Elderly residents awaiting their fate

BEN HEATHER
Last updated 12:19 03/09/2014
George Jones
CAMERON BURNELL/ Fairfax NZ

UNCERTAIN FUTURE: Monte Cassino veteran George Jones, 93, does not know where he will go if he is forced out of his apartment at the Ropata Retirement Village in Lower Hutt. 

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Interim liquidators have been appointed to preserve the assets or value of the charitable trust that runs Ropata Village, a retirement complex in Lower Hutt.

Elderly residents at Ropata, including 93-year-old war veteran George Jones, face an uncertain future and fear being kicked out. 

A skeleton staff was left to make meals and provide other services under the contract the trust had with residents but it seemed clear that was unlikely to continue for very long, Associate Judge Warwick Smith said in the High Court at Wellington today.

The trust was clearly insolvent because it was unable to pay its accounts as they fell due, he said.

The trustees have resigned and Richard May, a lawyer for the Registrar of Incorporated Societies, appeared in court to ask for the urgent appointment of interim liquidators.

Insolvency experts John Fisk and Jeremy Morley were given the job today.

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Smith said the trust owned land that needed to be secured. Cash and chattels on trust property had to be secured and maintained, along with preserving any value in the contract to supply services to the residents.

The former chairman of the charity that ran the village, Graham Weir, said the trust board did its best in difficult circumstances.

He expected other providers would step in to help the 17 residents, but the residents who bought their apartments outright were likely to lose their investment.

The residents pay a fee for meals, medical support and ongoing maintenance to a trust which owned and operated the common spaces and services.

When a resident died the apartment went to their heirs to be resold to a new resident.

Currently about half the apartments were empty, leaving fewer residents to cover the cost of upkeep.

War veteran Jones, 93, is one of the residents facing an uncertain future. "They can't just put us out on the road with nowhere to go."

Jones bought his apartment nearly three years ago when the village was advertising itself as a boutique retirement complex offering residents a warm, caring and secure environment.

He sank a large chunk of his nest egg into what he believed would be his last home. Now he is facing being kicked out, with nowhere to go.

He bought his apartment at the village for $105,000 nearly three years ago.

Sitting in his apartment this week, 93-year-old Jones proudly recalled his time fighting from "the bottom to the top" of Italy in World War II, including the ferocious battle of Monte Cassino. Now he could face the different challenge of finding somewhere new to live.

"Where the hell are we going to go when they can't keep up with payments? We are in dire straits now."

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It is uncertain how long he can remain and whether he can salvage anything if he is forced to leave. He has already applied for a place in other retirement homes, but has been told there is a waiting list of 50 people.

"Every place I go to say they don't have any room. They can't just put us out on the road with nowhere to go."

Some families of residents have accused the departing board of mishandling the village, letting the cash run dry before walking away. Mike O'Sullivan, whose mother is a resident, took over as body corporate chairman on Saturday.

"You can't just walk away and leave these old people. It's just not on," he said.

Weir has rejected the accusations and said that the board did everything possible to keep the village afloat.

"That is absolute rubbish. We did our best in difficult circumstances," he said.

Weir said none of the residents would end up on the street, and other retirement providers were stepping in to help take people in. But he believed it was unlikely any new management, or the families involved, would find the money or a buyer to save Ropata.

"The brutal reality is that they [the residents] are likely to lose their investment."

A Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment spokeswoman said the registrar had acted after becoming aware the trust was insolvent. An urgent application to appoint a liquidator was required to "preserve the position of the trust".

- The Dominion Post

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