55 and Older Community Rules

There are plenty of things to look forward to as you age. As a retired older American, you would most probably be looking forward to a relaxed lifestyle, and spending more time with the family.

Senior in front of his house

And of course, as retirement draws near, some people decide to live in a 55+ or Active Adult community, but there are a few things you should know before committing.

What is 55 and Older Housing?

The 55+ or Active Adult community is designed specifically for older adults aged 55 and older. The whole community including floor plans and expected home maintenance to community events and resources are set up to cater to older homeowners.

As the name suggests, these communities are age-restricted. This means that all residents have to be aged 55 or older in order to purchase a property in the community. We have a separate article on benefits for seniors over 55.

However, there are some exceptions to this rule. Let’s take a look at the 55 and older rules and what are the exemption to the rules.

55 and Older Community Rules and Requirements

To start with, the Federal Fair Housing Act prohibits “denial of housing or real estate transactions based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, handicap, and familial status.”

Here, a person’s age is not included, so developers and communities can set restrictions on who can own property, most notably within 55+ communities.

Now, are you wondering whether these 55 and older communities are all strictly “senior adults only”?

Not necessarily. Allow us to elaborate.

When looking at most 55+ community requirements, there are two standard rules. The first says that each household must have a resident who is 55 years of age or older.

The second of the 55+ community rules relates to the rest of the members of the household—spouses, partners, and children. In most cases, the minimum ages for other residents are set at 40 for a spouse or partner, and 18 for a child.

Here are some commonly asked questions pertaining to 55 and older community rules:

Can Children Live in 55+ Communities?

Simply put, the answer is no.

This does not mean that you cannot have your grandkids visiting you at all! Honestly, we find a retirement community that allows kids to live there on a full-time basis is rare.

But as we said, that doesn’t mean your grandchildren are forbidden from visiting, or that you’ll only see senior citizens in your 55-plus community. 

Younger residents are welcome as guests, normally on a short-term basis. The rules pertaining to visiting children vary with each community, but two weeks to 30 days is the typical range of time you’ll spend each visit with your grandkids or minor children.


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The Two Common Rules in Age Restricted Communities:

  • Rule number one is that each household (or a certain percentage of the households) must have a resident age 55 or older.
  • Rule number two adds an age restriction for the remaining members of the household. They could be a spouse, partner, or child.

Street view of a residential community

These minimum ages set for the additional members stand at 40 for a spouse or partner. The child has to be an adult child, that is, he/she should be 18 years of age.
The retirement community can also set guidelines for how long a minor child (such as grandchildren) can stay in the condo with community residents.

The 80/20 Rule in Active Adult Communities

If you’ve been researching 55+ adult communities, you’ve probably stumbled upon the “80/20 rule.” Now, what does this mean?

It means that according to the Housing for Older Persons Act of 1995 (HOPA), at least 80 percent of the occupied units of an age-restricted community must include one permanent resident aged 55 or older and the housing facility must show an intent to provide housing for those 55 and up.

The “intent to provide housing for those 55 and up” part is important to the remaining 20% of the rule. That doesn’t mean that the community lifts the age restrictions for 20% of its units.

This allows some flexibility in case of an issue that violates the age restriction. For example, imagine that a 67-year-old and 52-year-old move into a 55+ community home, and the older occupant passes away. In this case, the younger residents can remain in the home, under the 20% cushion of the 80/20 rule.

All that being said, most age-restricted retirement communities try to maintain the minimum age requirement in 100% of households.


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How to Choose a 55 and Older Community:

Here are some aspects you should take into account while choosing a 55+ Community:

Your Interest in Active Adult Communities

Interest in age-restricted communities is generally on the rise. But this is about what you prefer and where your interests lie.

If you’re contemplating moving into an age-restricted community, finding one that’s right for you takes work. While active adult communities generally offer the opportunity for a lower-maintenance (and sometimes lower cost) lifestyle, they vary enormously.

The occupancy is high, most are owned by their occupants, but a growing number are rentals. Typically, at least one occupant of each property must be an older resident aged 55 or above.

Before settling into an age-restricted community, ask yourself these questions:

Your Retirement Savings and Affordability

Do you still have mortgage payments and housing loans to pay off? Factor in the cost of rent or mortgage payments, and add in the cost of homeowners’ association or community fees, which often run around a few hundred dollars per month. Do you still see yourself being able to live comfortably in the community? If so, go ahead!

Oh, and remember that while some 55+ communities have restaurants, your fees won’t cover meals or health care. So budget for those expenses. The monthly fees of the 55+ age-restricted community will include exterior maintenance, such as lawn care and possibly snow removal, as well as community areas like a clubhouse or pool.

We suggest that you sit down with a financial planner to run the numbers to make sure the ongoing costs of your new home won’t impact your long-term financial security.

You can get a sense of what’s out there by searching 55places.com, which offers ratings, reviews, and information on activities and amenities for thousands of communities across the country.


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Your Interest in Social Activities

The answer to this question solely depends on what you are hoping to get out of the development. And consider your needs and wants both now as well as in the future.

Group of seniors talking with each other

An active adult community has clubhouses, lots of organized activities, and packed social calendars with everything from holiday parties to cruises to local attractions. Others might have few structured activities. If you don’t find the popular activities in the development appealing, (or if you prefer to not socialize much), you’ll want to look for some independent living facility.

Choice of Community

There are a growing number of niche communities, designed specifically to cater to specific interests and groups, from LGBT-focused communities to Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville-themed developments; Communities that cater to a niche will mention it on their websites and in their marketing materials. Asking around during a visit can confirm how well the place delivers.

Some developments and the homeowners association will let you stay overnight in a model home for a few nights or a week to get the true experience of what it would be like to live there.


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How Long Can You Live There?

While you may be lured by the “active” part of “active adult” communities, if you’re planning to remain in this home throughout retirement, your needs will likely change significantly over the course of your stay. Planning now for your housing in a decade will let you remain in your home independently for longer.

Look for a home with “universal design” features like no-step entries, single-floor living, and wider doorways and hallways to allow for wheelchairs, in case you’ll need them one day. Such features should be available in a 55 plus community, though they may be seamlessly blended into the architecture.

How Well You Like the Surrounding Area

Even in communities with a host of recreational amenities, you’ll likely want to leave the gates once in a while. Make sure you can easily take advantage of things you enjoy off-campus, such as shopping, or hiking.

Senior couple hiking together

If you are a person who travels a lot or has visitors over regularly, consider the proximity of the closest airport. This is particularly important if you’re moving to a different region of the country.

The reasons for moving to a senior community in another state often include the weather and a lower cost of living.

Think, too, about how the surrounding area would serve your needs in the future. Ideally, this means a walkable community or one with a robust system of public transportation.

At an advanced age, you will be more concerned about the availability of medical help and the ease of access to a nursing home rather than an urban condo and an array of fancy amenities!

We suggest you focus on easy access to health care, including a primary care physician and specialty doctors and hospitals you might need in the future.

We hope that this article has given you enough insights into the rules and exemption to the rules commonly put down by a 55 plus community. Do let us know if you have any suggestions in the comments below.