What Are Senior Apartments?

Published In Alternative Senior Housing

When adult children discuss housing choices with their aging parents, it may become apparent that it would be wise for the parents to move to an environment that caters to older adults. Parents who have substantial equity in a family home might want to sell their house and purchase a home in a retirement community. Parents who need assistance with their activities of daily living might want to move to an assisted-living facility.

Parents who do not need the caregiving provided by assisted-living but who cannot afford to buy a unit in a retirement community might choose to rent. Senior apartments are a good alternative to apartment complexes that primarily appeal to younger residents.

Senior Apartments

Senior apartments typically follow the same rental model as other apartment dwellings. The senior tenant rents the apartment for a specified lease term — typically one year — and pays a security deposit in addition to the first month’s rent. In some communities, it is customary to pay the last month’s rent in advance.

Senior apartments differ from other apartment dwellings in important ways. First, they require a minimum age for residents. Some senior apartments apply the minimum age to one resident but allow a younger spouse or roommate to reside with the older tenant. The minimum age usually ranges from 55 to 62. Some senior apartment dwellings refer to themselves as “55 and older communities” to emphasize the age restriction. When senior apartments are marketed as a “community,” it is common for multiple buildings with the same age restriction to share amenities.

Second, senior apartment buildings are often designed to serve the needs of older residents. If a building has more than one floor, it typically has an elevator so residents do not need to climb stairs. Bathrooms are generally equipped with grab bars. Wheelchair ramps and wheelchair-accessible apartments improve the ability of older residents with mobility issues to live independently.

Senior Apartment Amenities

Like retirement communities, some senior apartments offer more amenities than others. Some senior apartments are located in a single building with few amenities. Others offer more amenities to residents of several buildings in close proximity to each other. The number and quality of amenities is often reflected in the rental cost of the apartment. Amenities may include:

  • Swimming pool
  • Fitness center
  • Community garden
  • Walking paths
  • Library
  • Game and meeting rooms
  • Picnic areas and BBQ grills

Some senior apartments may offer additional services — such as housekeeping, laundry, and meals — at an extra cost. Since residents rent units, they are only responsible for repairing damage that they caused. Leaky faucets, defective garbage disposals, and issues with heating or air conditioning are maintenance issues that the building owner must address.

Senior Apartments vs Retirement Communities

Although it is possible to rent units in some retirement communities, the residents of retirement communities typically own their units. Ownership gives residents the opportunity to attend meetings of the Homeowners Association, to elect leaders in the Association, and thus to have input into changes in the community. 

Senior apartment residents have little control over how their apartment building is managed. If they don’t believe management is responsive to their needs, they might elect to move out when the lease ends.

Senior apartment rental tends to be less expensive than the cost of purchasing a unit in a retirement community. Residents of retirement communities also pay dues to the Homeowners’ Association. Senior apartments may therefore be a good choice for seniors who need to save money. 

While senior apartments are more affordable, they tend to offer fewer amenities than retirement communities. Adult children who are helping their parents choose a new home should shop around, as some senior apartment dwellings are relatively luxurious while others are more spartan.

Senior Apartments vs Assisted-Living Facilities

Senior apartments are geared to residents who are capable of living independently. A senior who needs around-the-clock medical care might need to be in a nursing home. A senior who needs assistance with the activities of daily living might be better served by residing in an assisted-living facility.

Assisted-living facilities are staffed by caregivers who assure that residents receive the help they need with eating, hygiene, getting dressed, and their other routine activities. While a resident of a senior apartment can hire a caregiver (or get help from a family member) to provide services as a visitor, the building owner does not provide those services. 

Caregivers in an assisted-living facility are available whenever they are needed. A resident in a senior apartment must schedule visits from caregivers and might have difficulty coping with emergencies if the caregiver cannot respond outside of scheduled hours. Again, senior apartments are a more affordable housing option, but they may not be the best choice to meet the needs of an aging parent who needs daily help with physical activities.

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