Renting your home to seniors and the disabled may seem daunting, but it is good business for every landlord or property manager. Besides having the capacity to pay for rentals, these demographics don’t move often and tend to stay longer in a rental property compared to others.
According to the most recent Census data, the population of seniors (people age 65 and older) is on the rise. Juxtaposed that, Harvard has recently released a report indicating that more seniors are renting, as more people are moving away from owning homes in favor of rentals.
Now, while a good amount of those seniors still own homes, it was estimated that about 5.5 million seniors were renting. This is set to increase in the coming decade as baby boomers age, and seniors will, by all estimates, make up about half of the rental housing growth push.
Yes, people got paid to find out that Americans are, in fact, aging, and those people need housing. Bear with me, though—it’s a good bit of data to have, particularly if you’re managing rental properties and thinking about making them appeal more to seniors and the disabled.
If you’re not, consider that senior or disabled renters tend to be less problematic than other demographics and also tend to stick around longer. You may not know this, but August 21st was National Senior Citizens Day. There’s also a growing movement toward creating apartment communities that can help seniors maintain their lifestyles and still get the care they need.
What is Senior Housing?
When most people think of senior housing, they have a pretty negative impression of assisted living facilities. For this reason, housing that can accommodate seniors is needed, which is suitable for landlords since not everyone needs a full-on facility. As a matter of fact, there’s a growing movement towards apartment living with a twist: having people on hand and specialized accommodations that make it possible for seniors to live safely still while maintaining independence.
You should know, however, that this is a highly competitive market and one you cannot afford to attempt a half-hearted entrance into. For those complexes that have made the switch, occupancy rates tend to stay right at 90-93%. And usually, when one complex begins to succeed in any given city, more spring up all around. What is the best way to compete in this market? Offer amenities others do not and make sure they’re exclusive to your community.
Another option if you’re not looking to go full-on, exclusive senior assisted living—multigenerational housing. While many seniors opt for the exclusive settings, many still prefer the ability to mix with other residents who are not seniors. This setting typically involves recreational activities, a dining area, and other amenities that can appeal to all ages.
If you’d like to know more about what you can do to make your apartment complex or properties more senior accessible, your first step is going to your local senior living association. The National Center For Assisted Living website can also find more information.
Landlord Responsibilities for the Disabled
The best property managers know how to provide exemplary service to all tenants, regardless of particular circumstances. With senior housing on the rise and an aging Baby Boomer population turning to rentals, property managers should be well-versed in the laws regarding housing for people with disabilities.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) became the law of the land in 1990. The ADA is an extensive legislation that “prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, including jobs, schools, transportation, and all public and private places that are open to the general public.” Housing policies are covered under the ADA, so attentive landlords should be aware of their legal responsibilities towards seniors and the disabled tenants.
Who is considered disabled?
Under the ADA, landlords are prohibited from inquiring about the exact nature of a person’s disability even if the disability is highly visible—for example if the prospective tenant uses a wheelchair. However, the ADA addresses what is legally considered a disability in clear, concise language. To be covered under the ADA, “a person must have a physical or mental disability that substantially limits one or more major life activities.” A partial list of protected disabilities includes:
- Mobility impairments
- Hearing impairments
- Visual impairments
- Chronic alcoholism (if it is being addressed through a recovery program)
- Mental illness
- HIV, AIDS, and AIDS-related complex
- Mental retardation
Can I ask for proof of disability?
Landlords may not inquire about the nature of or ask for proof of disability during the rental application process. However, if the tenant makes a request for accommodation after the lease is signed, the landlord may ask for proof that the proposal will make the unit more functional for the tenant.
What are reasonable accommodations?
The ADA requires that landlords make “reasonable accommodations” for renters with disabilities. A reasonable accommodation is a change in rules, policies, or services that enable a person with a disability the equal opportunity to use and enjoy their home and any common spaces.
A housing provider is required by law to accommodate a person with a disability as long as the request doesn’t create an undue financial burden. Standard accommodations include installing access ramps, providing a reserved parking spot at the front of a building, or allowing service animals in a unit where pets are not usually welcome.
What is a reasonable modification?
A reasonable modification is a structural modification to a unit or public space that is made to allow seniors and the disabled full enjoyment of the housing and related facilities. Modifications require prior approval from the landlord and must be constructed by a licensed contractor. Common modifications include widening doorways, installing a grab bar in a bathroom, or installing a ramp into a threshold. It is reasonable and legal to ask that a unit be restored to its original condition after the tenant leaves.
Who pays for accommodations and modifications?
Landlords are responsible for paying for accommodations, though many common ones are free or low cost (providing larger print documents or designating a parking spot). Tenants are usually responsible for paying for structural modifications unless the dwelling is listed as a federally assisted housing structure.
For more information about landlord responsibilities when renting to tenants with disabilities, please see the US Department of Housing and Urban Development website.
Renting to seniors and the disabled may require added work at the end of the landlord or property manager. However, they stand to gain from these rentals since older tenants or those with disabilities tend to stay longer as long as the property is friendly to their unique needs.