For a long time, everyone’s dream has been to age in place in their own home. However, the paradigm has shifted in recent years as more people realize the benefit of cashing out of their house, downsizing, and using the extra cash for living expenses and enjoying what they love to do — rather than spending their money on home maintenance and property taxes. As such, seniors are increasingly choosing to spend their silver years as renters — either moving to more vibrant urban neighborhoods; communities with people of their own age and similar interests; or an apartment in a warmer climate.
As a senior renter, there are many benefits you can enjoy. But, there are also many things to be mindful of when looking for apartments and negotiating your lease, as well as while living in a rental. Fortunately, this guide contains everything you need to know for the best possible living experience as a senior renter. Here’s what you can expect in this article:
There are many options that senior citizens can choose from when it comes to housing. For instance, depending on your needs and priorities, you can choose to live in active or assisted senior housing. Active senior housing options include independent living communities, retirement communities, senior cohousing, or homes or apartments for rent. Plus, if you’re looking to downsize and have more flexibility, a rental might be a great choice for you — especially if you don’t want to be tied down to one area.
Benefits of Renting in Retirement
It’s becoming evident why seniors are increasingly deciding to sell or rent out their homes and move into a rental apartment elsewhere. Renting in retirement has many advantages when you don’t have to worry about being close to a job or a good school, including:
- Greater flexibility for moving from one place to another
- Lower overall costs: No property taxes or home insurance
- Less maintenance and repairs
Whether you want to travel more or experience what it’s like to live in different cities, renting allows you the freedom to avoid being tied down to one place. It’s also worth noting that location will still be extremely important. For example, renting near grocery stores or farmer’s markets; pharmacies or your doctor’s office; and restaurants, theaters, or cinemas can add a level of convenience and eliminate unnecessary driving.
Furthermore, downsizing from a house to an apartment also means less space, which equates to less cleaning and upkeep. And, a home often requires maintenance and unexpected costs, which you don’t have to worry about as a renter. There’s also likely to be less clutter if you choose to move and downsize, which is freeing because you won’t have to dedicate extra time to take care of it all. That translates into more time of your own.
How to Find an Apartment as a Senior Renter
Thanks to the internet, it’s now much easier to search for and find a rental apartment that’s perfect for you. Specifically, on apartment listings websites, you can search for apartments in the city you want to live in; read about the local rental market and renting advice; and check average prices in the area to get an idea of what you’ll need to pay.
Here’s what you can do on an online apartment search website:
- View rental listings in a city, neighborhood or zip code of your choice
- Filter listings that match your budget, location or desired amenities
- View pictures and videos of rental properties online
- Read reviews posted by other residents
- Sign up to be notified by email when new apartments that match your search become available
- Get in touch with multiple rental properties and schedule appointments to tour them
- Finalize your application online or in person
Yet, with all of these advantages come some risks, as well. And, one specific risk you need to be aware of is scammers. In fact, rental scams have been on the rise during the pandemic as face-to-face interactions have been limited. However, you can protect yourself against these scams by knowing how scammers operate and being careful when researching your options.
Notably, one thing to always remember is never to send money upfront before you have a lease in place. Rather, once you decide on a rental, expect to undergo a background check and a discussion with the landlord or property manager. Never send money for background checks or with the promise of receiving the key in return. Always wait until you have a contract in place before making any payments.
Another key mantra you should adopt is that if the deal seems too good to be true, that’s probably the case. So, if you find a listing that looks good and has great amenities — but is significantly below the market price — be cautious. Save the images and do a reverse Google search by searching with the picture. Usually, that will return more listings for that apartment, anyway. And, if you find one with a higher price and different contact info, chances are that the first one you saw was a scam.
While you’re at it, be wary of the websites you’re using. For instance, while Craigslist can be great for finding a bargain, those listings are not verified. Therefore, always use a website with verified listings — such as rentcafe.com — to reduce the risk of encountering a scam.
Another tip to keep in mind is related to the apartment itself: Try to find an apartment on the ground floor or, if that’s not possible, at least in a building with elevators. That’s because stairs can be a pain and quite difficult — especially if you’re carrying grocery bags or heavier items.
What to Look for in an Apartment (Amenities for Senior Renters)
As you browse rental listings, you’ll notice that there are many types of amenities. But, the truth is that you need some more than others — and some you don’t need at all. Consequently, prioritizing your amenity preferences is important to select what will truly help improve your life — without spending extra money on features you don’t need and probably won’t use. Here are some suggestions for what to look for as a senior renter:
Inside the apartment, you won’t want anything that would create more work than it’s worth. So, look for apartments with modern finishes, easy-to-clean surfaces and efficient appliances that run smoothly. Smart solutions for a more secure home — such as security cameras or a smart doorbell — are also great. Another handy amenity is a smart thermostat, which you can program to maintain a comfortable temperature throughout the apartment and also allows you to save money on utilities by controlling your consumption.
Other safety features that can be helpful are grab bars in the bathroom; anti-slip floors and showers; in-closet and under-cabinet lighting; lever door handles; and appliances with easy-to-read controls.
