An Independent Voice
By Jill Edmonds, Independent Park Residents Action Group (IPRAG) founder
The Independent Park Residents Action Group (IPRAG Inc) began to take shape in 2013 when twenty-two home owners’ representatives travelled to the Central Coast for an urgent meeting. The meeting was prompted by two issues.
The Residential Land Lease Communities Bill with its controversial provisions still in place was scheduled for Parliament’s assent in November. At the same time Government was to discontinue its funding for the Park and Village Service (PAVS).
For seventeen years Government had funded PAVS to advocate on behalf of park residents. It has always been the case that the majority of home owner residents have little knowledge of the legislation that governs their lifestyle or where to turn to for help when things go wrong.
During those seventeen years as the legislation evolved, PAVS assisted residents and their communities by providing free information and education -- in person and via published material -- as well as training volunteer residents to prepare and present cases for the Tribunal. By publication of reports and other interactions PAVS kept Fair Trading informed about problems in parks and where there was need for improved consumer protections for residents.
An independent report had recently found that PAVS was exceeding its funding obligations and concluded that continuation of such a service was clearly necessary. Regardless of that, Government went on to indicate that it would no longer fund any specialist advocacy service specific to residential parks.
The loss of PAVS meant the loss of the Residential Parks Forum.* Since its beginning PAVS had convened the Forum four times every year. Residents’ representatives were brought together with legal advisors for the sharing and noting of current information from around the state: problems caused by inadequacies of the Act, unethical behaviour by operators, Tribunal cases won and lost were analysed.
By maintaining the Forum PAVS had created an informal network of residents who functioned as a mutual support group and were equipped to coordinate in lobbying together for improved protections for residents.
At our initial meeting on the Central Coast it was decided that the network was too valuable to be disbanded. We would continue it under the IPRAG title when PAVS was defunded. A committee was elected and, funded by donations from within the group, IPRAG was registered as an incorporated association.
With November looming IPRAG conducted a media campaign. We focussed on the most unfair and exploitative provisions of the proposed Act and the extraordinary power of operators to control the financial and personal wellbeing of their residents. We met with our local MPs and numerous key Members of Parliament as did other concerned entities. Consequently, when the day arrived almost thirty amendments were proposed. All but one were defeated. The powers-that-be were sticking to the claim that this was a fair and balanced document.
Between then and now electricity charges have emerged as a major problem. Apart from that, not surprisingly, most of problematic issues being examined in the current review are the same that we fought for in the previous review. Are we allowed to say, “We told you so?”
Over the years people have come and gone from IPRAG. (None of us are spring chickens.) Today we describe ourselves as follows.
“Established in 2013 IPRAG Inc is a volunteer network of land lease community home owners. We are comprised of individual activists, residents’ committees, regional incorporated associations and experienced Tribunal advocates. IPRAG has an elected committee but otherwise is not a ‘fee for membership’ organisation.
Our committee members, with up to thirty years experience, live in or have lived in land lease communities from the Queensland border to Western Sydney. We have extensive knowledge of the legislative framework supported by specialist legal advice on call. Because we have minimal administration costs we are able to provide cost free information and general assistance for residents as well as Tribunal advocates when appropriate.
IPRAG consults with relevant organisations, engages with the media and lobbies Government and Members of Parliament regarding issues that impact the wellbeing of home owners. IPRAG is not allied in any way with any sector of Government or the land lease industry.
We are confident in stating that currently we represent the prevailing views of approximately five thousand home owners.
Our objective is to ensure mutual respect and a workable balance of rights and responsibilities between home owners and community operators.”
IPRAG is often asked, what are our main issues for reform? That’s a difficult question. So many issues have been dissected and debated over so many years. Putting aside the problems of electricity charges and looking at things broadly, probably most problems arise from the appalling behaviour of far too many operators and the failure of the Fair Trading regulator in its duties of compliance and enforcement.
The Act is clearly at fault for provisions that facilitate hugely unwarranted site fee increases that residents struggle to pay. This also impacts their ability to sell their homes when they need to leave the community. There is the additional power granted to operators to interfere in the sale of homes by refusing consent for assignment of the seller’s site agreement to a prospective buyer. The Act also gives encouragement to operators to transfer to residents a range of costs that actually increase the value of the operator’s assets. The “we told you so” line returns to mind.
The indicator that things would go wrong for residents can be found in Part 1 of the Act where the previous objective, to provide legislative protection for residents was replaced by the objective to encourage the growth and viability of the industry.
To add a personal note, I would be thrilled if people who are somewhat fearful could be convinced that their operator cannot simply evict them from their homes if they do or say something that might upset him or her.
In July last year IPRAG was pleased to be consulted as a stakeholder in the formulation of the review discussion paper. The final consultations that produced the Bill for the 2013 Act were conducted in strictest confidence without inclusion of anyone who actually lived in park, who had firsthand knowledge of the realities and the most to lose. There was much controversy around the lack of transparency and questions were asked in Parliament. Without resident home owners there is no land lease industry. There will be a repeat of controversy if residents are excluded again from the final process.
Having said all that, it must be acknowledged that the 2013 Act did provide a number of significant improvements for residents along with some innovative strategies. These were important steps in the right direction that we should remember. We should also acknowledge all ethical operators who manage to run a profitable business without using the shortcomings of the Act to exploit their resident homeowners.
IPRAG Inc can be contacted after 1pm, any day of the week: Ph: 4365 4237 M: 0423 429 841 jilledmonds [at] dodo.com.au
*In 2014 the Tenants’ Union received additional funding for parks work and assumed responsibility for convening the residential parks forum (now the Residential Land Lease Communities Forum).
This article was published in Outasite magazine issue 7. Outasite is published annually. Outasite Lite email newsletter, is sent several times a year – subscribe here. All past issues are available in the archive.