Are Age Restrictions on Senior Communities Discriminatory Against Younger Buyers?

Understanding the federal legal rules about age discrimination in housing developments.

Question

My husband and I are looking for a quiet neighborhood in which to raise our young family. We visited an open house, and the place seemed perfect, all on one level, with a fenced-in yard. But before we could even make an offer, our real estate agent informed us we can’t buy the house because it is located in senior living community.

Is it legal for the senior living community to forbid us from living there? I feel like we are being discriminated against because we’re a family with children.

Answer

The Federal Fair Housing Act (“FHA”) makes it unlawful for a housing provider to discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, disability, and familial status. The “familial status” protections in the FHA prohibit discrimination against families that have children under the age of 18.

First, to see whether this law applies, you need to establish that there's a "housing provider" in the picture. The housing provider might be the person or company developing the property, or it could be the homeowners’ association (“HOA”) that enforces the communities’ rules and regulations. Therefore a developer or HOA must, in most cases, abide by the FHA, and can’t refuse to sell a house or unit to someone because of that person’s age or because that person has a family.

But when you look closer at the familial status protections in the FHA, you find there are three exceptions that apply to senior living communities. These were created to allow elderly people to live peacefully and quietly in communities that attend to their unique needs. A senior living community might be lawfully exempt from the FHA's familial status protections if:

  • every occupant is 62 years of age or older
  • 80% of the housing units are occupied by at least one person over the age of 55, or
  • the community is part of a state or federal housing program designed to assist elderly people.

To find out for sure whether one of the three exceptions applies to the community you're interested in, you can always explore the details. For example, if it just calls itself a senior living community, but in reality is composed of people of all ages, it might not meet the 80% requirement described in the second exception above. The community should have good records to prove it meets the requirements of one of these exceptions to the familial status protections in the FHA. Consult an attorney if you wish to take the matter further.

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