How things happen: the case of Queens Lake Village

The rights of RV residents to demand more detailed budgets will be tested in this case that residents are likening to ‘David versus Goliath’

By Keryn Curtis

This story is provided as background to the story, The devil’s in the detail: RV residents vs operators

Residents of Queens Lake Village, with support from the Retirement Village Residents Association (RVRA) have spent the last two weeks planning the protest over Stockland’s decision to lodge an appeal with the District Court in NSW against a decision, granted in favour of the residents, by the Consumer, Trader and Tenancy Tribunal (CTTT) in December last year.

The CTTT decision relates to a dispute between Stockland and the residents association of the village over the residents’ refusal to approve the annual budget for 2010-2011 because of insufficient detail provided for two line items involving ‘insurance’ and ‘corporate recharge’.

Yesterday, the residents association of Queens Lake Village accepted an offer from Stockland via its CEO, Retirement Living, David Pitman, which included a reversal of the company’s decision to seek costs and an offer to pay residents’ legal fees up to the value of $50,000.

The Dispute
The matter, heard by the Consumer, Trader and Tenancy Tribunal (CTTT) in early November 2010 concerned the rejection by Queens Lake Village (QLV) residents of the 2010-2011 budget on the grounds that there was insufficient detail concerning two line items – for ‘insurance’ and ‘corporate recharge’.  At the time, Queens Lake Village was owned by Aevum. Stockland acquired the village in December 2010.

According to the representative of Queens Lake Village residents association, John Cooper, changes to the Retirement Villages Act 1999, (Section 4, 17(2)) which took effect in March 2010, meant that residents were entitled last year, for the first time, to receive more detailed breakdowns of costs presented in the annual budget.

“This budget had a one-word line item that just said ‘insurance’.  The line item, ‘corporate recharge’ gave some details but not enough to satisfy the residents in order that they could make an informed decision about accepting the budget,” said Mr Cooper.

“The revision of the Act which came into force on 1 March required details and transparency from the operator on line items presented in the budget and we realised that for the first time, we had the opportunity to exercise our right and request that detail.”

With no agreement being reached, the dispute was referred separately by both Stockland and the QLV residents association to the CTTT.  Submissions and negotiations following a directional hearing held in August further failed to reach a compromise between the two parties and the matter went to a full hearing on 8 November 2010.

Mr Cooper, who represented the residents of Queens Lake Village throughout the process, says the presiding Member of the Tribunal was keen to get some conciliation and compromise but two adjournments allowed for this purpose during the three hour hearing – one between the two representatives alone, the other with the Member present – were unsuccessful. 

“Then the Member briefly discussed the submissions.  I was given the opportunity to make an opening statement, then the operator’s representative replied. The Member made comments on a number of points, particularly in respect to the lack of detail given to residents with the budget papers.

“I was then given the opportunity to comment on the operator’s submission, which I did by pointing out a number of what we considered to be inaccurate or misleading statements,” said Mr Cooper.

“The operator’s representative was then given the opportunity to reply but stated that a lot of what I had said was not accurate and which he could refute, but thought that this was not the time or place.

“My thought was that, if this was not the time or place, then when will it be appropriate?” he said. 

The matter, remaining unresolved between the two parties, was left to the presiding Member who advised that he would reserve his decision and give written findings in three or four weeks.

A 16 page, 77 point ‘notice of order’ issued by the CTTT to John Cooper on 9 December concluded that “… the determination, for the reasons expressed above, must be that both the ‘insurance’ and the ‘corporate recharge’ items are excluded from the 2010-2011
annual budget.”

‘Less than transparent’
According to a history of the matter, written by John Cooper and published in the RVRA website, the residents at QLV received a letter from Stockland’s Retirement Living Division Operational Manager, Paul Burkett on Christmas eve, December 24th.  The letter, dated 23 December, stated that: “Stockland had just received the information and is currently reviewing it. We will keep you informed once the review is completed.”

Cooper says he and his fellow residents celebrated Christmas feeling they had pursued their dispute via the available legal process and a fair judgement had been made.

However, on 10 January, Cooper says he received a Summons Commencing an Appeal from the District Court in Sydney.  The summons was dated 23 December – the same day that Stockland’s Retirement Living Division Operational Manager had issued his letter to the residents, saying the company was reviewing the CTTT decision.

According to Cooper’s published view of the case, on the 23rd December, Stockland’s legal representative, “presumably with the full knowledge and authority of Stockland’s senior management, lodged the appeal documents with the District Court.”

Cooper writes: “The content of the letter from Paul Burkett, and the timing of its delivery give evidence of the less than transparent intent of the operator, and is indicative of the way in which they treat the residents in their villages.

“The Residents believed that by participating in a CTTT hearing, the differences of opinion between them and the operator could be resolved in respect to the two line items in dispute.  The Residents advised the CTTT both verbally and in writing that they would accept the decision handed down by the experienced Tribunal Senior Member.  The matter before the court shows that the Plaintiff was not willing to accept the Umpire’s decision.”
Mr Cooper said that while there were incidents like this, “there are many villages where the operator does the right thing and everyone gets on really well and everyone is happy.  There are some really good operators out there but there are also some bloody bushrangers,” he said.

 “An RV is a great place to live, we look after each other, it’s very social.  We like to have a party…my sister just came into this village…and I had no hesitation in encouraging her,” Cooper said.

“We just objected to the fact that they wouldn’t tell us what we were paying for.”

“We just need to sort this problem out and get on with it.  The operators have a right to appeal it to the court but they made us the defendant and WE didn’t make the decision!  And they applied for all their costs, incidental to the decision, to be paid by residents.”

The current status:
Following a meeting to discuss Stockland’s offer with members of the QLV residents association yesterday, Mr Cooper said residents were “very happy, of course, with the outcome at this stage; knowing now there is no financial burden hanging over us for now.” 

In addition to withdrawing the claim for costs and offering to pay $50,000 in legal fees for the residents association, Stockland is seeking a postponement of the proposed 8 February hearing.   Read more on the outcome in this related story.

Resident letters and comments regarding the case are provided at the RVRA website where a dedicated page has been established.

Tags: consumer-trader-and-tenancy-tribunal, cttt, david-pitman, john-cooper, queens-lake-village, retirement-living, retirement-village-residents-association, retirement-villages, retirement-villages-act-1999, stockland,

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