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Before your sign on the dotted line

07 November 2008
Bonnie Sandler, S.W., The Senior Times - November 2008

The decision to move into a residence, either for you or a loved one, is emotionally exhausting. There is relief after your choice has been made, but still more remains to be done – the signing of the lease.

Leases vary from residence to residence. Many will use standard leases with added or separate clauses regarding care, while others will have a customized contract. Generally, a personal care home (or foster home as some choose to call it) is all inclusive without any added costs, other than medication and personal items. There are no extra charges for showers, laundry, food, assistance with dressing, and inhouse entertainment. This should be specified in writing when signing an agreement.

I have clients who encountered difficulty with lease signing since the monthly cost varies according to care level. Should care needs increase, the monthly cost increases. Most large residences do their own evaluation to decide on the hours of care.

This is all fine but timing can be an issue. A family I worked with chose a high-end care facility for their parents. They were obliged to give their landlord 3 months notice in preparation for this move. Since the new residence was not prepared to evaluate their parents 3 months before the move, an exact monthly fee could not be determined.

While the residence felt that the estimate of care was accurate, there were no guarantees. The residence would not sign a lease until after the couple had moved in and an inhouse evaluation of care was done. If the assessment concluded that more care was needed than the original plan, the monthly costs would increase. An added half hour of care a day is approximately $400 a month. The family felt insecure without a signed lease and a definite price, but in the end they were able to sign for the original price, much to their relief.

A more worrisome example is a family who gave the required 3 month notice to cancel their old lease and planned for the move based on an estimate quoted by the residence. When the individual was evaluated just prior to the move, the care level had changed and the monthly cost increased by over a thousand dollars a month.

Many larger residences offer a la carte services. Pay attention to the prices. Although services may not be needed at move-in, they may be needed further down the road. You don't want to have to move a second time because of rising costs. Nursing facilities or special care floors are often all inclusive.

Address the difficult questions. Should more care be needed than the residence is able to provide, find out how much notice is required for a move to another facility (if it's a move to a government nursing home it's one month). What are the monetary obligations in the event of death?

I fail to comprehend why residences continue to charge the full amount when an individual is hospitalized for a long period of time. No services are being provided, no meals are taken, and yet no reduction is given. Shouldn't the person just be charged for the rental of the apartment? Shouldn't this also apply when notice is given and the person is no longer living there? Shouldn't this be the case in the event of death?

When it's time to renew your lease you may be asked for an increase. Check if the increase is just on the rental portion of the apartment and governed by the rental board. Ask all your questions before signing on the dotted line. Have agreements put in writing and don't just rely on a handshake. Residences are bought and sold and personnel often change. Be aware and be prepared, and take someone with you who can help with the negotiation and review the lease for you.

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Bonnie Sandler

Residential Real Estate Broker, Housing Consultant for Seniors

514 497-3775