Serving Senior Tenants as a Multifamily Owner

Preparation and communication are key when working with this demographic group.

Adults 55 and over make up approximately 21% of the US population while those 65 and older make up 9% of residential renters. From a management perspective, senior tenants offer a number of advantages.

  • They tend to be stable renters, remaining in place for many years if they are comfortable with their rental unit.
  • They often have a reliable income from Social Security and other retirement benefits.
  • They may be quite tidy and house-proud, taking care of their rental property as if it were their own.

However, there are some cases in which senior tenants may struggle with day-to-day upkeep, self-care, and communication. Recently, from our own management experience, we have seen some troubling incidences, including the following:

  • A tenant who left water running in their kitchen sink, overflowing and flooding the unit (three separate times!)
  • Another senior tenant who removed fixed irrigation lines because they wanted to change the landscaping of the property
  • Another senior tenant who started calling their own service providers because they forgot they lived at an apartment
  • A tenant with poor eyesight trying to garden on a steep hillside.

How can you and your property manager help senior renters overcome challenges while enjoying the stability and positive aspects of their tenancy? What resources can you tap into or make available for your senior tenants?

Challenges and Solutions for Senior Tenants

Here are some examples of the challenges your senior tenants may be facing and how they can impact your multifamily residential property as well as staff members and neighbors.

Challenge 1: Forgetfulness

Forgetfulness should be considered separately from signs of dementia or other age-related illnesses. Simple forgetfulness can happen to almost anyone, especially after the age of 55. However, forgetfulness can have big consequences, including the dangers of leaving a stove or
candle unattended, leaving a door unlocked, failing to put out the trash and recycling, or failing to pay the rent or utilities on time.

Challenge 2: Signs of Dementia

Signs of dementia are, of course, more serious than simple forgetfulness and include additional complications both physically and emotionally. Some seniors with signs of dementia may be tempted to hide their condition from friends or family members, making it even more difficult to get them the help that they need.

Challenge 3: Mood Disorders

Whether from dementia, depression, or as a side effect of medication, many senior renters may struggle with mood swings, including angry outbursts and other signs of emotional instability. This can be troubling, especially if they are lashing out at property management staff or neighbors.

Challenge 4: Accessibility

Physical challenges like poor eyesight or walking instability can make it difficult for senior tenants to navigate their individual units and the common spaces of your multifamily complex. In addition, some seniors may be driving long after their skills and sight have deteriorated, posing a danger to other people in their community.

Possible solutions to consider

The good news is that there are ways to ensure that you are doing what’s right for your senior tenant, your other tenants, and your property management. Here’s how.

Communication with the tenant and their emergency contact

Your rental application should include an emergency or secondary contact in case of illness or injury of any tenant, and seniors are no exception. Make sure that you keep the emergency contact information updated on a regular basis so that you can reach out if you determine that your tenant is unable to care for him or herself.

Reaching out to community resources

There are many community resources available in neighborhoods across the country. These may be provided through churches, senior centers, or the local police department. Veterans Affairs, The United Way, Meals on Wheels, and other organizations may be able to ensure that your tenant is provided with the attention they need to continue to live independently.
Want to avoid calling out your senior tenant individually? Consider putting together a flyer of information on community resources with a section on senior living, then provide it to all of your tenants. Use this as a starting point for important one-on-one conversations as needed.

Consistent adherence to policies and processes

While you will feel sympathy for your senior tenants, you must continue to implement the policies and processes you already have in place. Under the Fair Housing Act, landlords may evict tenants who pose a “direct threat to the health or safety of other individuals in the building.” In some cases, an eviction notice is needed to trigger the financial assistance and personal awareness that your senior tenant needs to move to an assisted living or care facility.

If you have a complicated situation with a tenant, or you are considering new opportunities, please contact me for help or a review of your options.