If you’ve begun researching senior living communities—such as a continuing care retirement community (CCRC, also called a life plan community) or another type of retirement community—you’ve likely read about these communities’ minimum age requirements. In my conversations with people, I find that there is sometimes confusion on this topic, particularly for people who have a unique domestic situation (for example, a spouse who is younger than the community’s minimum age or a senior who is a guardian for a disabled adult-child).
HUD’s allowance for minimum age requirements
At a high level, guidance on senior living communities’ age requirements comes from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). While HUD’s Fair Housing Act (FHA) prohibits housing discrimination based on age, race, nationality, religion, gender, handicap, or familial status (i.e., having one or more children under age 18 living in the household), HUD created an exemption called the Housing for Older Persons Act (HOPA). HOPA protects senior housing communities from being sued for age discrimination by those under the minimum age requirement. (As a side note, it is somewhat ironic that age discrimination, or “ageism”, is typically thought of as prejudice against older people, but in this particular instance, the opposite is true!)
In order to qualify for this HOPA exemption, a senior housing facility or community must be:
- Designed and operated to accommodate “elderly” persons (in accordance with a State or Federal program),
- Exclusively occupied by persons 62 years of age or older,
- Intended and operated for occupancy by persons 55 years of age or older (so-called “55 and over” communities).
For 55 and over communities, they must meet all of the following requirements in order to qualify for the HOPA exemption:
- A minimum of 80 percent of the community’s units must have at least one occupant who is 55 years of age or older.
- The community must publish and comply with policies and procedures that demonstrate they intend to operate as “55 and older” housing.
- The community must comply with HUD’s requirements for age verification of residents.
Once a community meets the HOPA exemption requirements, it is legally permitted to create its own set of rules for how the age restrictions will be defined, as long as the community remains in compliance with state laws. For example, the community can make their age-restrictions stricter than the HOPA requirements (like mandating that all residents be over the age of 55, or that 80 percent of the households must include a resident over the age of 60, etc.).
A twist on age restrictions
For those 55 and over communities that permit up to 20 percent of units be occupied by adults who do not meet the minimum age requirement, some are taking a novel approach that encourages intergenerational living. A program at a senior living community in Cleveland, for example, allows a handful of college and grad school students with financial need to live rent-free in exchange for service hours within the community—performing recitals, teaching art classes, and even just “hanging out” with the older residents.
As I’ve discussed before, such intergenerational programs are hugely beneficial for both the younger and older participants. But there’s an added advantage to the senior living community as well. Programs like this are a great way to get younger faces in the community, which, as I’ve discussed in a previous post, is a great way to attract younger-senior residents.
There is one caveat here. For those senior living communities that are establishing lower age restrictions (or no age restrictions) in up to 20 percent of the development in an effort to attract younger residents, they have to play the odds carefully. In order to comply with the requirements for a HOPA exemption, a full 80 percent of the occupied units within a 55 and older community must have at least one resident over the age of 55. Some of the residents who meet the “over 55” age requirement will in enviably move or pass away, so to maintain a safety cushion with their ratios, many communities only permit a smaller portion of “younger households” (units without someone 55 or older) in the community—say, 15 percent of the development.
Exceptions to the HOPA exemption
Under the HOPA exemption, senior living communities legally can refuse to sell or rent to people who don’t meet their age requirement (or who have custody of minor children). However, the exemption does not protect these communities from liability for housing discrimination based on its other factors like race, religion, disability, etc.
Additionally, there are some required exceptions under HOPA if a senior is “associated” with someone with a physical or mental disability. For example, if a senior meets the age requirement for a community but they are the legal guardian of a disabled adult who does not meet the age requirement, the community must make an exception to their minimum age policies for that disabled adult.
To learn more about HUD’s senior housing policies and the HOPA exemption, visit the HUD website.
What about a younger spouse or partner?
The HOPA exemption requirements can get a little stickier when it comes to a younger spouse or partner. For 55 and over communities, it typically is only required that one person within the household be at least 55, so if a spouse doesn’t meet that age requirement, it is not an issue. The 62 and older communities, however, are not as lenient. In these types of communities, everyone in the household must be at least 62 years old. The only exceptions are live-in aides, nurses, or other healthcare providers.
Proving you qualify for an age-restricted community
When you apply to rent or buy a residence with a HOPA-qualified senior housing community, you will be required to provide proof of your age at least every two years. That can be done using a birth certificate, driver’s license, passport, immigration card, military identification, or other accepted state, national, or international documentation.
If for some reason you are unable to provide valid age documentation, HUD has established a “self-certification” option under which it is acceptable for an adult member of the household to assert within the lease, application affidavit, or another signed document that at least one occupant of the unit is at least 55 years old.
The right community for you
When you are researching and exploring various senior living communities, be sure to ask which of the above HUD/HOPA exemption(s) they comply with. It is a good idea to consider different types of senior living communities and decide for yourself which you prefer.
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