Has anyone transitioned to a 55+ park?

We’re thinking of transitioning our park to a 55+ community. Our senior residents are a joy, as were the snowbirds we had last winter (we’re near the ocean on the border of GA and FL, so it’s a popular area for snowbirds).  And while I notice a lot of senior citizens at the local Walmart, there are no senior parks in the area. I realize it will be more challenging to fill due to the restrictions, but it’s something we’re seriously considering. I’m wondering if anyone has any experience in transitioning an all-age park to a 55+ community. Currently, about 1/3 of our residents are 55+ and the Federal law requires that 80% be age 55+ to meet the guidelines necessary to qualify as a senior park - and therefore able to “discriminate” based on age. I called our r/e attorney and he knows how to set one up from scratch, but doesn’t know how to transition one. I’ve been contacting HUD and getting the run around. Just wondering if anyone here has any experience. Thanks.

I would not advise you to make that change. In a family park, the tenant base changes as the demand changes. The park is a reflection of the market. If you go senior, and the demand by seniors diminishes, you’re screwed. It is as hard to change OUT of being 55+ as it is to get IN. Many park owners are facing this problem right now, in markets that are no longer senior by nature, but now more family, and they can’t fill their vacancies.If you do decide to do it, be sure to do it by the letter. Without HUD’s blessing, you are guilty of violating fair housing. Don’t just hang a “55+” on the sign and think you’re OK. You would be shocked at how many park owners do this, and it’s 100% illegal.

Thanks for the input. I don’t like the idea of narrowing our tenant base, but I thought it might help resolve the problem of renting to more problems. The park was very run down when we bought it and was comprised mostly of one very large, extended family. It was known around town as “Dope Alley” and “Crack City.” We’ve managed to evict the worst of the problems and bought many of the other homes. We want to start filling the vacancies, but we’re getting “more of the same” wanting to move in. Every application is from a single woman - just like when we bought the place and required everyone to submit an application. On paper, you’d think the place was a convent, but driving through there, it was full of young (20-something) men. We currently have a “single woman” who’s felon husband moved in and we’re finding it’s damn near impossible to get him out. (I believe you commented on my other post on the matter.) I’m hoping to get a stable population so we can avoid the ‘tenant friendly’ judge. This is kind of crossing over into the other subject matter, but once when I did an eviction after serving 60-days notice to vacate, I still had to provide a reason for the eviction and back it up in court (one of the occupants refused to provide a background check). I really want to avoid court in the future.Our long-term goal is lot rent only and we plan to sell the homes we bought. We acquired them to get control of the property and because many people weren’t paying rent. Another option would be to “price out” the problems by renovating the homes into a price range that most problem tenants may be unlikely to afford. That will take time and money, but it may be another avenue to consider. I just really liked the idea of the senior park. The snowbird couple who was there last winter said the area RV parks were all overbooked and people were looking to rent homes for the winter. The KOA charges $650/month to hook up an RV and our lot rent is only $150. The couple we had last year usually brings their RV, but rented a home instead because they don’t like towing the RV
all the way from MN. They’re thinking of buying a new Park Model home for our park this fall. Another snowbird couple bought one of the existing homes and plans to use it during the winter (they pay lot rent all year). We’re about 20 minutes to the ocean and 3 miles from FL, so it’s a popular area for snowbirds. Long term, I don’t know. And I appreciate your words of caution in that regard.

Don’t base your business plan on one RV couple. We have had a million people over the years that have promised to do things, and never followed through. We had a similar couple in the park in Oklahoma City that told me they could “fill up the RV lots” with their friends, and to expect at least 20 RVs (them and their friends) for the next winter. We never saw them again. When you have a line of seniors wanting to give you money and sign a lease, then you might consider such an idea. But I’m willing to get $50 that’s never going to happen.We have turned dozens of parks around that begin life just as you are describing. We are doing one right now in Decatur, Illinois. The methodology is that you have to 1) start a firm “no pay no stay” collections policy 2) start a firm “no play no stay” policy on rules 3) non-renew the lease on everyone who is already hopeless 4) clean up the park so it is decent 5) fix up the abandon homes so they are decent 6) start a new marketing campaign 7) don’t allow any people back in who have not been screened. It works every time. However, you are going to have significant capital costs in cleaning up the property and homes. Without the capital to do that, you will have to keep the park in its current order, and simply try to make every tenant pay rent and keep up the rules as best you can. It’s the difference between re-positioning a product and just patching it along.

