Can a Child Live in a 55+ Community? [With Exceptions]

Age-restricted communities cater to the lifestyles of people 55 and older. About one-third of home-buyers 55 and older purchase in age-restricted communities.  Residents who need to take in a grandchild may worry that they risk their ability to stay in the community.

By law, children are allowed to live in a 55+ community as long as 80 percent of households have 1 resident 55 or older. Children may not live in a 62+ community, regardless of the household make up. However, all senior living communities are permitted to make stricter rules.

Communities are allowed to forbid children, and anyone else, under a certain age from living there. They can also restrict the number of overnight visits and establish penalties for violating the rules.

Usually, the Fair Housing Act makes it illegal to avoid renting or selling to a family because of their kids. However, the Housing for Older Persons Act of 1995 made senior housing exceptions to the Fair Housing Act.

Read on to learn the power this act gives to senior communities to prevent children from living there.

Disclaimer: This article is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not a substitute for legal advice. Please consult a licensed attorney in your state if you have questions or believe you have a legal situation.

Can a Child Live in a 55+ Community?

Whether or not a child can live in a 55+ community depends on the specific community. These communities want to maintain their Fair Housing Act protected status.  

Age-restricted communities go by several names. They may be called a 55+ community, senior living community, independent living community, or active adult community.

Regardless of the name, they fall under one of three exceptions established in the Housing for Older Persons Act of 1995.  The Federal Fair Housing Act makes it illegal for developers and real estate professionals to discriminate in housing transactions. 

The Fair Housing Act protects many times of people. It prohibits housing discrimination based on race, color, origin, sex, handicap, religion, and familial status. 

This means it is normally illegal to deny the rental or purchase of a home to someone because they have children. The Fair Housing Act makes three exceptions for senior living communities. 

Fair Housing Act Exceptions for Senior Living Communities

The federal government created these exceptions to recognize the unique needs of seniors. Living in special communities can give them a quieter lifestyle with amenities targeted to their stage in life. This can include on-side health services, social events, geriatric exercise, and more.

To put a minimum age on the residents, a community must have one of these three characteristics:

  • At least 80 percent of units must be occupied by at least one resident who is 55 years old or older.
  • Every occupant is at least 62 years old.
  • The community is part of a state or federal program designed to assist the elderly.

Age-restricted communities are master-planned communities that are run by homeowners or condo associations. The community’s covenant documents will designate which type of community it is. 

Communities can also place tighter restrictions on the community than are required by HOPA. For example, they can require that 80 percent of households have all occupants be 55 or older. 

Age is not a protected class under the Fair Housing Act, so these communities can legally place whatever age restrictions they want.

Are There Exceptions to 55+ Communities?

Many senior living communities do permit children. But this is very specific to each community, and there will be no wiggle room in most.

As noted above, some communities require that every single occupant be at least 62 years old. In these communities, children can visit, but they cannot live there.

Even if the management was sympathetic to emergency circumstances, it would be in violation of the bylaws. Often, other residents demand the rules be enforced. Anyone moving to a senior community needs to realize that some people move there to get away from children.

Communities for seniors who are 62+ define the difference between visits and moving in their bylaws. For example, it may say that a child may stay overnight no more than 20 nights per year. 

Communities that follow the 80/20 ratio are a lot more flexible. The law only requires that one occupant of the home As long be 55 or older. As a result, kids living with grandparents would not impact the HOPA requirements.

However, remember that each community can make rules that are more strict than the HOPA requirements. Senior communities often have age requirements for all household members. 

Requirements that nobody under 18 may live there are common. So too are rules that a spouse must be at least 40 even if the other is 55 or older. It can be very challenging to find a community that allows a child to move in full-time.

Management can also restrict or permit babysitting, frequent visits, and areas of the community where children can go. The pool is routinely off limits.

Children May Live in Households without 55+ Adults

In 80/20 communities, 20 percent of homes may be offered without age restriction. However, nothing requires the communities to permit children or even young adults. Many communities choose to restrict the age on all homes for a more cohesive community.

In communities without an across-the-board age restriction, children may move in even if no adult in the home is 55+. Communities are careful not to get too close to the 80/20 thresh hold.

If too many 55+ residents die or move away, the community’s 80/20 ratio would be imbalanced. Even communities that welcome children have to conservatively gauge the number of young households allowed at any one time.

HOPA allows senior living communities to offer different or fewer amenities to the 20 percent. Ultimately, HOPA requires that senior living communities maintain an intent to assist the elderly. The concern of these communities will always be the older residents.

Can My Child Live with Me in a 55+ Community?

Mothers who are 55 or older do not get special exemptions if they have minor children. Whether their child can live with them will be subject to the rules of that particular community.

Remember that moving into a senior community is much like moving into any other HOA community. Buyers or renters should review the community bylaws and be comfortable submitting to them if they decide to move there.

HOPA does permit the community to deny the purchase or rental of a home to someone with a minor child, even if the adult is over 55. It is more likely that a community will permit your adult child who is at least 18 to live with you. 

How Does the Community Know About Children?

Under the Housing for Older Persons Act of 1995, senior living developments must do a survey every two years. They will ask residents for proof of age to confirm that at least one occupant is 55 or older. 

Of course, neighbors displeased with a child in the neighborhood can also report the new resident to management.

What Happens If I Move in a Child Without Permission?

People who allow a child to move in with them in a senior living community can face some real consequences. It is all dependent on community enforcement. 

Generally, most senior communities want to keep their status under HOPA. And, more importantly, so do the residents. 

In many places, age-restricted communities are hard to get into with waitlists and high property values. The social network and amenities available make them really popular. 

If a community does not have enough seniors to meet the HOPA requirements, it will lose its FHA exemption. That means that it can no longer bar new families with children from moving in. 

For this reason, a 62+ community will not allow a child to move in. If and when the management finds out, they will take legal action as permitted by their state to remove the child. 

Of course, a 55+ community can also choose to take legal action for failure to follow the rules. 

What that legal action looks like depends on the community bylaws. By purchasing a home in these communities, the buyer is entering into a contract with the community. 

If the homeowner violates the terms, the community can pursue the remedies defined in the bylaws or allowed by the state. This may be fines or even eviction.

Government-Assisted Senior Housing May Have More Restrictive Rules

Seniors who live in a 55+ community with a housing voucher can be subject to different rules. State housing programs can place limits on the number of people allowed to live in a home.

Failure to comply with the rules of the voucher program will likely lead to the revocation of the voucher. Theoretically, the government does this to protect seniors from being crowded by family.

Unfortunately, this does not take into account complicated family situations or the senior’s desire to have family with them.

Final Thoughts

Anyone contemplating a move to a senior community who is also responsible for a child would do well to look elsewhere. Ultimately, these communities exist to provide a different quality of life to those past the family-raising stage.

The amenities of the community will be targeted to older adults instead of children. Expect BINGO halls instead of playgrounds.

Know that a 62+ community will not allow you to purchase or rent there. A 55+ community may allow it depending on the community’s bylaws.

Most importantly, anyone considering a move to a senior living community should pay careful attention to the bylaws and CCRs. These documents identify the community’s rules regarding children, and all residents must follow them.