I’ve written several blog posts on the lingo used within the senior living industry. Some of the industry’s terms are more easily understood than others, however. For example, in last week’s blog post, we explored the meaning of “independent living” and how this label is applied to different senior living and care scenarios. This week, let’s consider the phrase “rental retirement community.”

On the surface, it seems pretty self-explanatory: It’s a residence within a retirement community that you rent versus own. That’s true, but there is more nuance to it that just that.

What some people may not realize is that within the “rental retirement” category of senior living (i.e., those that do not require a substantial entry fee), there are a few variations. Understanding the differences between them is important as you consider your senior living options.

Independent living retirement communities
The majority of rental retirement communities include independent living apartments, combined with some level of support for assisted living and memory care. In some cases, this could mean that in addition to the independent living options there are separate residences licensed for assisted living and memory care.

Alternatively, it could mean there are no separately licensed living units. Instead, in these instances, care services are delivered in the person’s independent living residence, possibly through a third-party caregiving agency that has contracted with the retirement community.

Therefore some “independent living” communities may appear from the outside to be assisted living facilities, even though they are not licensed as such. Residents living in an independent living community would likely need to move to an off-site skilled nursing care facility, either temporarily or indefinitely, if their care needs advance beyond what the independent living retirement community is equipped to provide.

Rental continuing care retirement communities
Most independent living communities operate under a rental model. However, continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs or “life plan communities”), which usually operate under an entry fee model, may also operate under a rental model. In fact, some entry fee communities even offer a few rental options.

The primary difference between a typical rental retirement community and a rental CCRC is that a CCRC includes access to a complete continuum of care, including 24-hour skilled nursing and rehab care. While some entry fee CCRCs reserve their care centers only for residents (or at least give top priority to residents), this may or may not be true of a rental CCRC.

Additional rental retirement community distinctions
There are other differences between a typical rental retirement community and a rental CCRC, mostly relating to how states classify the community and corresponding regulations.
Rental retirement communities that are not classified as CCRCs are not regulated because, aside from the amenities and other services, they are essentially apartments with minimum age requirements. The exception would be if the community also offers licensed assisted living and memory care. In this case, those care services would be regulated by the appropriate licensing body within the state.

Continuing care retirement communities, on the other hand, are a little different because of the type of residency contract. A continuing care contract is a commitment to provide housing and care services for a longer period of time, usually more than a year at a minimum, and sometimes for life. For example, in the state of North Carolina, the definition is as follows:

“…the furnishing to an individual other than an individual related by blood, marriage, or adoption to the person furnishing the care, of lodging together with nursing services, medical services, or other health-related services, under a contract approved by the Department in accordance with this Article effective for the life of the individual or for a period longer than one year…”

In essence, it is the continuing care contract that necessitates the regulation as a CCRC. Yet, in some states, only entry fee CCRCs are regulated. In that case, the only real difference between a rental CCRC and an independent living retirement community is the access a CCRC gives residents to a full continuum of care, including skilled nursing and rehab.

Understanding the nuances
When you are researching senior living options, you’ll come across a lot of terminology, some of which may be new to you. It’s important to understand what those words and phrases mean so that you don’t get more (or less) than you bargained for with your senior living decision.

“Rental retirement community,” for example, has a rather broad meaning within the senior living industry. Depending on whether it is an independent living retirement community or a rental CCRC, rental retirement communities can have very disparate services.

Which senior living community is right for you? Only you know the answer to that, but be sure you understand exactly what care services are or are not available at the community you are considering.