Megan Scanlon in Board Operations on October 4, 2013
The 65-and-over population is growing fast. In fact, by 2030, older adults will account for roughly 20 percent of the U.S. population. The challenge for co-op and condo boards is that unlike past generations who were likely to transition into a retirement home or an assisted-living community, many in the boomer community are staying put in their homes, in many cases well into their 90s. This makes it inevitable that a higher proportion of residents in any given community will face challenges such as loss of strength, coordination and mental acuity over time, or will be diagnosed with a catastrophic illness. This can create significant legal and safety questions for boards.
Danger to Self and Others
The biggest risk comes when an elderly resident potentially poses a danger to himself or others. For example, an elderly person might be incompetent to drive and yet still choose to drive through a parking garage full cars or through the streets of a co-op / condo complex with children on bikes and people walking dogs. Should you intervene? Do you have an obligation to do so?
Boards can reduce the isolation
of older residents by offering
wellness or telephone checks, or
promoting socialization through
community meals and other events.
Or, if board members were to check on an elderly resident's health and welfare by forcing open a door, are you at risk for legal action? Could failing to intervene result in legal action as well? Ultimately, it might not be the board's legal responsibility to make sure residents are competent to drive or to check on residents who have not been seen for several days. Nevertheless, you could still incur significant legal expense to defending actions from upset family members or even the elderly resident himself.
Reducing Legal Exposure
Fortunately, there are many proactive steps that co-op and condo boards can take to reduce your legal exposure while aiming to improve both the safety and the daily lives of your aging residents. First, boards should review all applicable statutes and ordinances and your governing documents. Each of these might affect what a board can and cannot do and under what circumstances. Building managers and staff members must also be properly trained and informed of these responsibilities.
Next, boards should take a positive, engaged and service-oriented approach. This requires taking a close look at the existing and future needs of their older residents, with a view toward connecting them with helpful resources. Some larger communities are trending toward establishing weekly shuttles to the grocery store, which could improve transportation safety for the community as a whole. Boards can similarly reduce the isolation of older residents by offering them voluntary wellness or telephone checks, or promoting socialization through community meals and other events.
Boards should collect residents' emergency contact information before a crisis happens and maintain an up-to-date list of residents with special needs. Current technologies can also be tremendously valuable. One example is a GPS bracelet that some municipalities offer to help families keep track of elderly people who are at risk.
Serving elderly homeowners who have chosen to age in place is a challenge that will only continue to grow in cooperatives and condo associations. The high cost of institutional care, economic instability and the smaller families of the boomer generation make it more likely that older residents will continue to remain in our communities long into their golden years. Boards would be well advised to get ahead of this trend. It is here to stay.
Megan Scanlon is an attorney with Tarley Robinson who concentrates on community associations and real issues. She graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point and received her law degree from Seton Hall University School of Law. This is adapted from her article on her firm's blog.
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