For the first time in United States history, more and more adults are choosing to stay in their home as they age. The reasons for wanting to stay in the home range from a personal choice stemming from the desire to stay in familiar surroundings with familiar routines, to an economical choice of the cost of downgrading to a smaller house or moving in general is almost infeasible because of the recent housing market crash.
The focus of this blog is on the aging adult in a community association and the interplay of this with the challenges that associations may face. More and more associations are seeing one of two situations with respect to seniors: (1) more seniors living alone and remaining in their house or (2) families choosing to house their elderly relatives, whether it is a mother, father, sibling, or whatever the case may be. As our society moves away from the cookie-cutter familial model, associations are faced with a mixture of generations, which in turn, creates a mixture of problems.
With regard to seniors, the concept of aging in the home presents physical, social, and mental challenges that community associations should be prepared to handle. Do associations need to make the common elements more accessible? What about activities provided on-site? How can the board effectively communicate with its elderly residents? You may be thinking that these issues are irrelevant with respect to community associations because community associations are not responsible, per se, for the individuals living in the community. But, not so fast – while these issues may not directly affect associations, they do have implications with regard to the governing documents, management of the property, and everyday maintenance of the property.
Looking at these potential issues in turn, physical challenges for seniors include the obvious issues, decline in health and chronic illnesses, and the not-so-obvious issues, substance abuse and sexually-transmitted diseases. With respect to the decline in health and chronic illnesses, there may be more falls or injuries on association property. To that respect, associations should ensure that the common elements are well maintained including sidewalks (cracks that need fixed), breezeways (water that needs cleaned up), and other common elements. A simple inspection of the common elements could prevent a potential lawsuit from an owner against an association by discovering and preemptively fixing a cracked sidewalk. Inside the unit, the aging population may affect what floors, doors, cabinets, and other fixtures an association permits, as it may be necessary to permit fixtures that are not contemplated or included in the governing documents to avoid potential FHA or HUD disputes.
As for the not-so-obvious issues of substance abuse and sexually-transmitted diseases, although these are again not necessarily the responsibility of the association to care for or oversee, they could potentially create problems in the community. Sexually-transmitted diseases are rising at an all-time high in individuals 55 and older. It is important that property managers are aware of these issues and know how to handle these issues if and when they arise, which rests on the back of the association to train its employees. There may not be a total solution or even the necessity to have a solution if any issue comes up, but it is still important that property managers know how to deal with these concerns.
Moving on to social challenges, the social challenges for seniors include the ability to communicate to residents and the association and the ability to participate in activities hosted by or in the community. Communication is a huge responsibility of the association and is typically addressed multiple times in the governing documents. With the rise in technology and the ever-changing and accommodating sections of Florida Statutes, Chapter 718, associations are moving toward the use of electronic communications with residents. However, associations must be mindful of the senior residents in the community who do not use or have access to electronic communication devices. While the younger generations would prefer the electronic communications, older generations would still prepare to receive hard-copies. This may lend a hand to a policy that implements both hard and electronic copies of notices, or maybe even a policy that would allow the owner to select with option they would prefer when they move into the community. Perhaps not as important as communication, but still relevant, are community activities. When planning activities, associations should be mindful of the activities planned and funded by the association, to ensure that persons of all generations have activities they can participate in, provided that the association has any events or activities.
The final challenge that associations face are the mental challenges of the aging members of its community. The mental challenges for seniors include diminished capacity and illnesses affecting mental capacity. The relevancy of mental challenges for the association is ensuring that competent board members are elected. Who defines competent? How is this measured? These are issues for consideration in the governing documents for condominium associations. Again, any changes to this effect must be non-discriminatory. Additional considerations for mental challenges are emergency contacts for the residents. For example, if son buys condominium unit for dad, there needs to be a policy in place for the property manager to know to call son if any issues arise.
In addition to the aforementioned challenges community associations may expect to face, aging populations and multiple generations may change how an association defines certain terms, including “single-family,” “resident,” and “home-based business.” For example, some governing documents may be exceptionally limiting as to the term “single-family” as to prohibit care-takers or others from living in a unit. With respect to “home-based business,” the seniors who are staying at their home may not be retiring but just using their home as a satellite office. Some governing documents would limit the ability to use one’s home as an office.
In sum, the fact that associations are becoming more and more diverse in the generational splits among residents, in combination with the increasing number of “retire-at-home” seniors, community associations are facing issues that are not contemplated by the governing documents. Given this information, associations may want to review their governing documents to ensure that the community is ready for any issue that may arise.