The elderly can make fantastic tenants. The mistakes of youth are behind them, they infrequently engage in criminal activities, and if they are taking Social Security or are pension beneficiaries, they have reliable incomes.
Elderly tenants also present some unique concerns for the landlord. These concerns include the following:
In some cases, elderly clients have occupied rent-controlled units for a long time, creating a revenue pinch for landlords who could get more income if the current tenant moved. This creates a powerful incentive to create problems for the elderly tenant in hopes they move on—a course of action which, if found to be discriminatory, is almost always illegal.
When screening prospective tenants, you may not discriminate against them on the basis of age. That's a violation of the Federal Fair Housing Act of 1968 as well as the federal Fair Housing Amendments Act. These acts prohibit:
You don't have to favor elderly applicants or tenants, but you can't disfavor them, either, by imposing extra requirements for them.
Discrimination against elderly tenants with disabilities is also prohibited. You can't ask about them. Even if there are mental health issues that are readily apparent, you cannot make your decision to lease or not lease based on a disability.
As a landlord, you must make reasonable accommodations for tenants with disabilities at your expense, not the tenant's. You may have to do things like install grip rails in showers or allow for an assistance animal when you normally don't take pets. You may need to provide a reserved handicapped parking space near the dwelling entrance. The law generally does not require small-scale landlords to make major structural changes.
The applicable law here is generally the Americans with Disabilities Act, although sections of the Fair Housing Act may also apply. For example, while the ADA only allows for service dogs in public accommodations, the Fair Housing Act also requires landlords to accept therapy animals that do not perform a specific task for the owner.
Exemptions: The federal fair housing laws don't apply to buildings with four units or fewer if the owner lives on premises, nor to single-family homes rented without using advertising and without a broker. However, this is limited to three houses per landlord.
Don't let your tenant fall hopelessly behind in rent payments. Some charitable agencies will not assist tenants who are more than 30 days behind in rent, for example. The focus will not be on getting you paid, but on finding new housing for the tenant. By letting a struggling tenant slide on rent, you may actually make things more difficult for the tenant and endanger your own financial situation. Take action to collect, support, assist, and evict without delaying.
If an elderly tenant is routinely late with the rent payment, it may be because a Social Security or pension payment comes at a certain time each month. Landlords can go a long way toward keeping a good tenant by simply adjusting the rent due date.
Normally, you can evict a tenant for failure to maintain the property. But hoarding is a clinical disorder, according to the American Psychiatric Association, so hoarding tenants may be protected under the Fair Housing Act.
However, even those protected under the Fair Housing Act are still obligated to protect the structure and property from damage and comply with health and safety regulations. Landlords don't have to tolerate unsafe conditions. So while you can't evict a tenant for hoarding, you can evict for issues as follow:
Similar considerations apply to elderly patients whose infirmities make it difficult for them to care for themselves and the dwelling.
To protect your rights, document the problems carefully, taking photographs of hoarding, hygiene, or other issues. You may work with the tenant and any family members to create a cleanup plan and some follow-up inspections to ensure the work is done.
In many jurisdictions, local and state governments provide some extra layers of protection to elderly clients. If you find yourself needing to evict an elderly individual, check with an attorney first. If you do have to evict an elderly tenant, you would do well to be able to show the court that you have attempted to assist him or her with referrals to outside agencies and assistance programs.
Nobody wants to evict a good tenant. This is particularly true of elderly tenants who may have a tough time getting established elsewhere. If you are having problems with an elderly tenant, you may be able to arrange for some assistance to avoid an eviction, which would be expensive and traumatic for both of you.
For example, the Los Angeles Foundation on Aging has an Elderly Tenant Program that includes assistance for tenants struggling with hoarding.
You can also contact a variety of organizations that may help your tenant with day-to-day activities, financial management, housekeeping, cash assistance for eviction prevention, and the like.
There are a number of paid organizations that may help elderly tenants going through challenges:
Sometimes a short-term cash assistance program can buy enough time for a family member to intervene, or your tenant to find an alternative solution while still protecting your interests and right to the agreed-upon rent.