Home sweet home – for some

Retirement homes often promote themselves as offering residents independence, choice and comfort, but unfortunately some residents don’t always get what they bargained for, according to Consumer Action Law Centre’s Gerard Brody.

Living in a retirement home can have its advantages: community living, low-maintenance units, manicured grounds, scheduled activities and common facilities. However, our centre receives numerous complaints every year from residents who have found a very different story behind the scenes. Below are some of the most common complaints we receive.

Fees and charges
Retirement housing contracts are often very complex and may include a number of hidden fees and charges. The most significant fee is paid when leaving a village. This fee can be up to 35 per cent of the sale price of your unit. These fees may not be able to be quantified when you move in, which can leave you with a nasty shock when you look to move out of your unit. Residents may also be unable to afford to move into a new home after they have lost such a huge percentage of their sale proceeds.

Financial transparency and accountability
Residents pay significant amounts of money in fees and charges, which they expect will fund shared facilities. However, residents report that they can be kept in the dark about how much money managers are collecting and how much is spent on things that benefit residents.

Unbuilt facilities
Retirement homes may promise impressive shared facilities to prospective residents, even if these haven’t been built yet. It is important to view site plans and other evidence that construction will actually go ahead before you decide to move in. Some of our clients have been waiting over seven years for promised facilities to be built, and feel like they are living on a construction site.

Maintenance and repairs
Sometimes disputes arise about what ongoing maintenance and administration fees actually cover. It can be unclear from a residents’ contract who is responsible for what repairs and maintenance. We have seen disputes over everything from fences and tree lopping, to drainage and paving. You should clarify in writing before you move in for that which you will be responsible for, and what your ongoing fees will cover.

Dispute resolution
Often residents don’t understand their legal rights when a dispute arises, and specialist legal advice can be hard to find and often costly. While retirement homes may have an internal process to deal with complaints about management or disputes between residents, some residents say that they face threats and intimidation by management or other residents if they make a complaint. If a resident cannot resolve their complaint with management, they can make a complaint to their local consumer affairs regulator or take the matter to a court or tribunal. If you are having a dispute with your retirement home manager, contact your local consumer affairs office or community legal centre for advice.

For more information visit www.consumeraction.org.au.