- Building & Community Amenities
Meanwhile, an elevator is definitely a must if your apartment won’t be on the ground floor. Likewise, secured access to the building — and perhaps a security guard — will also add a feeling of safety that is important for comfortable living.
Common areas that allow for socializing and movement are also a plus: A pool, fitness center, or café can provide opportunities to get to know your neighbors and make friends. Many communities also have tennis or basketball courts for residents to stay active and socialize.
Pets, Service Animals & Apartments
Because more and more people have pets, many apartments are also now pet-friendly. And, while having a pet is a responsibility, an animal is also a positive presence and exudes amazing energy. If you have a pet or are thinking about adopting one, check out this great guide with everything you need to know when renting with pets.
Meanwhile, when searching online, filter your search by pet policy. For instance, for pet-friendly apartments in Tampa, you can select the pet policy from the filters menu. Most apartment buildings are pet-friendly and some even offer amazing pet amenities, such as dog parks and grooming stations. Just be aware of any breed or size restrictions, and always double check that the landlord will allow your pet.
However, if you have a service or emotional support animal, note that these are not actually considered pets. That means that the landlord or property manager cannot deny you an apartment on the grounds of it not being pet-friendly. Additionally, breed restrictions, additional fees, and other considerations don’t apply to service or assistance animals.
Questions to Ask Your Landlord
After you’ve found an apartment you like, meet with the landlord or property manager to discuss specific issues. In general, questions that are important to ask in this discussion include:
- How much is the security deposit and is it refundable?
- What is considered normal wear and tear, and what goes beyond it?
- Are utilities included? If so, which ones?
- Who takes care of maintenance, and how can I submit maintenance requests?
- What is the penalty for breaking the lease early?
- Is the rent a fixed rate?
- Is renter’s insurance required?
- Are there any additional one-time fees?
While you’re at it, also make sure to discuss issues related to your specific situation. For instance, do you require any structural modifications to the apartment — such as installing a ramp or special handles, or lowering the countertops? If so, discuss these considerations before signing the lease. The same applies to certain accommodations, such as bringing your emotional support or service pet, or mailing your rent payment. So, think about anything that may be specific to your situation and make sure to clear all of these aspects and get confirmation in writing before signing the lease.
“Make sure your lease agreement clearly states which areas of the property the owner is responsible for, and which areas and repair costs you are responsible for,” advised Miami Personal Injury Attorney Alejandro Uriarte. “If an issue arises with your rental property, notify the owner in writing immediately to avoid incurring financial responsibility for a repair due to inaction or negligence on your part. Lastly, take out a renter’s insurance policy to limit your financial liability for theft, loss or damage to the property.”
- Negotiate the Payment Date Based on Your Income
You may also want to negotiate the date that your rent payment is due so that it aligns with when you receive your Social Security check. Another topic to discuss is related to rent increases: Find out if your landlord is open to preapproving a maximum rate and including that in the lease (along with the fixed rate you have both agreed to for the duration of the lease) to ensure you’re paying the correct amount each month.
Additionally, be sure to consult local and state laws regarding rent increases for senior renters.
“A senior citizen on a fixed income may have certain protections against rent increases, depending upon their local jurisdiction,” said LegalAdvice.com Attorney David Reischer, Esq. “Tenants may determine whether they qualify for a Senior Citizen Rent Increase Exemption (SCRIE) or similar type of legal protection in their local jurisdiction. These local laws typically protect low-income renters from some or all rent increases. The laws are usually designed to exempt low-income seniors from certain types of common charges — so long as the tenants are paying at least one-third of their disposable income on rent.”
Legal Aspects to Consider
Speaking of local and state legislations, there are also some legal aspects that can protect you as a senior renter.
“The federal Fair Housing Act of 1968 and the Amendments Act of 1988 prohibit discrimination by landlord because of a person’s age,” Reischer said. “Typically, a rental agreement for a senior should include all the normal terms in a lease agreement. It may also be wise to negotiate a clause that releases the senior renter from any liability to pay rent through the balance of the lease term if the senior is relocating to low-income or senior housing. Also, be sure to negotiate a clause that the landlord must credit back any pre-paid rents if the tenant provides notice of early termination to move in with relatives or a senior assisted care center.”
If you decide to move to another state, check the local legislation, as well. There may be programs that cater specifically to seniors that you can take advantage of.
Life as a Resident in a Rental Community
Living in a rental might be a new experience for you. Or, perhaps you haven’t rented since you were fresh out of college. Either way, know that apartment life has improved significantly in recent years with the construction of new, amenity-rich apartment buildings and the rise of home technology. For instance, renters can now:
- Set up an automatic payment for the monthly rent payment
- Submit repair requests online
- Learn about community events through the community’s online portal
- Exercise at the on-site fitness center
- Socialize with neighbors in the community’s common areas
Finally, don’t be afraid to talk to the landlord or property manager about whatever concerns or issues you may have and also be open to negotiation. And, if you’re ready to start looking for your next home, head over to RENTCafé and start safely browsing for apartments to find the perfect fit. Good luck!
Additional Useful Resources