Posted on 07. Sep, 2012 in Speeches

Mr LIM (Clayton) — I rise to speak on the Residential Tenancies and Other Consumer Acts Amendment Bill 2012. As a member who spoke on the Residential Tenancies (Further Amendment) Bill 2005 in this house, I welcome the opportunity to revisit the issues facing tenants in residential parks. In the few minutes available to me I will focus my contribution on clause 8 of this bill, which inserts new section 206JA into the Residential Tenancies Act 1997. This clause contains provisions related to the purchasing of dwellings in residential parks.

In the 2005 debate I made the point that some people are drawn to residential parks as a more affordable option than a retirement village. However, the reason they are cheaper is that while the resident owns the dwelling, sometimes referred to as a demountable or movable dwelling — that is to say, the home in which they live — they lease the land on which it sits. These parks are technically caravan parks, but the owner could hardly tow their home to another caravan park should something go wrong at the residential park in which they are living. This bill extends in some circumstances the cooling‑off period for the purchase of the dwelling to 20 days, but in my view it is limited and will not protect purchasers in all circumstances. I will go into this issue now.

The underlying problem is that there is an imbalance in the relationship between the owner or operator of the residential park and the resident or tenant. The imbalance occurs precisely because the resident leases the land but cannot easily relocate their dwelling. In 2010 the previous Labor government through the Residential Tenancies Amendment Bill 2010 extended the notice to vacate period from 120 days to 365 days to provide residents with some security. We also provided in respect of the lease a precontractual period of at least 20 business days to consider the site agreement and a cooling‑off period of 5 days. This bill extends the cooling‑off period on the purchase of the dwelling to 20 days, but only where it is bought from or through the operator of the residential park. This is welcome as far as it goes, but it is not going to protect all purchasers.

Some owners of dwellings choose to sell them directly or through estate agents rather than through the operator of the residential park. Some vendors have very good reasons not to sell their dwelling through the residential park operator. You might recall, Acting Speaker, that in the 2005 debate I referred to the rogue operator of the Summerhill Residential Park in Reservoir, a Mr Steve Wellard. In part of my contribution to the debate, which I would like to quote, I said:

But Mr Wellard is no Robin Hood, stealing from the rich to give to the poor. He is not even in the mould of Ned Kelly, who arguably was standing up for the rights of poor farmers. He does not even steal from the poor to give to the rich, as the Liberals are wont to do with acts of Parliament, such as the original Residential Tenancies Act. No, Steve Wellard takes from the poor to feed his own inflated ego, his own monstrous megalomania. What sort of man screws his elderly pensioner tenants for more than they can afford to pay and openly displays his ill‑gotten wealth in the form of not one or two but three top‑of‑the‑range Mercedes‑Benz cars? That man has no morals or even any good sense. What greater obscenity can there be than parading his gross wealth in this way, in front of his pension tenants? …

The man is a greater schemer and a worse villain than Ebenezer Scrooge, who at least played by the rules. Steve Wellard likes to make up his own rules.

I also pointed out in that debate that Mr Wellard was defended by the then member for Hawthorn, which is not surprising when one considers that Mr Wellard was an architect from Hawthorn. I would have hoped that there were some decent operators of residential parks, but Mr Wellard was not one of them. Because he would force owners to sell their dwellings through him but not necessarily promote those dwellings to prospective purchasers, owners took to selling their dwellings through real estate agents.

That is where this bill is deficient. If a prospective resident signs a lease with an operator such as Wellard, they will have a cooling‑off period of 20 days. However, if at the same time they have signed a purchase contract through an estate agent or directly with the owner of the dwelling, then they can be forced to go through with the purchase of the dwelling. To take this a step further, they could be forced to purchase the dwelling even if the lease for the land on which it was located had fallen through. The government really should look at extending the cooling‑off period for the purchase of the dwelling to people who buy in a way other than from or through the operator of the residential park.

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