Rebecca Bryant, Advocate from VERTO South-West NSW TAAS
Rebecca Bryant works as a Tenant Advocate at VERTO, South West NSW Tenants Advice and Advocacy Service (TAAS). We asked Rebecca some questions about her experience of advising and advocating for land lease community residents.
When and how did you start working in land lease communities?
I began working in Land Lease Communities in July 2020 when I joined VERTO – South West Tenants Advice Service. Right in the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic, as a regional border resident for the first three months of my employment I was forced to work from home and I was unable to cross the border into NSW. Since then, I have hit the ground running in Albury assisting as many land lease communities clients in our region as I can.
What do you enjoy the most about working in land lease communities?
Without a doubt, my clients. I have been extremely lucky to work with some incredible people along the Murray Riverina region. My clients have taught me a lot, we have worked through some challenging situations and had some great wins at the Tribunal.
What has been challenging and surprising for you about this work?
The most challenging thing for me has been Covid-19. Tribunal hearings transitioned from face to face where we would be located at the Tribunal to pick up clients, to online where many clients may not have been aware of our service, or even had enough phone credit on the day to complete the hearing. We have also been very limited in the community education we can provide, and in visiting land lease communities in person – due to the pandemic. We work in very regional areas with some very vulnerable clients, and it worries me how many clients are now aware of the support we are able to provide.
The most surprising thing for me working in residential land lease communities is the audacity and lack of education of operators. From illegal lockouts to threats of violence, we have unfortunately seen it all in our area. Nothing surprises me any more in terms of what operators are capable of. It is so disappointing that residents are not better protected from rogue operators. I believe one of the ways we can resolve this is to apply a penalty offence for operators or employees of operators who have been seen breaching the rules of conduct – and for NSW Fair Trading to follow up with the penalty!
If you could change two things to improve the lives of land lease community residents, what would they be?
An amendment to the Residential (Land Lease) Communities Act 2013 giving more clarity that operators are responsible for the maintenance of essential site infrastructure. We are receiving more and more calls where vulnerable clients are being advised by their operator that they are required to pay for retaining walls or pre-existing fences on their properties. Operators under the legislation are required to provide a residential site in reasonable condition. Operators should not be allowed to burden home owners with the responsibility of maintaining site infrastructure.
Also needed is an amendment to the Act in regard to site fees in new site agreements. I personally feel that if site fees were transferable between owners during the sale process, it would provide more certainty to purchasers and reduce the amount of fair market value disputes. I know this is quite an issue for many residents in land lease communities across NSW.
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.