Adults only
Residents seek to bar children from communities

Article Courtesy of The Ocala Star Banner
Published September 14, 2003

OCALA - When Augie Loehlein moved to Ocala from Tampa three years ago, she assumed Cherrywood was an adult community.

Loehlein said she found out later that an adult community didn't mean people 55 and older and retired, but instead, it means anyone over the age of 18. She said if she had known that, she never would have bought a house there.

"It was sold to us as an adult community," she said. "We don't want 18-year-olds living next to us. We want all retirees around us so that we all have the same things in common. We all go to bed early and get up early. We don't want the noise blaring at 2 a.m."

So now, Loehlein and a committee of other residents want to change the homeowner rules to turn the community into a 55-plus neighborhood. It can be done, but the committee will have to jump through some hoops. Not everyone likes the idea, however.

Cherrywood is one of several communities seeking to exclude families with children.

"The 55-plus exemption was instituted because there was a recognition that some senior communities wanted to be able to keep their communities senior communities," said Vicki Johnson, senior attorney for Florida Commission on Human Relations. "Basically it gives you the right to exclude children from living in your community. Many seniors, once they retire, don't want to live in a community that has children."

The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination against families with children, Johnson said.

Prior to 1988, when the act was amended to include familial status as a protected class, communities could exclude people under the age of 18.

"The law has created this exemption (55-plus communities), but there's certain things that have to be met in order to qualify," she said. "It's a very strict requirement. The fact that historically an adult or senior community has been considered a retirement community is not enough to qualify them for this exemption. You have to show you meet the particular requirements set forth in the regulations."

One of the requirements for changing a community into an adult neighborhood is that a homeowners group must also register with the Florida Commission on Human Relations. The group must send a certified letter, signed by the president of the homeowners group, to the Commission plus a $20 fee. Another requirement is that at least 80 percent of the homes must be occupied by residents who are 55 or older.

Loehlein's group has already sent its letter to the state. The group, which is separate from the community's Homeowners Association, completed the mandatory surveys and required paperwork several weeks ago.

"Ninety-nine percent were all in favor and couldn't wait to sign up," Loehlein said. "About one percent didn't like it or refused."

Some residents in other communities are also opposed to excluding families with children.

Anna Petro of the Lake Diamond Golf and Country Club community, said she wouldn't want to live in a neighborhood without children.

"Oh, no, no, I wouldn't like that," Petro said. "I see the little ones riding around on their bikes. I love to see them out there. "If they did that, I would have to move out."

And, Spruce Creek residents, Salvatore Costa, Donald Vlack and Richard L. Masten recently filed a lawsuit against the Spruce Creek Residents Association to block the community from restricting homeowners below the age of 55. The community, on State Road 200 west of Ocala, was designated in May as a 55-plus neighborhood. Costa and others want it to go back to the less restrictive way it used to be.

Dave Bertolet thinks senior communities are a good idea.

Bertolet, president of Community Development Inc., of Indianapolis, builds and develops communities for residents 55-years-old and older.

Bertolet's communities are the only age-qualified communities that include age restrictions in its covenants. He said residents receive maintenance packages, and all homes are built with extra wide doorways and hallways to accommodate wheelchairs, low slopes on driveways, and in almost all cases, stairs are avoided.

"We chose to serve this market. These are the people we want to work with," he said.

He likes working with older homeowners because they are experienced home buyers, they take care of their property and they don't have problems getting a mortgage.

His company does not have any developments in Florida.

Communities such as On Top of the World, Palm Cay, Pine Run and Marion Landing are listed on the Florida Commission on Human Relations Web site as being registered. Oak Run is considering becoming an age-restricted community.

Johnson warns that just because you see communities listed on the Web site, it doesn't mean they have been approved by the Commission. The commission does not check to make sure the paperwork is accurate. It's based on a honor system, she said.

Loehlein said she's undecided whether she will sell her home if the community does not receive the 55-plus designation. She said to her knowledge, Cherrywood, with its 731 homes, is already an adult community. But if there are families with children, those families would be "grandfathered in." It's just that she doesn't want any more moving in.

"That's what we're trying to stay away from," Loehlein said. "We've put up with the children already. It's time to have the peace and quiet I think we've earned."