditions that some residents are living in are like that of a third world country. Others are couch surfing, some are sleeping in cars and a small number are still in emergency hotels. Many have lost all their possessions including their cars which were not insured in many cases.
The Hub has been supplying everything to the residents with the help of wonderful donations from the public including home cooking from some beautiful ladies out in the community. The Hub put in fridges and microwaves in each community amenities block and they stock the fridges twice a week so the residents can heat up a meal each day. The meals are being supplied from Anglicare and a local company. For a while the Hub was running without any support except from the wonderful donations of the public, but Anglicare Northern Rivers have come on board now to support the work of the Hub. A big thank you to Leon and the team at Anglicare.
The Hub will continue to highlight the situation for residents of land lease communities who were impacted by the floods to ensure they are not forgotten. Many of the residents are very vulnerable and have lost everything and need support and care while they rebuild their lives.
In these eight communities where homes were flooded only 25% of home owners were insured. After the floods in 2017 residents had trouble getting their homes insured and the cost of the premiums made it impossible for many to afford. Many of the residents are pensioners and could not afford the insurance with the premiums tripling in some cases. Home owners who were uninsured felt a glimmer of hope when the State government announced a $20,000 Back to Home grant to help rebuild for home owners that were impacted by the floods and uninsured. It was a big blow to home owners who applied to be told they were not eligible as they do not meet the grant’s definition of home owner as they pay site fees. After a lot of lobbying there was good news on 1 June 2022 when the Minister for Emergency Services and Resilience and Minister for Flood Recovery announced changes to the Back to Home grant’s guidelines to include all permanent residents who own their own homes in land lease communities in local government areas of Ballina, Byron, Clarence Valley, Hawkesbury, Kyogle, Lismore, Richmond Valley and Tweed.
For residents who were insured there have been delays in receiving payouts from their insurance company and for those that have received money there is a huge shortage of tradespeople and materials. This shortage will also make it difficult for home owners who receive the $20,000 government grant to rebuild their homes.
There are also ongoing drainage problems in communities and there is a feeling of dread when there is further forecast for more rains to hit the region as home owners are worried their homes will be inundated again. No one wants to fix the situation. Politicians came and walked through the communities to see the devastation but no one has heard from them since.
Despite homes being destroyed by the floods one operator has been continuing to charge home owners full site fees. The Residential Land Lease Communities Act 2013 (RLLC Act) states that where the site becomes wholly uninhabitable the site fees abate. In other communities operators have done the right thing and where homes are still uninhabitable, residents are not paying site fees. In some communities residents were also given free water and electricity. The RLLC Act says site fees should abate until the site becomes wholly habitable again. Residents who have not been given an abatement will now need to pursue a claim at NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal (NCAT) against the operator – given the financial and emotional stress currently on home owners this is an unnecessary further stress placed on them.
There has been a lot of false information from operators to residents on what they can and can’t do to their homes that have been damaged. Potential buyers who are looking at buying damaged homes to repair or replace have also been given incorrect information. This has been compounded by some early factsheets distributed by the Local Council which contained some incorrect information. This has been corrected by the Council but the old factsheets are still being circulated.
Examples of the false information we heard from residents are:
- Flood impacted homes would be demolished by the operator and new homes brought in and residents could have the first option to buy them. These homes are between $200,000 – $300,000 to buy.
- You are not allowed to raise your home to 1.2m despite Council approval.
- You are not permitted to repair your home if you received a payout from insurance company.
- Residents may demolish their home if it is not repairable but it can only be replaced with a caravan with a soft annex.
- You are allowed to do repairs but the home cannot be raised above the ground to mitigate from further flooding.
- You cannot repair manufactured homes. Only homes on wheels can be repaired.
One operator was offering home owners $5,000 – $10,000 to walk away from their damaged homes. Home owners need to understand their site agreements are valuable rights and should not be coerced into agreeing to things before they have received independent advice on the next steps they should take after this disaster. There are huge profits to be made by operators if they can acquire a site for $5,000.
If you have been flood-impacted and need advice on what your rights are in relation to repairing or replacing your home then we would encourage you to seek advice to ensure you are not acting on incorrect information. Details for your local Tenants Advice and Advocacy Service are on the back page. The customer service centre at your local Council will be able to direct you to the correct person at Council and the forms that will need to be completed for work that requires Council approval.
Some key points to consider:
- A home owner is entitled to repair damage to their own home and does not need consent from the operator to do the repairs.
- If you want to make significant changes to your home you will need consent from the operator and you will also need to check with your Local Council to ensure you comply with Local Government regulations.
This article was published in Outasite magazine issue 8. Outasite is published annually. Outasite Lite email newsletter, is sent several times a year – subscribe here. All past issues are available in the archive.