Legal Hotline: Housing for Older Persons

Q: What documentation should news media organizations get from advertisers when allowing “adult 55+,” “retirement community,” “senior housing” and similar terminology in a housing ad?

A: Publishers are generally not liable for this type of wording in housing ads if they rely in good faith on the advertiser’s formal, written statement regarding its ability to provide housing for older persons as defined by law. Advertisers must also address federal anti-discrimination laws in their written statement.

Under Pennsylvania law, it is illegal to discriminate or show a preference in housing based on age, race, color, religion, sex, national origin, ancestry, familial status, disability, use of guide or support animal, and the handling or training of support or guide animals.

The Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (PHRA) and corresponding regulations permit advertisers to use terms like “adult 55+” and “retirement community” if the advertiser provides a statement, in writing, to the publisher affirming that the property being advertised meets the requirements for housing for older persons as defined in the PHRA. PNA also recommends that the advertiser’s statement affirm that the housing meets requirements for “housing for older persons” exemption under federal law AND that the advertiser has no actual knowledge that the housing facility or community is not eligible for exemption under state and federal anti-discrimination laws.

A sample statement could look like this:

Housing for Older Persons Advertiser Statement

I, ____________________, hereby certify that the housing being offered in the attached ad meets the requirements for the “housing for older persons” exemption under state and federal law, AND I further certify that I have no actual knowledge that the facility or community is not eligible for exemption.

Date: _______________

Signature: _______________________________________

Address: ________________________________________

Phone #: ________________________________________

“Housing for older persons” is defined as (1) designed and operated to assist elderly persons under a state or federal program, (2) occupied solely by persons 62 years of age or older, or (3) has at least 80% of its occupied units occupied by at least one person 55 years of age or older per unit and has significant facilities and services to meet the physical or social needs of older persons.

PHRA regulations permit the following phrases to describe “housing for older persons”:

  • retirement community
  • adult 55+
  • senior housing
  • senior community
  • retirement housing
  • adult community, 55 and over
  • adult community, 62 and over
  • adult 62+

The term “adult” alone or with terms that do not meet housing for older persons requirements are unlawful when used as a description of housing for older persons.

It is important to note that even if advertisers provide a statement in accordance with the criteria above, publishers are not legally obligated to publish ads that contain discriminatory phrases, and the statement does not allow advertisers to discriminate or show a preference based on any other protected class.

As always, this is not intended to be, nor should it be construed as, legal advice. Please contact your news media organization’s attorney or the PNA Legal Hotline at (717) 703-3080 with questions about specific ads.