Since the election of the Rudd Government in 2007 there
has been a renewed focus on homelessness.This is a
welcome development, especially since this is the first
time in recent Australian history that an Australian Prime
Minister has taken a strong personal interest in the issue.
However, there is one sector of the housing market that is
often overlooked in terms of the role it plays in providing
relatively cheap housing - the humble caravan park.
Caravan parks first appeared in Australia in the 1930s.
Up until the early 1990s people were not permitted to live
permanently in a caravan park, with some jurisdictions
imposing time limits of no more than six months.
However, since the mid 1990's it has become legal in all
States and Territories to live permanently in caravan parks.
How should ‘permanence' be defined? Caravan park residents are normally termed permanent when they
occupy their premises as their ‘principal place of residence' (distinguishing them from tourists). The term ‘permanent'
is, however, a slight euphemism as there might be a rapid turnover of permanent tenancies in certain parks. It also
fails to distinguish between those who make a deliberate lifestyle choice to live in caravan parks and those who
find themselves living in caravan parks because they have few, if any, alternatives available to them. Young people,
women (especially women with children escaping domestic violence), families, and single men are the main housing
clients in caravan parks.
A major concern of caravan/mobile home park residents is that there are no laws protecting them from eviction if
the owner of the park proposes to sell or redevelop the land. Being an owner-occupier and a tenant at the same
time presents a unique set of circumstances. Park residents usually have full equity in their home but no equity
in the land, or a long-term lease over the land. Those residents who rent both the dwelling and the site on which
the dwelling sits, are even more vulnerable, especially where the dwelling owner is not the same as the park owner.
Although there is increased recognition by all levels of government of the circumstances of people living
permanently in caravan parks and there have been some improvements in some areas of concern, a number of
issues continue to beset long-term caravan park dwellers.
Owners', managers' and residents' rights and obligations
Some jurisdictions around Australia have enacted legislation which deals specifically with the rights and
responsibilities of owners, managers and residents of caravan parks/ mobile home parks. Other jurisdictions
have extended their residential tenancy regulatory regimes with specific provisions applying to caravan parks/
mobile home parks. Table 1 provides an overview of the regulatory regimes for caravan parks/mobile home
parks in all the states and territories around Australia.
Table 1 Regulatory regimes for caravan parks/mobile home parks around Australia
(a) There is specific legislation for ‘manufactured homes' in
residential parks (the Manufactured Homes (Residential Parks) Act
2003 (Qld), which applies to moveable dwellings but not to caravans
(b) Except where the caravan park resident owns their caravan and
is merely renting the site.
New South Wales, South Australia and Western Australia have separate legislation for residential parks
including caravan parks or mobile home parks, with very clear requirements and guidelines on owners',
managers' and residents' rights and obligations. Briefly, the specific residential park legislation in these
jurisdictions addresses the following matters in some detail:
• the rights and obligations of residents, owners and managers;
• the role of an independent body or Tribunal with the power to make binding orders;
• the information that a park owner or manager must provide to prospective residents;
• agreements that must be made on entry into a residential park;
• what is involved in moving in to a residential park, including entry costs;
• money issues such as bond, rent, falling into arrears, rates and charges;
• the making of rules for living in a residential park;
• what to do when things go wrong;
• selling a home in a residential park;
• moving out of a residential park;
• termination of an agreement;
• abandonment of premises; and
• uncollected goods.
Most of these states have produced easy to read information which sets out in plain English the rights and
obligations for owners, managers and residents. The New South Wales and South Australian residential park
legislation has been drafted from the tenants' perspective rather than the owners'. It covers the rights and
obligations of owners, managers and residents, but now also places a number of new obligations on owners.
These include issues such as owners having to provide tenants with;
• specified written information about entering into accommodation in caravan parks or mobile home parks;
• a copy of written agreements;
• written condition reports on premises before any agreements are signed;
• information about money matters; and
• alternative grievance handling procedures and how disputes between owners, managers and residents can
be resolved through independent mediation rather than costly litigation.
Queensland and Victoria have dealt with caravan park and mobile home park issues as part of their
residential tenancies legislation. The Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory do not have
specific legislation covering caravan parks or mobile home parks and the matter is not adequately
covered in the current residential tenancy legislation.
It is also worth noting that Queensland has passed separate legislation regulating manufactured home
parks (the Manufactured Homes (Residential Parks) Act 2003 (Qld)). In Queensland, the definition of a
manufactured home excludes a caravan, a tent or any kind of registrable moveable dwelling. It includes a
structure that has the character of a dwelling house, and is designed to be able to be moved from one
position to another, and is not permanently attached to land. A manufactured home is also referred to
as a relocatable home. While many of the issues between these two forms of moveable housing are very
similar, they are addressed differently in Queensland, in recognition that occupants of manufactured homes
generally have a greater personal investment in their dwelling as their principal place of residence.
Dealing with park closures
Unfortunately, many caravan parks with long term residents have closed in recent years. This has been
happening for various reasons, including escalating land values (particularly in highly sought-after locations
where the land becomes more valuable for other uses), or where the market focus of the park changes towards
tourists. Long term residents of caravan parks do not have security of tenure or long term leases and are
often vulnerable to eviction with no recourse to independent arbitration.
NSW has developed a ‘Protocol for Park Closures' that provides a framework for co-operation between
government agencies, to ensure residents displaced by a park closure have access to the necessary
support services. The key focus of the Protocol is to coordinate targeted assistance to individuals and
families who are most vulnerable and at risk of homelessness. Under the law, park owners must advise
the Department of Housing of a proposed park closure and the Protocol is activated at this time.
What research highlights is the need for further improvements to the legislation governing caravan or mobile
home parks in other jurisdictions. This is needed not only to protect the interests of the residents at their
most vulnerable time, but also to provide caravan park owners with the ability to change the nature of their
business when the need arises, and to be able to do so without causing residents to become homeless.