Margaret Reckless faces further challenges
The Tenants’ Union of NSW has been following and supporting Margaret Reckless' fight for her rights in the residential land lease community she has lived in for the past six years. Over that time she has had some great wins which have led to positive outcomes for many other residents living in land lease communities across NSW.
In January 2019 in Outasite lite 33 we published an article about Margaret’s battle against the operator of her community who were overcharging for electricity they were supplying to residents through an embedded network. Margaret took the matter all the way to the Supreme Court of NSW and when the matter returned to the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal the Reckless method for calculating electricity charges in an embedded network in residential land lease communities was born.
In our 2020 Outasite magazine we wrote about the latest battle over electricity charges with many operators outsourcing electricity supply within their embedded networks to the retailer Hum Energy. Margaret was one of the impacted residents and as a result of the operator's decision was facing very large electricity price increases. Margaret took a stand on this issue and refused to accept a transfer to Hum. In Outasite 2021 we wrote about two notices of termination for breach which were served on Margaret by the operator which she disputed as retaliatory in the Tribunal.
Sadly in August 2021 in our Outasite lite 40 we had more to report on Margaret’s situation and we outlined the latest challenge facing Margaret with her operator obtaining development consent to develop the site which included removing Margaret’s home to facilitate a new access road in the community. At the time we wrote the article it was unclear when the operator would commence this work.
We were very sad to hear that Margaret's home in Ballina Waterfront Village & Tourist Park was inundated with flood waters on the 1st March 2022. Margaret lost all her possessions including her car in the floods. At 6.20am Margaret received a text message informing her she needed to evacuate the community by 7am due to rising flood waters. With such little time all Margaret could grab was some important paperwork and she walked out the door of her home. As her car would not start she needed to get a lift from a neighbour to the evacuation centre at the Bowling Club in Ballina.
The next six months saw Margaret move between caravan parks, motels and hotels. All up Margaret moved seven times to different emergency accommodation after she spent the first night in the evacuation centre. One month was spent at the Rydges Hotel on the Gold Coast. Margaret and many other people impacted by floods were bused up to the Gold Coast as school holiday bookings meant accommodation was scarce in the Northern Rivers area in April. Margaret wonders what the overseas travellers staying at the five star hotel must have been thinking as the Northern Rivers flood impacted residents stepped off the coaches with all their belongings in plastic bags. Despite it being a nice hotel it was not an easy place to stay for the month. There were no cooking facilities and they were nowhere near any shops. Margaret had to travel to Tweed to go to the shops or buy food at the airport which was expensive.
After many more moves to different motels Margaret was offered a two year lease on one of the new pods that were placed at Wollongbar in response to the accommodation crisis caused by the floods. The site is about 20 minutes from Lismore and currently is home to approximately 150 people plus their pets. The pods are managed by North Coast Community Housing. Margaret says her new home is lovely and everything is brand new, “It's a lovely community where everyone is in the same boat and close bonds are being formed.” The onsite staff are actively helping to build the community by providing a community garden, children’s playground, pancake days and regular bbqs.
Unfortunately the move into the pod has not gone smoothly for Margaret. On the second night of living in the pod Margaret went out for a walk at dusk. The area where the pods have been placed is still under construction and important safety features were missing with no external lighting or markings on the walkways. Margaret walked off the edge of some steps and smashed her arm into a concrete bollard. As a result of the fall Margaret has broken her wrist and it's been in plaster for six weeks. This has impacted her ability to get around as she cannot drive and has therefore made her more isolated and reliant on others to access services.
With many elderly people moving into the pods not having safety issues attended to is a big concern of Margaret’s. The day after Margaret’s accident portable tower lights were brought in to light up the streets and plastic reflective strips have been installed on the street where she fell. The staff on site have been wonderful and have been checking on her since the accident.
It's been a very long road for Margaret since the 1st March 2022. Margaret feels like many elderly people impacted by the floods, that she has lost her dignity and independence. She is very grateful for the evacuation centres and donations she has received. Without this help she is unsure of what would have happened to her. She even needed the basics, like toiletries, as when she left her home there was no time to pack a bag. Margaret says charitable organisations left the government for dead in their response to the floods. The charitable organisations were there at the coal face with vouchers for residents to go and buy clothes and groceries. It's these things that make it easier for people to exist while living in emergency accommodation.
Margaret is very grateful that she survived the floods as many lost their lives. Being able to stay in the pod for the next two years is comforting, as so many people are homeless and many living in cars. What happens at the end of the two years is unclear at this stage.
Margaret is now faced with the task of what to do with her damaged home. Her home was not insured and she is currently waiting for a report from the government appointed assessors. The operator of her land lease community has not had any compassion for the predicament of Margaret and other residents in the community. The only abatement of her site fees she has received since the flood is $22. Margaret has paid full site fees for the past six months for a home that is currently uninhabitable. It is currently a ghost town in the community with all homes impacted by flood water apart from one home owned by the operator. The majority of the 70 home owners were not insured. A couple of home owners have been able to get their homes fixed but most have not moved back. Margaret has heard from other residents that it is very difficult to get tradies or tradespersons and materials and any qualified tradesperson doesn't want to work in the community due to the reputation of the operators.
Margaret has not lost her fighting spirit in standing up for the rights of residents in land lease communities. She says there needs to be an amendment to the Residential Land Lease Communities Act 2013 to ensure home owners get proper site fee abatement when sites and homes are damaged in a flood. Currently the abatement of site fees is only when the site is wholly uninhabitable and it doesn't take into account whether the home is habitable after natural disaster events.
Margaret remarks that she has been through a lot for someone of her age and we 100% agree and are in awe of her ability to overcome all these events! We are hopeful that Margaret can spend the next two years getting back on her feet and that life is a bit quieter for her.
By Eloise Parrab