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Seniors who rent living in fear: report

Seniors living in rental accommodation are often afraid to ask for repairs to be done for fear of rent rises or eviction, according to new research that has found bullying of older tenants by landlords and management is rife.

The most vulnerable seniors, those who are homeless or living in boarding and lodging accommodation, have little or no legal protection and yet their numbers are growing, according to the report on security of tenure for seniors in Western Australia, which was launched on Monday.

Professor Eileen Webb

Professor Eileen Webb

The research by the University of Western Australia’s Law School said that state laws governing family accommodation agreements and enduring powers of attorney “urgently need to be changed” and it called for more education for seniors to prepare them in making accommodation decisions.

“In some cases older people can be evicted on a whim,” said the report’s lead author, Professor Eileen Webb.

The issue of older people experiencing homelessness or living in temporary accommodation is a growing national problem. Australian Ageing Agenda reported earlier this year on figures from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare that showed the proportion of clients aged 55 and over who accessed homelessness services increased by 14 per cent in 2012-13, compared to 3 per cent of all other age groups.

Professor Webb, who is co-director of the Consumer Research Unit in the Faculty of Law, said the report highlighted the urgent need for statutory regulation of family accommodation (assets for care) arrangements and a national register and tighter regulations governing enduring powers of attorney as the two most pressing areas.

“These areas are responsible for huge losses for older people, including the loss of their home, but there is little formality of legal protection and, if the matter has to be pursued in the court, the costs are prohibitive,” she said.

Among the report’s other recommendations were:

  • improved training and licencing for those in managerial positions, such as management in community housing, strata title and residential parks;
  • new WA laws to provide more security of tenure and protection for residents of residential parks and for boarders and lodgers;
  • a low or no cost legal advice service for seniors seeking assistance with housing issues;
  • recognition in legislation that financial and property abuses against older people are crimes and should be identified, pursued and sanctioned as such.

The research team conducted interviews and focus groups with seniors or their family members and friends, representatives from government and non-government organisations and agencies working with seniors and in the housing area.

“The insights were invaluable and took this project from being a sterile piece of academic work to research that, we hope, demonstrates the human face of housing issues affecting older people in Western Australia,” said Professor Webb.

She said the research began several years ago as the impact of Western Australia’s resources boom became evident. “While it brought years of prosperity for some, for many – especially those on lower and fixed incomes – the rising cost of living became problematic,” she said.

“Housing and rental prices soared and many people who had rented for many years found themselves unable to afford to stay in their homes or meet rising rental costs. Even those seniors who wanted to downsize faced difficulties regarding supply, location, price and amenity.

“As people age, housing security is of considerable importance and the downside of the changing economic circumstances was, in our view, falling disproportionately on older people.”

The research was commissioned by the Council on the Ageing Western Australia and funded by Lotterywest.

The full report will be available online early next year.

Professor Webb co-authored the report with Associate Professor Aviva Freilich, Pnina Levine and Ben Travia.

Related AAA coverage: On the fringes: seniors struggling for accommodation 


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