Apartment Living BlogFair Housing › Fair Housing Expert: Senior Housing Community Do’s, Don’ts, and FAQs

Doug Chasick, President of The Fair Housing Institute, Inc.


Dear Fair Housing Expert,


We are developing a new retirement community and coming across some conflicting information as to what is required to qualify for the senior housing exemption under the Fair Housing Act. Can you clarify what’s involved as well as the terms that we can use to advertise to this demographic? And, what kind of expectations do we need to set for visitors, children and grandchildren under the age of 18?


-Senior Housing Manager




Dear Senior Housing Manager,

These questions are fairly common and can be confusing, especially as an increasing number of housing developments appear to be marketing themselves as “Active Adult” or “Empty Nester” communities. Yet, using the term “Adult Only” housing was outlawed when the Fair Housing Amendments Act (FHAA) was signed into law.


Among the important changes to the original Fair Housing Act was the addition of “Familial Status” as a protected class in 1988. In 1995, the “Housing for Older Persons” exemption was added and specifically exempts qualified senior housing facilities and communities from liability for familial status discrimination and can lawfully refuse to sell or rent dwellings to families with minor children.



How to Qualify for “Housing for Older Persons” Exemption

Still, after more than two decades, many communities that want to exclude children seem unaware that they first must qualify for an exemption to be compliant with the law. Age does matter here if you want to qualify for “Housing for Older Persons” exemption. Here are the basic requirements for housing providers to meet the exemption:


– At least 80 percent of its units must be occupied by at least one person 55 years of age or older.

– OR, if the property is intended for and solely occupied by persons 62 years of age or older.


Properties are required to demonstrate their intent to be “Housing for Older Persons.” Enforcement agencies determine qualification by reviewing the totality of facts including the property’s policies, procedures, leases, advertising and so on. State laws vary, but Florida properties, for instance, must certify their compliance with the state agency before they are considered exempt.


Recommended Advertising Terms

Some state and local enforcement agencies claim that using phrases such as ”Adult Living” or ”Adult Community” are illegal as the terms are not in agreement with the exempt requirement and could potentially open you up to fair housing complaints. Additionally, HUD has cautioned properties to avoid terms like “active adult” for the same reasons. We, The Fair Housing Institute, Inc., believe that the safest strategy is to use the phrase “Senior Living Community” or “Housing for older persons.” Here’s a list of recommended terms to adopt or avoid when promoting senior housing properties:


DO use:

– Senior Living Community

– Senior Housing

– Housing for Older Persons

– 55 and Older Community

– Retirement Community

– 55 and Better Community


DON’T use:

– “Adult” – It has been illegal to have an adults-only community since the addition of the Fair Housing Amendments Act in 1988.

– “Active” – Every senior should be welcome, whether active or not active. The Housing for Older Persons Act (HOPA) specifically addresses housing for persons over the age of 55 and/or 62 and the best way to identify those folks is the word “Senior.”

– “Empty nester” – the exemption is based upon age of occupants, not familial status.

– ”Adult Living” or ”Adult Community” – Some state and local enforcement agencies claim these phrases are illegal as the terms are incompatible with the requirement.


Visitation Rights for People Under the age of 18

When a community qualifies as Senior Housing, it can restrict and even completely exclude persons under the age of 18. If you choose to allow persons under the age of 18, you can have rules that govern when they can use amenities (i.e. “Children are allowed at the pool between noon and 5:00 PM”) and even establish separate amenities (i.e. “Kids’ pool” and “Seniors’ pool”).  


While there is no legal consequence for prohibiting visitation by children, be cautious! We live in a world where people are apt to express their perceptions and opinions on social media. While we must always evaluate policies with regard to legal compliance, it’s also important in today’s connected world to evaluate the reason for – and potential unintended consequences of all of our policies. For more information, visit the HUD Senior Housing page or leave a question or comment below with your experience related to senior housing marketing and regulations.


If you’re interested in promoting your senior living community, visit After55.com. For additional senior housing resources and content, read the After55 Senior Living Blog.

Doug Chasick


Doug Chasick, CPM®, CAPS, CAS, is the President of The Fair Housing Institute, Inc. and is “The Apartment Doctor”, restoring rental health to ailing communities and multifamily professionals for the past 41 years. Awarded his CPM® in 1979, and a member of the IREM National Faculty for eight years, he is a Senior Instructor member of the NAAEI Faculty, leading the Advanced Instructor Training course and NAAEI designation courses. He is the 2010 recipient of the NAAEI ACE Award, a licensed Real Estate Broker in Florida and Georgia, and a licensed Expert Fair Housing Instructor in Virginia.


  1. Kitty Castillo says:

    Great article, Doug! I will be sharing!

  2. Christine Venaleck says:

    “Empty nester” is a common industry term, do you recommend its use be discontinued for ALL multifamily properties (not just senior housing) due to the reasons stated above?

    • Hi Christine,
      Yes, absolutely. One of my favorite Nadeen Green sayings is about how our advertising and marketing is perceived by our prospects. Nadeen told me to look at my materials and answer this question: “Would a reasonable person feel welcome?”. a reasonable person being defined as someone who only had one goal – to lease an apartment home. To me, “Empty Nester” does not communicate anything positive so why use it anywhere? Hope this helps!

  3. I am a divorced senior female. Can manager of Senior housing legally deny renting me a two bedroom unit because I live alone? She wants to limit me to one bedroom even though I can afford two. If there is a Law regarding this where will I find it?
    Thank you for your response.

  4. Hi Ceah,
    This blog shares fair housing best practices for multifamily professionals. I’m not an attorney and I do not offer legal advice, and as such, I don’t offer any advice to consumers. I suggest you contact your local Legal Aid or HUD Regional office for more information. http://www.HUD.gov
    Thanks for writing and I’m sorry I couldn’t be more helpful.

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