Whether it’s supplementing one’s income, getting a house-mate, getting help with household chores, or moving into a co-housing building, Capitol Hill seniors are exploring ways to remain in their homes, and to maintain connection with one another and with their community.
“Creative Housing for Your Future” a symposium hosted on April 13 by Capitol Hill Village, is part of the organization’s initiatives supporting A Greater Capitol Hill for Long Life.
For some, generating income from a rental unit—whether long-or short-term—is an attractive alternative, and symposium speakers explained the regulations governing creating and operating rental units in the District of Columbia.
Other seniors are looking at the planned co-housing development on the site of the Eastern Branch Boys and Girls Home, that will provide a setting where people can live independently but also have ready access to communal areas for socializing.
Another new concept from Silvernest is an on-line house sharing service pairing homeowners with pre-qualified housemates, giving seniors another way to stay in their homes longer.
All of these scenarios also offer the opportunity to engage a renter or housemate in helping with household chores, which many seniors need help with in order to stay in their own home.
Leveraging Your House for Income
Many Capitol Hill homes have rental units or owners may be considering adding one for extra income. Before renting out a portion of your home or remodeling to create a rental space, it’s a good idea to find out the rights and obligations for both landlords and tenants in the District of Columbia, as well as the requirements for living spaces.
Dan Palchick, representing AARP Legal Counsel for the Elderly, outlined District regulations on rental units, which generally cover buildings with four or more rental units. AARP’s Legal Hotline at 202-434-2120 provides advice to DC seniors—both renters and landlords—who are over the age of 60 (or 55 for people with disabilities) and with incomes below 200 percent of Federal poverty level.
DC law contains strong tenant rights. For example, annual rent increases are capped. Evictions can only occur for cause including non-payment of rent (but payment can be made can be made right up to the eviction day), a lease violation (requires a 30-day notice to the tenant), turning the premises into a drug haven, an illegal act (requires a 30-day notice), or that the property is going to be demolished or no longer used for housing.
Palchick recommended that landlords have a written rental application and a written lease and use them for all prospective tenants. An audience member who is a landlord recommended that if a rent discount will be given for specific services that it be included in the rent receipt as an explicit deduction from the rent.
The Federal Housing Act also comes into play in that it prevents discriminatory practices, although the DC law is actually stronger. Palchick reminded the audience that in the District of Columbia it is illegal to evict a tenant based on gender or gender identity, race or ethnicity, age or disability, source of income (such as vouchers), family or marital status, sexual orientation, political affiliation, neighborhood location, or because they are a victim of domestic violence.
All rental units must meet DC housing code as reviewed by architect Ileana Schinder. Technically the code requirements are for new construction, she said, and simply creating a rental unit in an existing home is considered an alteration.
When considering the remodeling costs, Schinder said the most important code requirement is ceiling height—a seven-foot clearance is required in all habitable spaces (bedrooms and living room). Other important code requirements are egress from all bedrooms through either a door or window; heating equipment able to maintain 68 degrees F (portable heaters are prohibited); a separate electric panel; fire separation wall between units and hard-wired smoke detectors in each unit; minimum square footage requirements for rooms and hallways and occupancy limits based on the size of the unit; and hot and cold running water.
If a homeowner is renting a unit in their home, they need a basic business license from the DC Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs; must provide the tenant with a copy of the DC Tenant Bill of Rights; provide receipts for rent payments; and maintain the unit in a safe and sanitary condition.
Short-term rentals (Airbnb, VRBO and others) are also popular among seniors who appreciate the extra income as well as the opportunity to meet and interact with new people.
CHV member Sandra Bruce explained that Airbnb screens renters, collects rent money, and provides an annual accounting for tax purposes. Some cautions were thrown out—homeowners need to consult their home insurance policy to determine whether short-term rentals are covered and may want to add an umbrella policy to cover liability. Another attendee related his experience of a renter posting pictures of the room and complaints on Facebook.
The short-term rentals do not need the DC Business license, but owners do pay the city room tax, which Bruce said is collected by Airbnb.
Sharing Your Home
For some seniors, a more attractive option may be taking in a house-mate who can provide extra income and companionship. Finding the right house-mate can be a challenge, however, and Silvernest, an on-line house sharing service for people over the age of 50, is hoping to fill the void.
Operating in all 50 states, Silvernest pairs homeowners with pre-qualified house-mates in an online service that is safe and secure, according to Janet Woodka, who represented the company.
Participants complete an on-line profile (fee will be charged), upload pictures of the space the house-mate would occupy, pay the $49.99 fee. There are no criteria for the type of space made available, and that will be part of the discussion between the prospective house-mates. It’s also possible for the parties to agree that the house-mate will receive reduced rent in exchange for help with household chores.
Woodka said that they urge generic leases even for house sharing arrangements that are clearly not tenancies. They are now negotiating with the DC government to assure that Silvernest leases can be used for non-tenancies without requiring compliance with the Tenant’s Bill of Rights.
Capitol Hill Village strongly supported the co-housing development at the Eastern Branch Boys and Girls Home site, and Joel Kelty, the architect and developer, said they are in the early stages with plans for 27 senior co-housing units plus two care-giver suites. Thirty percent of the units will be affordable.
“I asked Capitol Hill Village for a letter of support, and what I got was 30 people behind me testifying in support of senior housing on Capitol Hill,” Kelty said.
Kelty described co-housing as “resident-driven and resident-managed.” Committees are set up to manage such things as the communal space and landscaping.
In a co-housing development, everyone has their own independent units, and units are clustered around common space with common amenities. What those amenities might be will be decided by the co-housing community, which starts working together even before building starts.
“It’s great for people living alone or for inter-generational activities,” he said, and pointing out the environmental benefits of sharing resources such as lawn movers, power drills, hot tubs—all possibilities that will be decided by the co-housing community.
Self-management, self-determination, independence and opportunity for interactions all fit well with the Village movement, Kelty said.
Karen Stuck is a member of the Capitol Hill Village and editor of the Capitol Hill Village News.