What is senior citizen housing?

A senior citizen housing project is housing:

  • intended for and solely occupied by persons 62 years of age or older; or
  • intended and operated for occupancy by persons of 55 years of age or older. [Calif. Civil Code §51.3(b)(1); 42 United States Code §3607(b)]

Landlords and owners of qualified retirement communities or senior citizen apartment complexes can exclude children to meet the particular needs of older persons.

To qualify as senior citizen housing, the development or renovation project must have at least 35 dwelling units and obtain a public report issued by the DRE. [CC §51.3(b)(4)]

To qualify a housing development for senior citizen housing with the DRE, the project needs to provide:

  • assess throughout for persons using a wheelchair;
  • railings or grab bars in common areas;
  • bright common area lighting for persons with difficulty seeing;
  • assess throughout without the need to use stairs;
  • a common room and open space for social contact; and
  • compliance with the Federal Fair Housing Act (FFHA) and American Disability Act (ADA). [CC §51.2(d)]

Qualified senior citizen housing

Qualified senior housing, under a federal exemption from anti-discrimination law, limits its occupancy exclusively to persons who are 62 years of age or older. [24 Code of Federal Regulations §100.303(a)(1), (2)]

However, a housing project still qualifies for senior housing even though management employees and their families living on the premises are under 62 years of age. To be classified as employees, the employees are to perform substantial duties directly related to the management or maintenance of the housing. [24 CFR §100.303(a)(3)]

The 62-or-older restriction excludes all persons under the age of 62, even if one spouse is 62 or older and the other is not. [24 CFR §100.303(b)]

If a project owner elects not to qualify or cannot qualify for the 62-or-older exemption, the project may still qualify under the broader 55-or-older exemption.

80% rule for 55-or-older

To qualify for the federal 55-or-older exemption, the housing project needs to have 80% of the units occupied by at least one person 55 years of age or older. [24 CFR §100.305(a)]

For newly constructed projects, the 80% occupancy requirement does not apply until the real estate is 25% occupied. [24 CFR §100.305(d)]

Development or renovation of an existing residential complex for senior citizen housing needs to have been put to use as senior citizen housing immediately after development or renovation to qualify as senior citizen housing. [CC §51.3(f)]

Also, a family member or hired person may reside with the senior citizen if they provide assistance with necessary daily activities or medical treatment. [CC §51.3(c)(7)]

Also, a child or grandchild who is disabled or who has a disabling illness or injury and needs to live with the senior citizen on account of the child’s disabilities may live with the senior citizen. [CC §51.3(b)(3)]

Thus, a mobilehome park cannot discriminate against a 55-or-older tenant who is married to a younger occupant. Federal law does not allow any discrimination when one occupant is at least 55 years of age. [CC §798.76]

Failure to comply with fair housing laws

The Federal Fair Housing Act (FFHA) is a collection of policies designed to prevent discrimination in the access to housing based on an occupant’s inclusion in a protected class.

Any individual who claims they have been injured by a prohibited discriminatory housing practice under the FFHA or believes they will be injured by such a practice is considered an aggrieved individual. [42 United States Civil Code §3602(i)]

An aggrieved individual may file a complaint with the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), within one year of the alleged discriminatory housing practice. [42 USC 3610(a)]

HUD then attempts to resolve the dispute by having the parties enter into informal negotiations, called mediation. [42 USC §3610(b)]

If mediation is not successful, a judicial action may be initiated by HUD as a complaint to resolve the issue of discrimination. The dispute will then be resolved by an administrative law judge.

Any party to the complaint may elect to have the claims decided in a civil action before a court of law in lieu of using an administrative law judge. [42 USC §3612(a)]

When a real estate broker subjected to a judicial action is found guilty of discriminatory housing practices, HUD is to notify the DRE and recommend disciplinary action. [42 USC §3612(g) (5)]

When a court determines discriminatory housing practices have taken place, actual and punitive amounts of money awards may be granted. Also, an order may be issued preventing the landlord or broker from engaging in any future discriminatory housing practice. [42 USC §3613(c)(1)]

Further, California’s Unruh Civil Rights Act, another anti-discrimination law, prohibits discrimination by a business establishment based on numerous status classifications, including an individual’s:

  • sex;
  • race;
  • color;
  • religion;
  • ancestry;
  • national origin;
  • disability; or
  • medical condition. [Calif. Civil Code §§51; 51.2; 51.3]

However, age restriction is a legitimate discrimination as long as the restriction is in a project that qualifies as a senior citizen housing development.

The Unruh Civil Rights Act applies to anyone in the business of providing housing. Brokers, developers, apartment owners, condominium owners and single family residential owners renting or selling are considered to be in the business of providing housing.