Will the government’s model guidelines for retirement homes help senior citizens?

We look at the provisions of the new model guidelines for retirement homes announced by the government and the impact it will have on the senior living homes market in India

Senior citizen Sitalakshmi Nair, a resident of Coimbatore, moved into a rental flat in Mumbai’s Matunga, to live in the same housing complex as her son. However, owing to the high rental in the city and the inability to spend time with her children who travelled frequently, she decided to opt for a quiet residence outside the city. “I sold my property in Coimbatore and bought a flat in a senior citizen project, built by a local developer. However, the amenities provided by the developer were of low quality and when we complained, there was no redressal,” Nair lamented, echoing the frustration faced by many senior citizens like herself.

While not-for-profit organisations operate retirement homes as a social enterprise, builders and construction companies build such homes, for making profits. Many builders and private players are hoping to cash-in on the emerging senior housing market. In such a scenario, the absence of a mechanism to protect senior citizens, has meant that buyers in this segment are often faced with lack of facilities and services that were promised, no proper food and the lack of a refund policy or grievance cell.

Senior citizen homes: New model guidelines

In view of the increasing number of complaints, the union Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs (MoHUA) recently released model guidelines for the regulation and development of retirement homes in the country. The MoHUA had appointed a committee to look into the needs of senior citizens, which referred to a report on retirement homes by the Moneylife Foundation and Sailesh Mishra, director of Silver Innings. The study was focused on the experiences of residents of retirement homes in Coimbatore, Pune and Bengaluru.

The model guideline specifies the ‘basic rights of residents of retirement homes’ and also prescribes a model tripartite agreement. It also suggests norms for building design, including elevators, staircases and corridors, basic amenities such as medical, fitness, safety and security that need to be provided, as well as the services standards and living environment for senior citizens and green building principles.

See also: Centre issues guidelines to states on regulation of ‘retirement homes’

According to Arvind Nandan, a real estate professional, “These guidelines prescribe for a safe, secure and care-giving environment for senior citizens, which will address their special needs and help them live an independent life. Instructions have been given, for developers to follow the norms of building standards and services, in conformity with the National Building Code of India and building bye-laws and adopting green building principles.” Explaining further, Parth Mehta, managing director of Paradigm Realty says, “The guidelines stipulate common basic services, such as 24×7 water and electricity supply, maintenance of proper hygiene, security and housekeeping, basic medical, safety and security services and CCTV cameras in common areas.”

To encourage private participation of promoters and developers, the government has proposed an enhanced floor area ratio (FAR), for projects that are exclusively intended for senior citizens. Moreover, ‘Retirement Home Apartments’ will be treated as a separate asset class and will come under the purview of the real estate regulatory authority of the respective states and union territories. To deal with market speculation, it has been specified that any person can buy such an apartment but it should be used only by senior citizens.

Senior living market in India

There has been a steady increase in the number of elderly people, who seek an independent lifestyle after the retirement, rather than being dependent on others. The migration of children to other countries for education or employment, has also boosted the demand for senior living spaces. According to Niranjan Hiranandani, founder and managing director, Hiranandani Group and national president, NAREDCO, senior citizens are now looking for homes that suit their future requirements. “Demand, in this niche category of real estate, is expected to grow steadily throughout the 21st century,” he says, while welcoming the model guidelines, as a step that will enable an appropriate regulatory environment, where the rights of senior citizens are protected and their special needs are addressed.

What should senior citizens look for, in a retirement home project?

Rent income: Given the rising demand for senior living homes, it is often bought by retired professionals for investment options, to be given out on rent and earn additional income.

Location of the project: For a developer building a retirement home, one of the first problems is acquiring land, as land is costly and difficult to find near big cities. Hence, most retirement homes are built outside cities or on the outskirts of cities. In such cases, it is imperative to check the availability of infrastructure and connectivity.

Design guidelines: This includes adequate lighting, alarm systems, handrails in the staircases, etc.  The layout of the apartments should be such that furniture and fixtures are placed at appropriate levels. The project should provide recreation amenities like landscapes, yoga and meditation centres. Rohit Poddar, joint secretary, NAREDCO west, points out that “Security is a big concern for elderly people. Apart from security, other things that developers should keep in mind while constructing such projects are easy evacuation facilities and fire extinguishers, as well as smoke detectors on every floor.”

Medical facilities: Many retirement homes in Coimbatore, Bengaluru and Chennai advertise their tie-ups with hospitals nearby. However, these should supplement basic medical facilities. Sailesh Mishra, founder of Silver Innings, explains that the availability of skilled nurses, as well as training, retention and remuneration of staff in senior living projects, are a major concern. “Most retirement homes, despite collecting monthly payments from residents, lack good staff who are willing to look after senior citizens. Nursing staff need to be sensitive towards senior citizens and training them for medical emergencies, is essential,” he says.

Suresh Das, a retired government employee, shares how “When I was searching for a retirement home I checked out the amenities available, usage of technology and whether the project had an area dedicated for social and physical activity. Also, it is now extremely important to check the structure of the agreement and exit policy.”

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