In line with his recent threats to stamp out “rogue” lifestyle community operators, the state’s Housing Minister Mick de Brenni has pushed through new legislation for Manufactured Home Estates designed to protect residents from market rent increases during the pandemic – citing their human rights to dignity, equality and freedom.
Under the new regulations – which have been passed under the Human Rights Act 2019 and were originally introduced in May this year but only came into effect late last month – market rent increases will be limited for the period between 19 March and 31 December 2020.
Noting that lifestyle communities “can create a power imbalance” between residents and operators because of the challenges of actually relocating a manufactured home, the legislation lists a range of COVID reasons that it was required, including:
- Home owners being unable to involve themselves in the consultation process during the preparation of a market valuation which identifies the increase amount for the market review.
- Home owners being unable to dispute site rent increases in the ordinary timeframes, due to the public health restrictions or the stress and anxiety caused by the pandemic.
- Home owners feeling unable to meet, plan and organise among themselves during the pandemic resulting in substantially reduced ability to negotiate collectively.
- Home owners facing financial impacts due to the loss of income through COVID-19 impacts on employment.
- Home owners facing significant market rent review increases accompanied by park owner offers for reduced (but still significant) increases in exchange for giving up their rights to seek a review of the market rent review process and increase, during a period of great anxiety and stress.
- Increases in site rent despite reductions in services or amenity due to closure of facilities due to COVID-19.
Enhanced dispute resolution rights for residents
The legislation gives residents who had a market review between 19 March and 24 May 2020, increased dispute resolution rights to take into account the disruption caused by COVID-19.
These residents now have until 20 November 2020 to initiate a dispute if they believe the market review was excessive.
If the matter goes before the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal (QCAT), the tribunal can consider these circumstances when determining if the market review of site rent was excessive.
If an operator already concluded a market rent review between 25 May 2020 and commencement of the Regulation, and gave the general increase notice to home owners before 8 June 2020, the review stands and the increase will go ahead – provided the operator gives 14 days notice, though the increased amount will be deferred until 1 January 2021.
Operators must refund residents who had rents increased without notice
For operators that had not given residents notice, the increase is suspended and automatically replaced by an increase reflecting the annual change in the Consumer Price Index (CPI).
Any additional amounts paid by home owners over this amount must be refunded by operators by 6 November 2020.
Further market reviews between the passing of the new regulations and 31 December 2020 are also banned.
The question is now: could these measures be extended into 2021 if the Minister deems residents’ human rights to still be at risk?