The primary appeal of a 55+ community is obvious. The ability to spend your retirement years with neighbors of comparable age is something people have sought for generations. Residents in active adult communities often prefer sharing their neighborhoods with people who have similar interests, ambitions, and routines. (The relative peace and quiet aren’t so bad either.)
Residents of 55+ communities also, for obvious reasons, don’t place such a high priority on top-notch schools and municipal services geared towards younger people, which can lead to substantial tax savings and allow them to stretch their retirement dollar further.
However, there are plenty of circumstances in which you might have children or grandchildren visiting, either for a short weekend stay or sometimes longer periods of time. There's no shortage of new articles describing changing cultural norms in which adult children live with their parents for periods of time after major life-changes such as career shifts or during job searches. When considering buying a home in an active adult community, it's important to know what questions to ask to ensure you’re in compliance with both the regulations and the spirit of the community.
Housing policy in the United States is primarily governed by the Fair Housing Act of 1968 which sets out guidelines to help ensure homebuyers and renters don’t suffer discrimination based on a number of protected statuses like race, religion, national origin, or disability. One notable exception to this is age.
The Housing for Older Persons Act of 1995 (HOPA) amended the Fair Housing Act to carve out guidelines for 55+ communities, removing requirements for facilities and services typically associated with those of advanced age and putting the “active” in active adult communities.
The 80/20 Rule
HOPA established what's often referred to as the “80/20 Rule”. HOPA allows for communities to establish age-restrictions if one of two conditions are met: all residents are over the age of 62 or, much more commonly, at least 80% of residents are over the age of 55. This doesn't, however, require that the remaining 20% of residents be under the age of 55. Instead, it gives communities and their governing bodies some “wiggle room” to allow for certain exemptions that don't go against the spirit of an active adult community.
A practical example of the function of this rule involves spouses who are different ages. Let’s say there's a married couple living in a 55+ community where one is 59 and another is 53. If the older spouse were to suddenly pass away, the younger spouse would be able to continue living in their home so long as 80% of the community’s residents are over the age of 55, an easily crossed threshold in the vast majority of 55+ communities. In effect, this rule allows for the community to keep its 55+ status while sensibly permitting an under-55 resident to live there.
Things can become a bit more complicated when looking into the rules governing children visiting or staying at your home in an active adult community. Every active adult community is unique, not only in terms of the amenities they offer but also when it comes to the regulations governing who can stay with you and how long they can. In almost all cases, these rules are to preserve a certain feel to the community and not to be onerous or burdensome. In short, no one is saying you’re grandkids can’t come for a visit.
The most common restrictions regulated by the homeowners association (HOA) concern the duration of younger people’s visits. Some rules limit visits to a few weeks while other communities are okay with months-long visits. This information should be covered in documents you receive from the HOA, but you should also be sure to ask your real estate agent about these rules when considering a home.
Some communities, especially gated ones, ask that guests register themselves and/or their vehicles so its best to be mindful of these requirements. Additionally, there are also commonly separate regulations involving the use of amenities by guests. Be sure you’re up to date with these rules especially before promising a visit to the pool with the grandchildren only to find out you’ve arrived at the pool complex during adult-swim hours.
Some communities adopt a more relaxed attitude towards age restrictions, allowing for residents 18+ to live in the community so long as one resident is over the age of 55. This can allow for live-in care-givers or instances in which a resident is caring for an adult child with a disability. While these communities are somewhat uncommon, they're out there, and they're generally similar to other 55+ communities. If you prefer a community of predominately residents over 55, your real estate agent should be able to guide you to such a place.
There are a growing number of communities that follow the conventions of age-restricted communities but do not peg their age restriction at 55 or older. There are some communities that look very much like 55+ communities but allow for homebuyers 45 and up, for example. These communities provide a similar feel to active adult communities but typically have more lax policies when it comes to children visiting or living with their parents. As mentioned earlier, there are also communities that are exclusively 62+ in which residents will be overwhelming over that age and children as residents are extremely uncommon.
The good news in all of this is that these rules are typically very clear and easy for residents to follow. Just about every HOA board understands that part of an enjoyable retirement is spending time with your children, grandchildren, and other loved ones. Rules are established not to make visits difficult but instead to ensure all residents are able to enjoy the lifestyle they expect from their active adult community.