Attorney at Law

All About Fair Housing for Seniors

Lia Kopin-Green
October 15, 2023

Navigating the housing landscape as a senior citizen can be a challenging endeavor. Nevertheless, understanding your rights to fair housing as an older adult is essential to make informed choices. In this informative guide, we will explore the intricacies of fair housing and empower seniors to find their ideal place to call home.

Overview of the Fair Housing Act

The Fair Housing Act (FHA), also known as Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, is one of the most important pieces of legislation relating to fair housing for senior citizens. It plays a critical role in preventing discrimination and ensuring that all individuals in the United States have equal access to housing opportunities. According to the FHA, discrimination in housing based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, and disability is prohibited. This includes refusing to rent or sell, setting different terms or conditions, and harassment. Housing providers must make reasonable accommodations to policies and practices to allow a person with a disability equal opportunity to use and enjoy the housing. For example, this may involve allowing service or assistance animals even with a "no pet" policy or allowing a ramp to be built.

The FHA applies to most types of housing, including rental apartments, single-family homes, condominiums, mobile homes, and senior housing communities, among others. However, there are certain exemptions, such as owner-occupied buildings with four or fewer units or religious organizations that provide housing to members of their religion.

The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is responsible for enforcing the FHA. If you or a loved one have experienced housing discrimination, you can file a complaint with the HUD. The HUD will investigate the claim and initiate legal action when necessary.

The Housing for Older Persons Act (HOPA)

The Housing for Older Persons Act (HOPA) is an amendment to the Fair Housing Act that offers various exemptions and guidelines for senior housing. The HOPA was enacted in 1995 and allows certain housing communities to set age restrictions. Specifically, HOPA allows certain housing facilities to exclude families with children under 18 from residing there, creating senior-only housing. In order to qualify for this designation, a community must meet one of the follow criteria:

  • 55 and Older Communities: At least 80% of the occupied units must have at least one resident who is 55 years of age or older. The housing community must also have facilities and services designed to meet the needs of older residents.
  • 62 and Older Communities: Communities designated for individuals aged 62 and older are exempt from the 80% occupancy requirement but must provide services appropriate for this age group.

It is important to note that while HOPA allows communities to restrict occupancy to older residents, these facilities still cannot discriminate against residents based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, or disability.

Reasonable Accommodations and Modifications

The main goal of Fair Housing laws is to promote equal access to housing for all U.S. citizens. In some cases, this may require additional accommodations and modifications to help guarantee that housing is equally available to older adults with disabilities. These accommodations and modifications may necessitate changes to rules and policies as well as alterations to the housing unit or common areas. 

Common examples of reasonable accommodations and modifications may include:

  • Installing a ramp in the entrance of the building
  • Lowering the entry threshold of a unit
  • Allowing a service animal despite a “no pet policy”
  • Installing grab bars in the bathroom
  • Allowing a caregiver to live with the tenant
  • Waiving visitor or parking fees for a tenant’s healthcare aide
  • Installing pictures, signs and pathways

The examples above show how tweaking rules, routines, and the property can make life easier for older residents with disabilities. Housing providers must work with residents to figure out efficient ways to increase access as required by fair housing laws. 

Available Housing Options for Seniors

As you grow older, choosing the right type of housing option for your specific needs and wishes can be a difficult choice. It is generally advised to discuss this decision with your loved ones as well as a professional to choose the best option that suits your budget and personal circumstances. Some of the most common living arrangements for senior citizens include:

  • Independent living: Some seniors may choose to live independently in apartments, condos, and single-family homes. 
  • Assisted living: Assisted living facilities are ideal for seniors who may need additional assistance in performing everyday tasks. These communities provide meals, social activities and personal care services.
  • Nursing Homes: Nursing homes offer around-the-clock care for older adults that require significant assistance. 
  • Continued Care Retirement Communities (CCRCs): CCRCs typically include independent living, assistance living and nursing home care that allows seniors to transition between different levels of care as their needs change over time.

The best housing situation depends on each senior's preferences, health status, finances, and local options. While senior housing options can be quite costly, keep in mind that there are several affordable housing services available. For instance, the Section 202 Supportive Housing for the Elderly provides subsidized rental housing for low-income seniors aged 62 and older. Consult with a professional elder law attorney to find out if you are eligible for this option.

Seeking Legal Support

We hope this insightful article helped you better understand the ins and outs of fair housing for senior citizens. As seniors, you deserve housing that respects your individuality and honors your life's experiences. If you have any questions regarding fair housing or need legal assistance in choosing your next housing facility, reach out to one of our professional elder law attorneys today.

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