Police investigate the welbeing of residents at Berkeley Living Retirement Village, after staff have walked off the job, as they are not being paid. Patterson Lakes, Melbourne. September 15th 2017. Photo: Daniel Pockett Police investigate the welbeing of residents at Berkeley Living Retirement Village, after staff have walked off the job, as they are not being paid. Patterson Lakes, Melbourne. September 15th 2017. Photo: Daniel Pockett
A group of elderly and bedridden residents will lose their homes just before Christmas as the scandal-plagued retirement village Berkeley Living in Patterson Lakes prepares to close.
The closure comes after the owners of units in the village, who are financial victims of convicted criminal Stephen Snowden, were hit with threats of fines and building repair costs in excess of $500,000 by the City of Kingston in Melbourne’s south-east after the building was deemed “dangerous”.
A representative for the owners of the units said they didn’t have the money to carry out the repairs and as a result the facility will be closed. On November 30, all utilities will be switched off.
Several of the elderly residents have moved to alternative accommodation in recent weeks but the fate of those remaining remains unclear with the council not responding to multiple calls from The Age. Sources said the council will try and place them in alternative accommodation, with some residents reluctant to leave.
The planned closure comes after The Age revealed in September that state authorities, including Victoria Police, had intervened in the management of the facility after staff had not been paid for months.
Prior to the government intervention residents were being cared for and supplied food by friends living nearby.
The affected residents include people in their 90s, a quadriplegic and another person with Alzheimer’s.
Staff had walked out weeks after The Age revealed that more than 30 families had sold units at Berkeley Living but were never paid the money they were owed. They have been fighting to get the money back.
Colin Walker, a member of one of the 30-plus families trying to get back their money, said he first approached Consumer Affairs Victoria in 2010 to do something about the village but he got nowhere. “If Consumer Affairs had stepped in back in 2010 maybe we might not have got to this point,” he said.
Mr Walker sold the unit after his father died in 2011. Since then he has been trying to retrieve almost $100,000 that he is owed after exit and other fees are deducted.
“The whole situation is a complete debacle,” he said.
Mr Walker criticised a regulatory system that allows retirement villages to change operators without proper regulatory scrutiny.
“This is an area where many elderly people are unsure of their rights and they invest in these places which can be run or taken over by shifty operators and nobody cares,” he said.
The entire saga has shone a light on the oversight of the retirement village sector in Victoria.
Another victim, Mark Markovic, who owns six units, said when the council inspected the property there were no smoke detectors or fire equipment. “It is disgusting that a retirement village can be run this way,” he said.
Mr Markovic said he didn’t know what was going to happen. “We hope something can be salvaged,” he said.
Mr Markovic first complained to Consumer Affairs and the n Securities and Investments Commission in 2009 but didn’t get a response. “They hide behind privacy laws,” he said. “It’s disgusting.”
Mr Snowden, a former bankrupt with convictions for dishonesty, is a former director of the village and remains deeply involved in the operation.
Mr Snowden declined to answer questions from Fairfax Media on Tuesday.
He has previously denied owing any owners of the units money, describing them as “scumbags”.
He also previously denied not paying his staff.
Last month members of the owners corporation received a notice from the council ordering that urgent building repairs take place at the facility.
Consumer Affairs Minister Marlene Kairouz refused to answer a series of questions about the financial plight of the former residents yesterday.
She also declined to say whether any action had been taken against Mr Snowden or whether Consumer Affairs Victoria had informed ASIC of the misappropriation allegations made by the former residents against Mr Snowden.
Despite the building being deemed as an aged care facility under the building codes by the council, Berkeley Living remains a retirement village that is regulated by Consumer Affairs.
In a written statement, Ms Kairouz said: “In September, we appointed a Resident’s Sponsor and a State Government Coordinator to protect the welfare of residents. We continue to help the remaining residents find alternative places to live.”
Sources have told The Age the City of Kingston made the orders on request from Consumer Affairs Victoria. The City of Kingston did not respond to inquiries.