Sandy Gilbert: Resident advocate
Sandy Gilbert is an advocate for residents of land lease communities in the Tweed area and a member of the Residential Parks Forum. She agreed to share her story with us for this issue of Outasite.
How long have you been an advocate and how did you get involved?
My journey with residential parks started back in 2009 when I retired from work and relocated to Port Macquarie. We moved into a park on the banks of the Hastings River, which consisted of homes for holiday-makers and permanent residents. We purchased our home from the operator who was manufacturing homes that could be put on to sites within the park.
It was only about three months after purchasing the home that I discovered it did not comply with the Local Government (Manufactured Home Estates, Caravan Parks, Camping Grounds and Moveable Dwellings) Regulation. I arrived home one day to find someone had been on the roof cutting a section out of the roofline. It was this experience that eventually led to me becoming an advocate to assist other residents.
After many phone calls to NSW Fair Trading and the local council I was given the phone number for ARPRA (Affiliated Residential Parks Residents Association) in the Port Macquarie area. I had the assistance of Lesley Wakeling and the late Tom Johnson who were volunteer Advocates for ARPRA in Port Macquarie. Tom and Lesley swung into action to help fight the fight with solicitors, Tribunals and Council. They also passed on their knowledge and experience and inspired me to also become an Advocate.
I no longer live in a residential park but I have continued to advocate for residents and to fight for better residents’ rights. I believe it helps to live in a park when you are an Advocate because this enables you to fully understand the issues. However, the experience and knowledge you gain through being a resident and Advocate stays with you.
After moving to the Tweed from Port Macquarie I was part of a team of residents and Advocates that formed ARPRA Tweed Coast. Then, in June 2014 a group of residents and I decided to form a local organisation just for the Tweed area. Along with Tom George, Len Hogg, Jim Creek, Faye Wilson and Denis May I was a founding member of the Tweed Residential Parks Homeowners Association (TRPHA).
Tell us about Tweed Residential Parks Homeowners Association
We knew that the law was going to change. The new Residential Land Lease Communities Act 2013 was set to replace the Residential Parks Act 1998 and we saw a need for a local group that could assist residents, who would become known as home owners under the new Act. TRPHA offers a choice and a voice in helping to ensure home owner’s rights are protected.
We are very fortunate to have Len Hogg as a current and founding member of our Association. Len is a true gentleman with many years experience in residential parks. Len has been an Advocate for a long time and he has battled operators at the Tribunal and at the Supreme Court. He gained legendary status standing up for his rights and representing other residents who were affected by the closure of Banora Point Caravan Park.
Len continues to work for home owners and passes on his knowledge and words of wisdom to all of us all at TRPHA.
The Advocates at TRPHA are just a phone call away for any problems that may arise at any time on any day. We are also available for a friendly chat to put a residents’ minds at ease.
What issues is TRPHA dealing with at present?
We are doing a lot of work with home owners who were given occupancy agreements when they should have had site agreements. This has led to a lot of jurisdictional issues being raised at the Tribunal (NCAT). We are also dealing with a number of site fee increases and some issues around disclosure statements.
What is the one thing you would change to improve the rights of home owners in NSW?
Top of the list would have to be operator behaviour. We have some wonderful operators who are always open to meetings and negotiating site fee increases and other matters that arise in land lease community living. They understand the vulnerability of home owners and are reasonable and considerate. On the other hand, we have the total opposite with operators who have no consideration for home owners or their Advocates. These operators are unreasonable, they refuse to negotiate and prefer instead to use tactics such as intimidation.
I’m going to be cheeky here and say I would also like to see improved access to information for potential home owners. I know that NSW Fair Trading have a publication for potential home owners that operators are required to give to them but it isn’t enough. The booklet does not advise people about the potential pitfalls and I think it should.
I would also like Fair Trading to hold regular information seminars for people who are considering moving into land lease communities. This would give people the opportunity to ask questions and if Fair Trading worked with local residents groups we could come along and talk with the participants as well.
What is good about being an advocate?
We are very fortunate at TRPHA to have the assistance of Julie Lee and Paul Smyth from the Tenants’ Union. Our connection with the Tenants’ Union provides the opportunity to attend forums in Sydney together with many other Advocates from across NSW. We meet and exchange knowledge, have workshops and share our experiences with each other. This enables us to work together for the benefit of all residents of land lease communities.
It is a wonderful experience being an Advocate but it also has its lows. It is heartbreaking seeing residents reduced to tears by the actions of operators.
The highs include getting good outcomes at the Tribunal for home owners and those occasions when you are able to communicate and negotiate with operators. Witnessing the smiles on the faces of home owners when you have helped them to get a positive outcome is gold!
For anyone thinking of being an Advocate for land lease community residents, the words of the late Christina Steel, (an Advocate in Port Stephens) will stay in my heart forever. She said “Never give up, one person can make a difference, especially when the one becomes many!”