Aging in place: forgetful seniors cause property damage

Q: What do you do about forgetful seniors who are hellbent on aging in place and are causing property damage? We live in an upscale condo high rise building. We have a sizable group of aging residents who cause damage to units around them and common areas. Sometimes they forget to turn off the water to their bathtubs or sinks. Other times, they don’t notice leaking ice maker lines or other water issues. Many are in their 90s.

Our property manager says we cannot do anything about these people and the problems they are causing. The manager simply stated that it was a matter of insurance and the insurance claims that result from these issues.

Can you tell us what options our homeowners association has for this touchy issue?

Aging in place a top priority for seniors

A: This is a great question and it’s an issue that will only grow as our population ages.

From a basic point of view, the management company is right. There isn’t too much you can do legally in order to keep residents (of any age) from damaging the property. However, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t other ways to get at the same problem.

Aging in place: high rise vs. single family residence

You live in a high rise building, so we’ll answer from that perspective. But our readers should keep in mind that a solution for an upscale high rise building may not be the same for a townhome single family home development that is experiencing similar problems.

What would you expect or want the management company to do in response to this problem? First, communication is key. The management company can send out general reminders to homeowners every time someone leaves the water running and damage occurs. The communication strategy should include information about what was left on and the specific damage that was caused.

Communicate with seniors aging in place

This kind of communication has several benefits, including raising awareness about the damage and how it occurred, and helping owners feel more responsible about annoying and expensive things happening to their neighbors (who may also be friends). If the resident is a tenant, rather than an owner, a letter should be sent to the owner of the property informing them of the damage.

A side thought: If the same person is causing a recurring problem, and keeps having to make insurance claims, the insurance company will likely raise their premium or cancel the policy. That could cause cascading issues if the owner doesn’t have or can’t get insurance and another incident occurs.

Fines may be appropriate for seniors who cause damage

Next, the building association can set up a schedule of fines that would be levied against residents that cause incidents in the building. Perhaps the first incident would generate a warning. The second incident might impose a significant fine plus the cost of repairing the issue. The third incident might impose an even stiffer fine, and so on.

If the building has a number of residents who leave for the winter or travel for extensive periods of time, management should send around notification reminding residents of best practices during extended travel. Regularly reminding residents to shut off water valves, faucets, and ice makers if they travel for an extended period of time can help reduce the number of incidents. Cautioning homeowners not to leave faucets running unless the owner can monitor the situation might also help.

The bigger problem, of course, is that as you age, your memory goes. While many nonagenarians may still have the ability to live without assistance, often there are memory issues. Owners may run into walls, get lost in the property, or try to access the wrong unit.

Aging in place: forgetful seniors cause property damage and need memory care

When those memory issues are too great for a person to live alone, family members or friends should step in to assist with the situation and make alternate plans to help those with memory care needs. This should not be the domain of the property management company, but if there is no one to help, the association might want to develop a policy. This might include contacting local authorities.

Perhaps the association could maintain a list of emergency contacts for all homeowners and residents. When a situation arises where the association believes the homeowner is at risk, the persons on the emergency contact list can be informed. The association would likely need to circulate a document requesting this contact information with an outline of when the association would use the information.

Technology can help seniors age in place

There may be technological solutions that could assist the residents and the building itself. We could imagine the association requiring homeowners to install water leak detectors in or around areas that are or could be prone to leaks or water issues. These might include refrigerators with water and ice dispensers, sinks, tubs and showers, toilets, water heaters and washing machines.

Individually, these devices may not cost that much, but when you start installing them near every water source, it could quickly add up to several hundred dollars per home. However, the alarms on these devices could send a text message to the building management office to alert them to a water problem.

You’d need to have a phone that was constantly monitored and you’d need to make sure the batteries in these devices were changed as needed. This solution would require the initial cost to install them along with the additional cost of monitoring and maintaining the devices. But it could catch a problem early and prevent larger insurance claims.

Home technology (known as “proptech”) is constantly advancing. Associations or their management companies could look into what devices might be helpful in different situations. We know there are companies out there that have devices that monitor water usage and can detect excessive use of water. There is also technology that would automatically shut off water to a unit if the device senses extreme water use or leaks.

Higher populations of seniors aging in place requires more reserves

We know that these solutions may only be available to buildings that have large reserves. And, there are always competing financial interests, such as upgrades and repairs. Perhaps if it is just one person causing the recurring problem, you can work with that person to make adjustments to their unit that will save the building (and neighboring residents) time and money down the line.

If any of our readers write in with other suggestions, we’ll include them in a future column.

Read more about seniors aging in place:

Four Finance Tips for the Middle-Aged; Caring for Parents and Kids

Financial Planning Includes Elder Care

Are You Ever Too Old to Buy Your First Home?

Why is Aging in Place Important?

©2023 by Ilyce Glink and Samuel J. Tamkin. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency. A1605