Some middle-aged couples will no longer have to wait as long to avail themselves of a life of leisure.
Homeowners in Leisure World, the 30-year-old retirement community on a county island surrounded by east Mesa, are voting on whether to modify the community’s age restrictions to allow homeowners age 45 and older to occupy up to 20 percent of its 2,664 homes.
Max Bromell, president of the Leisure World board of directors, said the board is seeking the change to better compete with newer retirement communities with lower age restrictions, as well as in response to market demand.
“We have a number of couples every month who come in here and they look around, they’re interested, they’re in that age bracket, and we have to tell them, ‘Sorry, unless one of you is 55, we can sell you a home, but we can’t let you live there,’ ” he said.
Change often doesn’t come easily, and it hasn’t in Leisure World. Each of Leisure World’s 27 “plats,” or subdivisions, has its own set of codes, covenants and restrictions, so residents of each subdivision must hold its own vote. It takes a “yes” vote from 75 percent of homeowners to approve a change to the codes and covenants.
Steve Stephens, a member of the Leisure World committee directing the election and former president of the gated community’s board of directors, said unofficial results show about 12 plats had turned in a vote that failed to approve the age change, while four have approved changing their rules. The current rules in all cases state at least one person older than 55 must live in each house, and no one younger than 45 can reside there or stay as a guest for more than 60 days.
“The overwhelming majority of the voters have approved them,” Stephens said. “However, they only take a 25 percent to defeat, so that’s a real problem.”
He has been told that the number so far in favor of the change in most plats, which range in size from six homes to more than 300, has been around 70 percent, he said.
The federal Fair Housing Act was amended in 1989 to exempt age-restricted communities from antidiscrimination laws, as long as at least 80 percent of residents are older than 55. This was the last time Leisure World amended its age restrictions, Stephens said.
Barbara Baukus, the designated broker/manager at Leisure World Realty, said the change, which she supports, would attract couples from the higher end of the affected demographic.
“These people are not so much the 45-year-olds, they’re more in the range of 50 to 54,” she said. “We definitely have people who want to get a head start.”
She said that for the past several years there have typically been about 80 Leisure World homes on the market at any given time. Prices range from $90,000 to $300,000, averaging about $138,000, she said.
Baukus said she supports lowering the age limits so the community can bring new people onto various committees and see more home renovations.
“If you get somebody in their 60s moving in, they’re not going to be too excited about remodeling,” she said.
Don Washburn, 73, a five-year Leisure World resident who said he left another retirement community after it began allowing owners to rent their homes to younger families, said he voted against the proposal.
“They don’t think about the problems that come in with letting in younger people,” he said, citing last month’s arrest of a 71-year-old woman and her 44-year-old boyfriend accused of having a methamphetamine lab in their Leisure World garage. The man would not be permitted to live there under the relaxed rules, which still prohibit anyone younger than 45 from moving in.
“You’ll have that, and speeding, too,” Washburn said. “If they’re 45, they’re not going to be retired, and they’ll be coming in and out, in and out, in and out, trying to get to work and speeding up and down the streets.”
Lower age limits are a trend among the Valley’s newer retirement communities interested in attracting the first retiring baby boomers, said Jay Butler, director of the Arizona Real Estate Center at Arizona State University’s business school. Changing the rules in a development is rare because of all the hurdles that must be cleared, he said.
Sunland Village, an east Mesa retirement community that is a year newer and about the same size as Leisure World, has no plans to change its age limits, which require at least one resident in each household to at least 55 and allow residents’ adult, unmarried children to live with them, community manager Jack Gribben said.
He said some potential buyers are turned away because of the restrictions, but sales aren’t hurting as a result.
“I would say we have had, as a result of the age restriction, very impressive sales,” he said. “People who fit the category seem to be in good supply and willing to buy in this property.” Sun Lakes south of Chandler is also 30 years old, but it is much larger than Leisure World or Sunland Village, with more than 9,000 homes. All three phases of the retirement community have identical age restrictions, under which 80 percent of the homes must have at least one resident 55 or older, and that limit goes down to 40 in the remaining 20 percent.
No one younger than 19 can live there in any case.
Mike Osborn, senior vice president of Robson Communities, said about 90 percent to 95 percent of Sun Lakes residents are older than 55, and no movement is afoot to tinker with the age limits.