Getting Help for Isolated Elderly Tenants

Many elderly tenants are capable of living independently and paying their rent on time. But sooner or later, you may have an elderly tenant who has trouble coping with day-to-day concerns, such as managing money, paying rent on time, or keeping his apartment tidy.

Many elderly tenants are capable of living independently and paying their rent on time. But sooner or later, you may have an elderly tenant who has trouble coping with day-to-day concerns, such as managing money, paying rent on time, or keeping his apartment tidy.

Some elderly tenants may fail to answer important notices. In a recent appeal to a Rent Administrator's order, a court ordered the Division of Housing and Community Renewal (DHCR) to reconsider a case of an elderly tenant who had failed to answer the DHCR's notice of the owner's application for a high-rent/high-income deregulation of the tenant's apartment. In his appeal, the tenant said that he was elderly, forgetful, suffered from dementia and other serious medical ailments, and took a lot of medications. All this affected his ability to conduct business matters on time.

The DHCR reconsidered, ruled for the tenant, and excused his default, finding that the tenant had presented an adequate explanation for why he hadn't answered the DHCR's notice, based on his serious medical problems [Landa: DHCR Adm. Rev. June 2008].

An elderly tenant who has trouble coping may also neglect normal upkeep in his apartment. He may eventually stop cleaning, let his bathtub overflow, or leave the gas range on—putting himself, other tenants, and your building at risk. In a typical situation, you would talk to the tenant and ask him to be more careful. But if mishaps recur, you may try to enlist the aid of his relatives, only to discover that there are none or that they can't help. You don't want to evict this tenant just for creating a nuisance—even if you could.

Fortunately, there are agencies that assist elderly tenants. These agencies provide services directly to tenants to help them care for themselves. They provide access to home-delivered meals, home care attendants, chore services, and other in-home supportive services for seniors who need help. If the tenant is better able to care for himself and his apartment with the help of these agencies, your building will benefit, too.

How to Find Help

If a tenant needs in-house services like these, your best bet is to start with one of the city agencies. The two main city agencies are the Department for the Aging (DFTA) and the Human Resources Administration (HRA).

DFTA will refer you to one of the community case management agencies it funds. Listed on DFTA's Web site,, these agencies provide a variety of in-home services, including housekeeping, personal care, and escort assistance for doctors' appointments. The agencies will contact the tenant within three to four working days after you call. You can follow up on the progress by calling the case management agency. Ask for the caseworker assigned to the tenant.

If you call HRA, you will probably be referred to its Adult Protective Services (APS) program or its Home Care Services unit—both of which provide general housekeeping and personal care services for the elderly.

APS is a state-mandated program that is available, regardless of income, to those who are mentally or physically impaired and unable to carry out daily chores or protect themselves from neglect without assistance, and who have no one available to assist them responsibly.

Services may include financial management of Social Security benefits, heavy-duty cleaning services, finding alternate living arrangements, psychiatric or medical examination referrals, help with getting and recertifying home care services, and help with getting and recertifying Social Security Supplemental Security Income benefits.

APS can also petition for guardians ad litem—that is, guardians who represent the interests of a person in a single action in a lawsuit—and community guardians, through the HRA Office of Legal Affairs, for people who need help in ensuring their own safety or the safety of their property. In some cases, the state agency or a family member or neighbor can seek to have a permanent guardian (known as an article 81 guardian) appointed if the senior is incapable of managing day-to-day concerns.

Referrals to APS may be made by calling the APS Central Intake Unit Referral Line at (212) 630-1853, between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. Referrals can be made by friends, relatives, neighbors, and other concerned individuals within the community.

What to Say

Here are some tips on what to say when you call one of these agencies.

Describe danger to tenant, not to your building. Social services are interested in the welfare of the elderly tenant; they are not interested in your building. When you call an agency, describe the danger the tenant poses to himself, not the danger he poses to your building. For example, a tenant who leaves gas jets on may asphyxiate himself or die in a fire.

Let agency decide how to help. Do not try to diagnose the tenant's problem or tell the agency what kind of help is needed. You may think he needs to be in a hospital, but you should stick with the facts—for example, the tenant leaves faucets running and gas jets turned on. Let the agency decide what help is called for.