What do you do if you’re promised something by the operator for 5 years, only to have it withdrawn by them in less than 5 weeks? That was the situation a few residents found themselves in last month. This story involves an old Christchurch village with 22 independent ORA/Unit Titles and rental cottages and a care home. In 2011 the care home was damaged in the earthquake beyond repair. From 2016 residents were ‘verbally’ told that plans were underway for a new facility with apartments and care and that once this was built that they would likely be demolishing the cottages. Over the next 5 years they were given multiple verbal assurances that they would be looked after, as in, offered alternative accommodation either in the new apartments or at one of the operators other facilities.
Some residents passed away, some were relocated, leaving 2 single, elderly lady residents (late 70’s/ early 80’s) remaining in ORA/Unit Titles (and 3 residents in rentals).
On March 5, 2021 the remaining residents were given letters detailing the specific arrangements for transferring to the new apartments built on the same location. One was offered a 1 bedroom while 3 others were offered 2 bedrooms. This required them to supply their solicitors details to the operator, which they did. Five weeks later the operator requested individual meetings with the residents. These ‘individual’ meetings then occurred on the 15th April. The residents had no idea about the actual content of the meeting other than it was to discuss “ongoing developments”. At that meeting the new CEO advised that the opportunity of moving to the new apartments was no longer financially viable (Note – The operator is a publicly listed company with a market capitalisation of just under $1 billion). Instead they could ‘have the opportunity’ to stay where they were and the operator would wipe the $80 per week fee. Simply put, the operator would forgo collecting $8000 per year from both ladies so it could then market the 2 apartments at over $1.5 million combined. The residents were totally shocked and angry.
An RVRANZ village contact raised the concern with the RVRANZ and a local rep met with the ladies. The RVRANZ then made contact with the operator who disputed the matters raised, and said that residents (and family) were ‘adamant they wanted to stay onsite – in their existing situation’. This could not have been further from the truth. After a further 45 min phone discussion with the RVRANZ, the CEO (finally) verbally agreed to honour the original letters only to have the ladies escorted off the premises hours later when they tried to view the apartments.
At this point, the RVRANZ involved the Statutory Supervisor and cc’d in the CFFC, RVA and Registrar of Retirement Villages. The operator then tried to rush signatures from both ladies (after hours) after the RVRANZ advised the operator that the residents would need time to consider seeking legal representation and/or family involvement.
The RVRANZ’s position was that the operator had not shown good faith and there were clear grounds for ‘specific performance’ of the March 5 letters, which the RVRANZ made the operator aware of.
The Good News – Both ladies were re-offered (and accepted) two bedroom apartments. We thank the Statutory Supervisor for their assistance in helping resolve the matter, and for a village contact bringing it to the RVRANZ’s attention.
Our Advice – If you believe you or someone in your village have not been listened to by your operator, or have been mistreated then we would suggest you involve family, the Statutory Supervisor and the RVRANZ. Operators must act with integrity and be respectful of residents’ situations. Some residents may not speak out and it requires others to seek help. Again, the RVRANZ supports the recent White Paper’s call for a dedicated Ombudsman or Commissioner, with the legislative power to intervene and resolve situations promptly.