Written by Bruce Giddings
Retirees have been flocking into Moreton Bay this year, with big numbers moving from the colder southern states for a piece of our sunny lifestyle. Plenty of Queenslanders are also heading for the Moreton.
Some cashed-up retirees opt for a downsized house or unit on a suburban block, while others are choosing either a unit in a retirement village, or increasingly, a home built in a Manufactured Housing Estate (MHE).
There are 2697 of these MHE home-sites in the Moreton Region, according to state government figures released in May. This is a smidgeon more than the number at the Sunshine Coast, which offers 2675 sites.
Bribie Island and Sandstone Point boast a total of 650 individual sites, while Caboolture and Morayfield have 483 sites. Burpengary tops them all with 827 MHE sites on offer.
These estates are known by various names, such as Over 55’s Living, Lifestyle Village, Resort Village, and Retirement Community.
While a Manufactured Housing Estate may look similar to a traditional retirement village, it is in fact, a very different beast. The differences between the two are buried in the legalities, the fine print beneath which the homeowner signs their name.
Residents of a traditional retirement home sign a license to occupy in most cases, while the MHE homeowner leases the land under their home from the company running the village.
The park owner often bundles the lease for each individual site together with charges for utilities, although sometimes fees for utilities and facilities are charged separately. Facilities provided may include heated pools, barbeque areas, gymnasiums, cinemas, even bowling greens and off-lead dog parks.
This package of charges is written into a document usually known as a Site Agreement, where issues like rent reviews and conditions around the eventual sale of the home are also covered.
Confusion around rental increases and the conditions around the sale of homes have ignited some fierce arguments between homeowners and park owners over the years. Many of these disputes have escalated into sensational public brawls aired in capital city print media and on television.
As recently as October 2020, Channel Nine news reported that 103 residents at a Burpengary Village were “disputing a rental increase and a charge for excess water, saying the charges were unjustified.” At the time of the news report, the dispute had dragged on for over 12 months.
The beginnings of todays Manufactured Housing Estate can be traced back decades to the caravan park of the mid-20th century. Caravan parks have traditionally offered sites for permanent residents who owned their own demountable home or caravan.
But state laws that regulate site agreements have not kept pace in the 21st century. Today’s high-tech homes bear little resemblance to the old fashioned demountables and dongas of yesteryear, and the services and facilities provided by MHE park owners have increased in number and complexity.
The outdated laws will undergo a review over the next year or two, potentially benefiting both park operators and home owners.
In the meantime, the current laws allow for three different types of rent increases. There are general increases, such as regular CPI adjustments outlined in the agreement, periodic reviews against the market, and special increases.
Special increases allow the park owner to impose extra rent costs not written into the site agreement. These may include increases in unforeseen operational costs such as rates, taxes or utility costs for the park or an upgrade of facilities. Such increases must be agreed to by at least 75% of residents or may be imposed by the tribunal.
Another unwelcome surprise for some homeowners can be difficulty selling their house. Sometimes the home is marketed by the park owner, who may be also marketing their own brand-new homes. This could be viewed by some as a conflict of interest. Even if the homeowner can engage an outside real estate agent, there are sometimes obstacles to making the sale, making for a delay of months, or even years.
Intending MHE Residents can learn more about any potential pitfalls in the paperwork by seeking expert advice.
The Associated Residential Parks Queensland (ARPQ) is a group set up to help homeowners to gain knowledge of their rights under these site agreements. It is a non-profit organisation, that runs an advisory service able to answer almost any question.
Vice President of the ARPQ, David Kennedy, stresses the importance of gathering advice prior to signing a site agreement. “Homeowners can save themselves a lot of grief if they get good advice early on in the sign-up process. A bit of extra knowledge about the document could save them a lot of money down the track, not to mention the worry and lost sleep.”
For homeowners already in a residential park, or those considering buying in, the ARPQ can help provide clarity around a site agreement and provide valuable advice on other common issues.
Intending, or existing homeowners can contact the ARPQ through their new website, arpq.org.au or phone (07) 3040 2344.