How to Manage Aging Residents Appropriately
There are certain risks that come with having elderly tenants in a rental under your management. Some of those risks — like suddenly losing a tenant to a catastrophic medical incident — are relatively obvious, but many are more subtle. One of the nastiest traps comes from what seems to be a simple enough act of customer service.
Here’s an example: let’s say your landscaper chats up an elderly tenant one day and learns that he needs to go shopping, but can’t drive and is frightened to take the bus. She decides to drive him to the store, because she’s awesome like that. This becomes a regular every-other-week thing, and the tenant is very happy with the situation, right up until the two of them get rear-ended while parked at a red light, and suddenly the tenant has severe whiplash and a broken nose from the airbag.
All of the sudden, what was a gesture of kindness becomes a very messy legal situation.
Fair Housing Issues and Senior Tenants
The law draws a very thin line between ‘providing excellent customer service’ and ‘violating Fair Housing statues.’ Sometimes, it takes a judge and a pair of attorneys to figure out which is which — and that’s not good for you, your tenant, or your bottom line. Now Fair Housing statues regarding seniors are set at the city level, so it’s impossible to make any accurate broad statements about what will and won’t constitute a violation. The important part here, however, is that any special treatment given to one tenant or class of tenants over another can potentially cause problems — even if the special treatment is a response to a perceived disability such as in the case above.
Fortunately, you aren’t required to provide any service that falls outside the scope of ‘providing housing’ to a tenant, even if they request it. If such a request poses “undue financial or administrative burden” on you or it “fundamentally alters the nature” of your operation, it can be denied without further concern. So unless you already operate a service taking any tenant who wants to go to the store, denying a request for such a service from a tenant isn’t ever a violation of the Fair Housing Act.
The Line Between Apartment Living and Assisted Living
The other issue that has brought senior care to the forefront of property manager’s lives is the cost of assisted living facilities. Many families simply can’t afford the $5,000+/month cost of assisted living, and so they place their elderly loved ones in apartments and hope for the best. Needless to say, this can cause a mountain of headaches.
If aging residents need help and the children aren’t around to offer it, you may end up with (best case) a maintenance person heading over to help a senior stand up from a fall. You may end up with your front desk taking calls from a tenant’s doctors asking them to remind him of an appointment, because he can’t be trusted to remember on his own.
It’s up to you, as the property manager, to predict these kinds of circumstances and build policies into your rental agreement or lease agreement that make it clear what you will and will not do for an elderly person who may become increasingly incompetent over their tenancy. If you’re concerned about appearing cold or overly legalistic, you may even want to create a special addendum that only gets added to the paperwork when you’re dealing with an elderly prospect. It should explain in detail that you’re not an assisted living facility and that any elderly tenants will be expected to be able to take care of themselves in their day-to-day lives.