‘Elder abuse’ inside retirement villages: Residents air grievances, back law overhaul

Retirement village residents aired grievances to the Government authority which has recommended a law change, telling of what one called “elder abuse”.

Te Ara Ahunga Ora Retirement Commission received many public but anonymous submissions from residents unhappy with how villages operate.

No capital gain, a substantial power imbalance between residents and owner/operators, lack of a timeframe on when occupation rights have to be bought back after someone dies, lack of transparency on fees and issues transferring from independent living to rest homes and hospitals were some of the central issues.

One resident said they had complained to the owner/operator about lack of ground maintenance but those complaints went unanswered so the resident whose name was withheld told the management: “I would reduce my monthly payment by a small amount and take care of weeding around my unit myself.”

According to consultants JLL, around 47,000 people lived in villages owned by the big six owner/operators at the end of last year: Ryman Healthcare, Summerset Group, Arvida Group, Oceania, Metlifecare and Bupa.

The complaint about maintenance brought an immediate response. The resident was told the occupation rights agreement which gave that person the right to live in the unit would be then breached “in other words they have the power to begin an eviction process knowing full well that I don’t have the financial resources to fight back – a classical example of bullying by the operator – elder abuse.”

Poto Williams, Associate Housing Minister, says the sector needs reform, particularly to present clearer contracts and deal far better with complaints.

Other residents complained of “being steamrolled” into accepting a settlement fee on the sale of a unit that no court would describe as true or fair.

A couple said they thought they had asked all the right questions before buying but “we really didn’t know the half of it.” Much was pleasing but “disturbingly there is much that doesn’t please”.

The inherent power imbalance between wealthy owner/operators and residents was described by another as “what a nightmare, what a wonderful opportunity for operators to play hard and fast with the rules.”

Older people can be easily and frequently unknowingly taken advantage of and retirement village owners and operators were not immune from “this type of despicable behaviour”.

People in their 80s and 90s were unlikely to make submissions, one said.

Problems with staff at villages parking vehicles in front of residents’ units during the day and at nights meant people felt “hassled”, having sold their forever homes only to be faced with that and many other issues.

One sought a share of capital gain, saying it should be two-thirds to the owner/operator and a third to the resident because “50-50 seems too much to hope for”. Giving an enormous financial gain to the operator was unfair. Lack of capital gain was “mischievous” and many other ORA terms were unfair or silent on the definition.

Villages were “greedy” for money and current law was “manifestly weighted towards the interests (profits) of owners” in a captive market with few options.

“Bad” village owners should be named so the public was aware of them, a submitter said.

Settlement to vacating residents – usually due to death – was delayed by villages selling newer units to get in more money while keeping existing money.

More units were being built in villages “but they are not maintaining older ones very well.”

Feedback was also provided on Māori experiences of retirement villages.

“As a whanau who have recently experienced both the privilege and the challenge of caring for a beloved elderly parent, we found the retirement home exploratory journey almost as traumatic as navigating the DHB senior home care provisions! There is most
definitely a need for issues equity, cultural sensitivity, tikanga Māori to be incorporated into any future draft,” that submitter said of a possible law change.

The exit conditions for the occupational right agreements were “harsh penalties for older and vulnerable citizens”, another submitter said.

Retirement villages should not be allowed to keep all capital gains at the exit.

Introducing a new guaranteed timeframe for buyback and the restriction of charging the weekly fee on vacating the unit was also necessary.

The pro-rata allocation of capital gains would make retirement villages attractive as this is often the stumbling block for people to buy into a village.

“They need to resolve the issues around the sale of a unit re the time frame and the charging of weekly fees to be fair to the person having to sell and totally agree they need to resolve the situation re needing to move to a care unit again to be fair to the resident,” one said.

But whether the white paper would be taken seriously and actually acted on was questioned.

More emphasis could be placed on the transition from independent living to ongoing care, as many residents were confused by the difficulty of accessing ongoing care such as the procedures, who makes the decision, the involvement of DHBs etc, a submitter said.

“I would like to see a table of comparisons of the many minor charges made, for example for housekeeper hours, changing dressings, showering, dressing, a glass of wine, a stubbie of beer, frequency of happy hour, medical call-outs to independent residents, meals, casual meals,” one resident said.

“I have been in a townhouse for five years. In that time my $465,000 house has appreciated in value $75,000 and the operator has gained 20 per cent of what I paid for it. This is a gain of $168,00 to the operator. OK, that was the deal. My point is: with such a huge gain from residents, surely the operator could afford to give some of the capital gain back to each resident!”

Clarity was also called for on the real estate credentials of people selling retirement village units.

Currently, they don’t need to be licensed under the Real Estate Agents Act 2008.

Lobby group for owner/operators the Retirement Village Association Retirement village giants have

“improvements” to the sector after Poto Williams, the Retirement Commission and Consumer NZ called for change.

Graham Wilkinson, association president, announced changes to the complaints system and the length of payback time once people die or go into different village properties, like a hospital.

At the association’s national conference in Auckland, Wilkinson cited “providing residents with a stronger voice, strengthening the complaints process and working with the Commission for Financial Capability to monitor re-licensing times”.

Wilkinson announced that the retirement village sector had launched a comprehensive blueprint for a range of improvements to the industry.

“The association will also explore establishing an ombudsman to hear and resolve complaints and invite an independent member of the public to sit on its executive to represent residents’ interests,” the association said.

The ombudsman would be industry-funded, like in the insurance and banking industries, it said.

This month, the association appointed ex-Minister for Seniors Tracey Martin to investigate making changes.

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