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What Is an Age-Restricted Community?

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If you are nearing retirement age, you may be thinking about what the next chapter of your life will look like — and where it will take place.

Some people choose to downsize from their family home once their children have grown, and some may consider an age-restricted community. Not all of these communities are alike, however. You may be looking for a place with a lot of social activities and amenities, or easy access to medical care might be a key focus. Here are some options for an age-restricted community to call home.

What rules do age-restricted communities have?

Age-restricted communities are typically for people age 55 and older. As age is not a protected class under the Fair Housing Act, communities are free to set limits on the age of occupants in a community. Still, it’s worth doing your research to understand each community’s specific rules — some allow for younger spouses or adult children, while others have limits on how long young children (such as grandchildren) may stay at each residence.

The Housing for Older Persons Act (HOPA) of 1995 allows communities to label themselves as “age-restricted” so long as 80% of the residences are occupied by at least one person who is 55 or older. This means that up to 20% of residents may be of any age, depending on the specific community and its guidelines.

HOPA also eliminated the requirement for age-restricted communities to have “significant facilities and services” designed for the elderly. If you or your loved one are looking for an active-living community, this might not be a problem. However, if you are looking for a more care-intensive home — or if you might need one down the line — it’s important to note the care options that are available.

A 2013 presentation to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) by Mark Bauer, a professor at Stetson University College of Law, argued that many homes in age-restricted communities were not set up well for older and infirm people. These homes featured narrow hallways and doors, difficult stairways and bathrooms with obstacles. Bauer also noted the communities were often far from public transportation and lacked elevators, which can be a problem for residents who no longer drive or have limited mobility.

Because of this, it’s important to look closely at the units in communities you are interested in and ask a lot of questions about the specific rules of each. Keep in mind, services you don’t need now might be great, or even vital, as life circumstances change after you sign on the dotted line.

Types of age-restricted communities

There are many available options for senior living, each tailored to different needs.

Active living

Active-living communities can be single-family homes, apartments, condos or townhomes that are governed under HOPA rules, meaning at least 80% of residences are occupied by someone age 55 or older. Many of these communities offer amenities, such as clubhouses, golf courses, gyms and walking trails. These communities are often not equipped for more intensive care, but they can be great for people who want to downsize or are seeking a more active social life.

Affordable housing

HUD helps low-income seniors across the country find homes through public housing, subsidized apartments and housing vouchers. These three options could be right for you if your financial circumstances apply and if you’re 62 or older. You can find more on each option at the HUD website.

Independent living

These communities are aimed at those who want to live independently but could still use easy access to amenities, such as laundry, housekeeping and meal service. They also often provide transportation and a full social calendar, and sometimes they offer care options as needed. Some or all of these amenities might be an extra expense, so it’s worth reading the fine print.

Assisted living

Assisted-living communities are for people who need more intensive care than residents of independent-living communities. Assisted-living residences are typically staffed around the clock and provide help with basic care as well as scheduling and transportation for doctor’s appointments. There are often medical professionals on staff. There are also assisted-living spaces for those who specifically need memory care, and these are equipped with additional security measures.

Continuing care communities

These communities offer a combination of independent living, assisted living and nursing home services, allowing residents to find the right fit as their needs shift. Residents can live in their own home or condo unit, and services can be added as their needs change. Keep in mind, continuing care communities are the most expensive option and come with a hefty upfront price tag, which can range from $100,000 to $1 million, according to the AARP. This is in addition to a monthly fee that can top $5,000.


Cohousing offers a community of private homes with typical amenities grouped around a large shared space, or a “common house,” with a large kitchen and dining room and other shared recreational spaces. Neighbors collectively manage and care for the shared space and plan activities. There are specific cohousing communities for older residents and others that serve a broad mix of ages.

Pros and cons of age-restricted communities

Age-restricted communities offer residents a chance to live around people who are in the same stage of life. For older people who have lost a spouse or live far from their grown children, living near others and having opportunities to be social can offer a better quality of life. These communities range widely in terms of residential needs and can serve the healthy and relatively young or the elderly and infirm.

Many older people resist moving into intensive care residences, but some do better with a slow integration into that kind of community, if needed. A major drawback is the cost — senior living options come with a price tag, and the price can be astronomical. If you’re downsizing, you might be able to use the income from a  home sale to finance a move to one of these communities. If, like many seniors, you’re struggling with finances, reach out to a financial professional to discuss your options.

The bottom line

When making the move into an age-restricted community, there are just as many options as there are specific circumstances, so keep an open mind. Make sure to visit a wide range of communities before making a decision about a big move such as this. If you can, take your family with you to review the options or talk through the fine print to help ensure the choice you make is right not just for the moment, but for your future.

This article contains links to MagnifyMoney, a subsidiary of LendingTree.


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