I just had another idea that may allow me to test my theory in a less permanent (and more immediate) manner: senior discounts. Could I allow all age groups, but in an effort to attract seniors, provide a discount for those over the age of 55? And could I “grandfather” my existing younger residents at the current rate (raising the rate for new applicants under the age of 55)? I’ve only done some cursory research, but they appear to be legal. I’ll ask my attorney about it this week, but I’m wondering if anyone here has done that?

Sorry, Frank. I hadn’t refreshed my page to read your response. The one “silver lining” of the current mess we’re in with the problem tenant is that we’ve firmly planted our foot regarding rules and rent. Just yesterday, we received $975 in back rent payments, as soon as the notices were delivered. They have the money; they just prefer to keep it for themselves. Everyone who has not signed a lease was sent a 60-Day notice and everyone else got a letter informing them they must comply with the rules or we won’t renew their leases. In fairness, we’re giving our “good” tenants the same 60 days we’re allotting the others.  The park itself is looking good. We put $35k in cleanup and improvements last year, which included removing some homes that weren’t worth fixing. I think the new plan is to hold off on selling the homes until we can get them in a condition to attract quality tenants. We’ll be foregoing lot rent and dumping more money into repairs, but I think that’s the best course of action for us. We’re not cut out to continue dealing with these types of problems over and over.

Nope, the “senior discount” plan is a violation of Fair Housing. Unless you want to get in trouble, you have to treat everyone 100% the same – and that includes seniors.Sounds like you’re taking the right steps, and the park should fall in line. Remember that it took decades to destroy the park, so you can’t fix it overnight. But once we institute no pay/no stay and no play/no stay and, assuming you don’t let anyone new into the park that’s not been screened, it should right itself. At the same time, remember that you are in the trailer park business, not the Ritz Carlton, so don’t expect too much from the tenants other than paying rent on time and obeying the rules.

Thanks. Glad I checked here first. Gee, you’d think that in America, you’d have a bit more freedom to do as you please with what you’ve worked so hard to acquire and maintain.I realize that the park had been neglected for many years and it’s going to take a while to turn it around. We’ve made a huge difference in a year and I guess I’m just impatient to achieve our goals. We’ll do our best to enforce the no pay/no stay and no play/no stay, but I’m a little concerned with the judge doing her part. I’m also going to have to read up on ways to screen applicants more thoroughly. It appears that we’ll also have to play detective, as they’re not exactly truthful on their applications. We’ll keep plugging along.

AF:Frank’s given some great guidance here, and the focus on payment is absolutely the first step. I always told my management companies that I didn’t run a charity and I didn’t run a hotel – no paying at the end of your stay. Generally, that’s how my bank became involved with the property in the first place.You can brush up on Fair Housing straight from HUD (http://portal.hud.gov/hudportal/HUD?src=/program_offices/fair_housing_equal_opp/FHLaws/yourrights) and that should provide good general guidance. While your “senior discount” idea isn’t allowed, you could look at your advertising and traffic sources, examine your advertising copy, and review your sales pitches. While your advertising (copy and photos) cannot have anything discriminatory, your advertising outlets can be anything. You would not be allowed to reject a younger applicant who is completely qualified – everyone must be treated equally. However, you can move your advertising from Craigslist to something that might have greater appeal for snowbirds. I had a park in western Michigan that was 60% occupied with 20 vacants. We offered free English classes to our residents and picked up 16 new non-English residents in the subsequent 8 weeks. I think you’re taking the right approach – sell the homes when the park can sell itself. Best of luck,Will