Delray Villas community discovers
it's not restricted to 55-plus
Article Courtesy of the Sun Sentinel

By Michelle Sheldone 
Posted October 24, 2003

Until a few months ago, residents of one of four neighborhoods in Delray Villas were under the impression they were living in an adults-only community. But the homeowners association board was surprised when they double-checked their bylaws and learned otherwise.

"Our bylaws are original, and they state that residents must be 16 years or older," said Larry Denbo, vice president of the Delray Villas Plat IV-V Homeowners Association. "With the advent of different laws that have gone into effect over the years, you can't say you're 55-plus unless you have gone through a specific [process] that we haven't."

Some 20,000 communities in the state qualify as 55-plus, but only 2,800 have registered as such with the Florida Commission on Human Relations, said Nichole Ray, an investigator with the agency.

"The only time we step in and investigate a community in violation is if someone files a familial status discrimination statute," Ray said. "But Florida's law is like a law without teeth. It says failure to comply shall not disqualify a facility or community that otherwise qualifies."

About 90 percent of residents in the section of Delray Villas at issue are 55 and older, Denbo estimated. But some residents in the development, west of Delray Beach, have died or are moving into assisted living arrangements, and young families are expressing interest in the community, he said.

In late September, the homeowners association distributed fliers to its 491 households clarifying that the community is not 55-plus and asking whether or not residents would prefer that designation.

By mid-October, association president Herb Basson, 62, had received about 300 responses, most favoring legally changing the community to age 55 and older, he said.

Basson plans to announce the results of the poll at a homeowners association meeting Tuesday. He will be required to read a bylaws amendment at two ensuing gatherings and at a ballot meeting planned for early 2004, he said.

Delray Villas Plats 1 and III already have registered as 55-plus, according to the state registry.

The fact that the other section's homeowners were unaware of association bylaws is not unusual.

"Most people do not read their bylaws," said real estate agent Janice Leis of Coldwell Banker Real Estate and Mortgage Services in Boca Raton.

Delray Villas was constructed in phases in the early 1980s, before a 1988 Fair Housing Act amendment prohibited discrimination on the basis of familial status, or families with children younger than 18. The amendment made the 16-year-old age minimum in that section of Delray Villas unenforceable.

Seven years later, Congress passed the Housing for Older Person Exemption in 1995 that protects senior housing from age bias claims. The rule requires at least one resident living in at least 80 percent of the units to be 55 or older. Developments seeking the designation have to supply surveys and affidavits and register with the government.

Denbo, 65, purchased his Delray Villas home in 2000. He read the homeowners association documents and took note of the 16-year age minimum. Looking around the development, he didn't see children or facilities for them.

"Not knowing the laws that exist today, I made the assumption Delray Villas was a 55-plus community," he said.

Keeping up with changing laws is important, said Carrie Trust, a Realtor with Re/Max Director of Boynton Beach.

"A lot of times, after a builder leaves, the board gets together and makes amendments to [the association bylaws]," Trust said. "But when you have developments built in different stages and laws change, things can slip through."

The average residence in that part of Delray Villas is a two-bedroom, two-bath single-family home priced at about $150,000 to $165,000, according to Denbo.

"It's a great starter home, as well as a retiree's paradise," he said. "I love children. I've had two of my own, and I have five grandchildren. But when you get to be a certain age, you want to be in a community where people around you are the same age you are."

The costs associated with amending the bylaws may total about $1,200, Basson said, with money drawn from homeowner maintenance fees. Delray Villas residents younger than 55 at the time of the change would be grandfathered into the community.

To view a list of communities registered as 55-plus, visit and click on 55-plus housing. Scroll down and click on registered 55-plus community list by county.