Elderly activist pushes for simpler retirement village contracts
ABC News
By Rebecca Turner
26 November 2016

On the cusp of turning 97, Keith Parsons is an unlikely activist.

But he has been spurred into action by his experience of living in a retirement village, where he claims the system, from its contracts to management rules, is so complex that it tips the balance in favour of developers over residents.

Over the past 16 years the former farmer has taught himself about strata title law, so he can better understand his rights as the owner of a strata villa in Perth's northern suburbs, and has written hundreds of letters to politicians and bureaucrats to point out where he feels the system is unfair.

He has had some minor victories in taking his retirement village managers to the State Administrative Tribunal, including an acknowledgement he was not invited to the first strata body meeting of the village, where important by-laws were set.

a 30% exit fee when he sells his villa

Chief among his current gripes is a condition of his contract that he has to pay the owner of his village a 30 per cent exit fee when he sells his villa.

Mr Parsons' daughter, Kerry Hunt, says retirement village contracts are complex and difficult for many seniors to understand when they sign up.

"There are ladies there might be in their 70s ... even 85, and they've just lost their husband and they're making that decision for themselves and they've never been in business or maybe never even had any career," she said.

"So it's quite difficult for those people and they're quite vulnerable."
 Kerry Hunt and Keith Parsons

PHOTO: Kerry Hunt (l) and her father Keith Parsons say retirement village contracts can be difficult to understand. (ABC News: Rebecca Turner)

Mr Parsons is not the only person with concerns about the contracts.

More than 100 people each month contact WA's Seniors Housing Advisory Service for help in understanding what is far from a simple system.

Seniors who do not want to stay in a traditional home have the choice of living in a retirement village, a lifestyle estate, a strata title development or, if necessary, a nursing home.

Each of these developments has its own contract, which can be a thick document full of legal language, rules and regulations.

It can include a range of fees, from entry and exit fees to maintenance costs, strata levies and reserve fund charges.

Seniors should seek professional advice

Earlier this year, the Department of Commerce introduced a new requirement for developers to provide all potential buyers with a statement outlining the costs and conditions of the contract.

Even so, Consumer Protection Acting Commissioner David Hillyard recommends that seniors get professional advice before signing on the dotted line.

"Our advice is never rush into any of these things," he said.

"And as much as you might need to think about a new way of living, nothing is quite that urgent that you need to do it tomorrow.

"We will live to regret hasty decisions and it's really important that people understand what they're going into."

National Lifestyle Villages managing director John Wood agreed contracts are complex, largely because they must meet legal requirements, and recommends that potential buyers seek advice.

"I think generally people don't get advice, on balance, and that market is very trusting," he said.

"And so it really does require operators with integrity operating with integrity."

Industry can do better
Mr Wood said the retirement industry needed to do a better job in explaining why the various fees were necessary.

"I constantly hear generally that people get quite annoyed and frustrated by the fees, the charges, the exit rents, those sort of things that are within the industry," he said.

"I think we need to do more to describe why they are there in the first place and whether people believe them to be a fair and valid fee or charge."

As for Keith Parsons, he wishes he had never moved into a retirement village and instead stayed on the farm.

But he admits his campaign helps to keep his brain sharp and his lust for life strong.

"I retired. Bloody terrible," he said. "By the time 12 months was up, I was nearly sitting here waiting for a weed to come up so I could pull the thing out.

"If I hadn't have found something else, I would have been in a box."


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