Remember the "good old days" when we had senior sections and family sections within the same manufactured home community? And when most of us participated in the Senior Discount plan by offering our senior citizens discounts on their rent by virtue of the fact that they had reached a certain age?
Well, those days are gone. Both of those actions are in violation of the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988. This act added provisions which eliminated the "senior sections" of our communities, and requires us to now place families and seniors (in all-age communities) on the homesite of their choice (provided their home will fit) without regard to the age of the neighbors in place or the applicant.
That same Fair Housing Amendments Act also made rental concessions or discounts that were tied strictly to age illegal. Many community owners and operators were faced with removing these reductions from their residents' accounts. Some of us didn't yet. Some owners and/or operators truly see a need to "help" those senior residents who are on a fixed income, or who are having difficulty in paying the rent if they have been long-time residents.
In order to prevent fines or lawsuits for discriminatory actions in violation of the Fair Housing Amendments Act, we must all come into compliance immediately. If you are one of the few out there who still offers these age-based discounts, please take action within the next 30 days to change your policies.
Now -- there is a way to offer discounts legally. You can still help those residents whom you feel need your help or need a subsidy on a regular basis. Or, you can help them to find an alternative subsidy source so you will receive your fair market rent in full each month.
First, identify sources of help in your area. Call churches, county commissioners or city councils, the local Council on Aging office, and any other organizations you can find that "adopt" needy families or provide financial help -- either on a full time basis or a once-in-a-while circumstance.
Secondly, make whatever assistance program you offer available to all your residents, regardless of age, familial status or handicap status. Any information put in your newsletter should simply direct residents who need assistance to contact the management office for more information, but should not limit in any way the residents who may apply for help.
Thirdly, construct a comprehensive form to document all the current sources of income of your resident. This form should also identify any other possible sources of income (such as other family members, food stamps, or additional retirement benefits). And, proof of all income and expenses should, of course, be the final requirement.
Note clearly on the form -- at the top and again at the end -- that all sections must be completely filled out with pertinent information requested and forms of proof attached in order for the application to be considered. Stick to your guns on this point. An incomplete application for subsidized rent may well put you in the position of appearing to show favoritism or discrimination if you make a decision based on limited information.
You now have a policy in place and a legal structure available to offer rental discounts or subsidies to those residents who truly need it. And, as long as it's done without regard to age, you are not discriminating.
For a draft of a sample form that will get you started in designing your own, send me a business card and a self-addressed, stamped envelope with a note and ask for the Rent Subsidy draft.
Chrissy Jackson, ACM
MHI Director of Training and Community Resources
109 Tanglewood Lane
Thonotosassa, FL 33592