New Challenges Face HOA Boards as Seniors “Age in Place”

HOA boards will be forced to confront a new set of challenges as Utah’s 65-and-over population is projected to grow by more than 155% from 2000 to 2030 – namely sorting through legal questions created by the “aging in place” of the massive baby boom generation. Utah has the sixth fastest growth rate in the nation for people age 65 and older.

More and more elderly residents are staying put rather than moving into institutional settings such as retirement or assisted-living communities, reports Virginia attorney Megan McDonald Scanlon. “This trend toward “aging in place” makes it inevitable that a higher proportion of residents in a given community will face challenges such as loss of strength, coordination and mental acuity over time, or will be diagnosed with a catastrophic illness. Unfortunately, this can create significant legal and safety questions for homeowners associations.

“The chronic neglect of house and yard often is the first sign that older residents are declining physically, mentally or sometimes both. But in the most severe cases, elderly residents could actually pose a danger to themselves and others, with potential legal implications for the association. An elderly person might be incompetent to drive and yet still be motoring through a neighborhood full of kids playing and people walking their dogs. Or a person with Alzheimer’s disease might end up wandering through a condominium complex, completely disoriented and in need of help.”

Fortunately, there are things that associations can do to be proactive about the trend toward aging in place. First, understand your responsibilities under the law. It might not be the association’s legal responsibility to make sure people are competent to drive or that they will not wander into the road. But, in Utah, the law states that any person who has reason to believe that an elder or disabled adult is being abused, neglected (including self-neglect, where a person isn’t able to provide necessary care for oneself, including nutrition, personal care, avoidance of health and safety hazards, etc.) or exploited must immediately report the situation to Adult Protective Services intake or the nearest law enforcement office. All good faith reporters are immune from civil and criminal liability and all information is confidential.

Adult Protective Services assesses the situation and, if needed, provides protection from, or prevention of, further incidents. As the Utah Aging and Adult Services website states, “the purpose of investigations is to provide prevention and/or protection to vulnerable and elder adults from abuse, neglect or exploitation while preserving an individual’s rights with the least restrictive intrusion. Consideration is given toward maintaining the accustomed lifestyle of the adult while ensuring a comprehensive assessment of the adult’s total situation in order to determine intervention strategies.”

Associations should take a close look at the existing and future needs of their older residents, with a view toward connecting them with helpful resources and encouraging awareness from neighbors. Financial exploitation of vulnerable adults is increasing each year and it occurs in various forms. 25% of seniors in Utah have problems with salespersons, according to one report, with aggressive door to door tactics being a chief problem. I just saw a local news report the other night about a lady going knocking on peoples’ doors and asking to use the bathroom, gaining a little trust, then robbing the unknowing resident of anything she could grab without the resident knowing. Problems like these can be helped to a degree by vigilant and helpful neighbors and boards who keep an eye out and spread the word when a problem arises.

Local non-profit organizations and state agencies such as Utah Aging and Adult Services are an important source of information and resources and can help keep older residents apprised of technologies and services that promise to make their lives easier. “Examples include the GPS bracelets that some municipalities now use to help families keep track of elderly people who are at risk,” Scanlon said.

A positive, engaged, service-oriented approach is the key to the issues on the horizon arising as a result of the significant increase in the number of seniors and the fact that most of them will “age in place.”

Curtis G. Kimble

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