Consumer Protection

Making the Move to a Retirement Community or Assisted Living Facility

By Susan Grant, Director of Consumer Protection and Privacy, Consumer Federation of America

The “Real World Stories” in our latest Consumer Complaint Survey Report include examples of problems with retirement communities and assisted living facilities. As the Baby Boomers age, we may see more of these kinds of complaints in the future.

In one case, a Massachusetts woman paid $470,000 to move into an assisted living facility. When she moved out she was surprised to be informed that her money would not be returned until and unless her unit was resold. The Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office helped her get the money back immediately.

A woman in Maryland paid a $232,570 entrance fee to senior living facility with the promise that certain amenities would be forthcoming. When they failed to materialize, she left. Since she didn’t follow the required procedures for terminating her agreement, she was told that she would have to wait until someone else moved into her unit to get her money back. A year later, she was still waiting. The Howard County Office of Consumer Protection negotiated a full refund.

And in a complaint handled by the Maryland Attorney General’s Office, an 87-year-old woman quickly realized that the retirement community she moved into was not a good fit. She had constant maintenance and parking issues that made her very anxious. Through mediation the agency worked out an agreement to allow her to move out with payment for one month instead of the three months that would normally be required, and her entire entrance fee was refunded.

Just like buying a house, entering into a contract to move into an assisted living facility or retirement community is a major transaction. Before you commit:

Check the place out. Don’t make your decision on the basis of a glossy brochure or enthusiastic testimonials in advertisements. Visit the place repeatedly, speak to residents and staff, arrange for a thorough tour, and ask the sales department questions.

Read the contract. There is often a substantial entry fee required upfront, with the assurance that all or a certain percentage of it will be returned when you leave (or will go to your estate if you pass away). The terms should be spelled out in the contract. Read it carefully, and if you are not sure you understand it, have a lawyer review it before you sign on the dotted line.

Know your rights. Is there a state or local law that requires your entrance fee to be refunded within a set time after you leave even if your unit hasn’t been sold? Do you have to give a certain amount of notice if you want to move out? Do you have other legal rights or responsibilities? Do some research online, or check with your state or local consumer agency.

Get all promises in writing. Never rely on verbal assurances that your unit will be renovated to your specifications or that certain features or amenities are coming in the future. Get it in writing to document what you were told in case the promises aren’t fulfilled.        

This blog is one of a series of articles contributed by state and local consumer agencies in connection with the annual survey about consumer complaints conducted by Consumer Federation of America. The survey report provides “real life” examples of complaints and tips for consumers. Have a consumer problem or question? Find your state or local consumer agency at