We have all seen the signs: “55+ communinty.” What does it mean? Better yet, do you really have to be 55 years of age or older to live in those communities? What if a 55 year old man is married to a 54 year old woman; does that mean that they do not qualify?

Well, it depends. By law, certain communities are exempt from certain portions of the Fair Housing Act if they qualify as Housing for Older Persons. If they do qualify, then they may (within limits) discriminate on the basis of age. So what are the requirements? In short, a housing community must be comprised of at least 80% of households that have at least one person who is 55 years or older. So a 55 year old man, with a 54 year old wife, would be allowed to live in such a 55+ community.

The 80 percent rule does not mean, however, that a development may set aside 20 percent of its units for younger persons. For example, a development could not rent out 80 percent of its units to persons 55+, and then offer the rest to anyone (including families with children).

Next, the community must be “intended and operated for occupancy by persons 55 years of age or older.” A community, moreover, must publish policies or procedures that demonstrated its intent to operate for occupancy by persons 55 years of age or older.

And, finally, a communtiy must comply with rules issued by the Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (“HUD”) for verification of occupancy. Put simply, there are a number of hurdles that a community must clear before it may lawfully discriminate on the basis of age.

Even if a housing community qualifies as “Housing for Older Persons,” it does not give the community a license to discriminate on other unlawful categories (e.g., race or religion).

In the final analysis, if you are concerned as to whether your housing community actually qualifies as “Housing for Older Persons,” or is operating lawfully, then check out our website at www.sfaganlaw.com.