Submission to the Government of South Australia Review of the Residential Parks Act 2007

June 2016

COTA SA appreciates the opportunity to provide this submission to the Attorney-General's Department on its review of the Residential Parks Act 2007.

The Residential Parks Act is overdue for examination and reform. One of the key recommendations from the COTA SA State Budget 2016/17 submission was:

That the SA Government proceed as a matter of urgency with its proposed review of the Residential Parks Act 2007, and that the review includes a wide consultation process including COTA SA and the SA Residential Parks Residents Association (SARPRA).

This is a particular area of interest for COTA SA given the growing significance of residential park environments to older people looking for low cost, secure housing options.

The paucity affordable housing choices has increased the popularity of residential parks for people who are nearing or in retirement. The demand for affordable housing for older people is predicted to increase dramatically as the proportion of the population aged over 65 increases - from 14% in 2011 to 20% in 2036 (Shelter SA).

In a housing market that is largely unaffordable to South Australians living on a low income, and especially for single people, the residential parks model appears to offer a way to own your own home at a capital cost that is much less than private ownership. With more people than ever entering retirement either with substantial mortgages or not owning a home at all, the parks model appears very attractive.

When the model works well, residents report a high level of satisfaction which is enhanced by their sense of community and security. However, the proliferation of residential parks has highlighted gaps in the protections offered to residents. Although residential park living is largely targeted to the over 50s demographic, insufficient protections mean that for a number of reasons it does not always provide a secure environment in which to age.

Some of the issues for older people living in residential parks have commonality with those people who live in other forms of rental accommodation:

  • Insecurity of tenure (strongly linked to risk of homelessness)
  • Level and frequency of rent increases
  • Lack of other affordable options in the area
  • Insufficient notice to vacate
  • No financial support to relocate
  • Lack of physical accessibility or opportunity to make modifications

But Residential Parks also throw up some additional challenges:

  • Limited legislative framework to safeguard resident rights
  • Embedded networks (where park owners on-sell electricity to residents)
  • Location (where the park is in an area poorly serviced by public transport or away from social supports)
  • Inability to relocate (some homes in parks are not transportable)
  • Logistical difficulties and expense involved in moving a house
  • Availability of alternative sites in the same area
  • Special terms and conditions which apply only to people who live in residential parks
  • In the case of embedded networks, no discretion to use solar to defray energy costs (discount goes to the park owner)
  • Insufficient information provided to potential residents about the risks of not owning their house site.

Marketing of residential parks targets people over 50 as an "affordable lifestyle choice" for their retirement. The success of this promotion means that the demographic of parks residents tends to be older. As noted in the government's discussion paper, residents often enter a park on the assumption that they will remain there for a long time.

For the cohort of people who have invested in their homes within a residential park and seen it as a secure long term accommodation option to take them into older age, the prospect of literally having to "move house" has acute logistical, financial, physical and social ramifications. As we age, our capacity to manage critical life events becomes more challenging. COTA SA considers it is imperative that protections for residents are improved and they are fully informed of the pitfalls before entering into arrangements which may not offer the permanency they expect.

As noted in the discussion paper, the Residential Parks Act 2007 seeks to cover a range of residential arrangements within a park from casual occupancy to short term and long term. Our submission will specifically address issues arising from long term residency arrangements for older people within the parks model, focusing on people who provide their own building and lease the land it sits on.

Download the full submission