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Renting to Elderly Tenants

Usually, renting to elderly tenants is a win-win situation. Many older people have stable incomes from pensions, social security, and also savings.  They are mature, not prone to loud parties, and they tend to be stable long term tenants.  Sometimes, there are issues that can arise due to disabilities, mental health, or finances, which any landlord needs to be aware of.

Where rent control still exists, elderly tenants may have long occupied rent controlled apartments, which creates a revenue problem for landlords who could rent the apartment for more money to a new teanat. Even without rent control, the base rent which is increased by a percentage each time the lease is renewed may over time be far less than the landlord could obtain from a new tenant. If a landlord tries to create problems for the tenant so that they will move, that is illegal. 

How could a landlord create problems?  A landlord might refuse to perform repairs, encourage disturbing noise making, or create additional requirements.  These open the landlord up to legal action, and accusations of age discrimination.

When you screen tenants, you may not use age as a basis of discrimination. The Federal Fair Housing Act of 1968 and the Federal Fair Housing Amendments Act prohibits discriminatory statements in advertising, claiming a unit is not available when it is.

This doesn’t mean you have to favor elderly tenants, but you cannot impose additional requirements on them. 

In addition, you cannot discriminate against tenants with disabilities, and many elderly tenants have some disability or may develop one in the foreseeable future. You cannot ask about disabilities.  Even when mental health issues are obvious, you cannot decide to lease or not based on a disability.

You’re required to make reasonable accommodations for tenants with disabilities at your expense.  This would include things like allowing an assistance animal such as a seeing eye dog or therapy animal when you don’t normally allow pets, or installing grip rails in showers or wheelchair accessible walkways.  You may also need to provide a reserved handicap parking space close to the apartment entrance. 

Usually, small owners do not need to make major changes.  Federal fair housing laws do not apply to single family homes rented without advertising and use of a broker, or buildings with four or fewer units if one unit is owner occupied.  This exemption is limited to three properties per landlord.

An elderly tenant may fall behind in rent payments if they experience a health emergency, unexpected injury, or an increase in medical related bills.  Don’t assume that charities and social services will assist a tenant – many do not help if the tenant is more than 30 days behind in rent. Often the focus is on finding new housing for the tenant. If you let the rent slide, you may actually hurt your tenant’s chances to find more affordable housing as well as compromise your own finances  Difficult as it may be, remain vigilant and responsible about rent collection. 

Sometimes an elderly tenant may be late with the rent payment because Social Security or pension checks are deposited at a different time of the month.  Adjusting the rent due date can help avoid many problems for a tenant who is otherwise dependable and responsible.

If the unthinkable happens and you need to evict an elderly tenant, consult an attorney first.  Many local and state governments provide extra protection to elderly tenants. You may need to show the court that you have attempted to assist the tenant with referrals to agencies and assistance programs.

No one wants to evict a good tenant, especially when they are elderly and have fallen on hard times.  A short-term intervention may provide enough of a bridge for a family member to intervene, or for social services to provide assistance with daily care, transportation, nutrition, counseling or possible relocation.

By Daisy Hammond

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