Residents of a Kangaroo Flat over-55s village plan to take management to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal, claiming some have been hit with fees they never expected to pay.
The issue came to the fore last year, when some residents received bills for not only water consumption charges, but service fees as well. These residents had not previously been charged these fees.
Aviva Communities Bendigo managing director Todd Strathdee said while errors were made, the contracts issued since the company bought the village in 2015 stated these fees were payable by residents.
Residents’ committee president Lynne Davis, committee member Ray Sparkes and residents’ advocate Gordon Latimer told the Bendigo Advertiser Aviva informed residents when they were looking to buy that they would not have to pay such fees.
An advertisement stating there were no “water rates” ran in the Bendigo Advertiser in October 2017, and Mr Latimer said residents had also received similar information verbally and in writing from staff.
The committee argued these representations overrode the wording of the contracts.
Mr Latimer said the purported absence of these fees was influential in many residents’ decision to buy, and some would suffer financial hardship if they had to pay the fees, having not factored them into their budgets.
“Residents feel they’ve been misled considerably,” Mr Sparkes added.
More than 50 residents are reportedly affected. Ms Davis said residents voted unanimously in November for the committee to take the matter to VCAT if necessary.
Mr Strathdee acknowledged there was some confusion among both residents and staff around the nomenclature surrounding the terms ‘water rates’, ‘water use’ and ‘sewer charges’.
While the bills in question received by residents were in line with the contracts, he said, they differed to the company’s previous practice and were retracted until further discussions with residents took place.
The village is covered by the Residential Tenancies Act, which states site tenants are responsible for all water and sewerage charges.
Mr Strathdee said it was the company’s view that water and sewerage charges were fees all people had to bear, and was also required by the legislation.
Mr Strathdee said the company would strive to ensure residents could afford any changes.
He said the company was working to resolve inconsistencies in residents’ contracts, which came about because Aviva’s Bendigo site was the amalgamation of two formerly separate sites, to level the field.
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