Al Morton spends his days working with veterans and volunteering at his Sun City Homeowners Association. His wife frequently attends a clay club, making pottery with fellow members.
The Mortons, from Texas, were drawn to Sun City because other family members had already retired there. They followed suit in 2004 and are now among the nearly 40,000 retirees there. Many zip along Sun City streets on stylized golf carts to one activity or another.
There's plenty for seniors to do with eight golf courses, swimming pools, tennis courts and game rooms. It's a lifestyle that sold droves of retirees on Sun City when it opened in the Valley's western fringes in 1960.
The idea spread and numerous retiree communities now dot metro Phoenix's landscape. Across the country, some 3 million people over the age of 55 lived in retirement communities in 2011, according to the U.S. Census American Housing Survey.
But how do age-restricted communities such as the Sun Cites (there are now several versions) or Sun Lakes near Chandler keep younger people out?
The answer: a carve-out in the federal Fair Housing Act, which prohibits discrimination based on age and other things, allowed for 55-and-older retirement communities.
Sun City and other age-restricted communities were already established when the Fair Housing Act was passed in 1968. So exceptions were made.
"The 55-plus concept already existed in many communities and was incorporated into the law," said Lynn Krupnik, an attorney specializing in housing law in Phoenix. "There are no similar types of exemptions for other age groups."
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In Sun City, the rules allow people under the age of 19 to visit but only for a total of 90 days in any 12-month period.
Living in a community of mostly seniors means that the crime rate is low and residents, especially those who are surviving on Social Security, can avoid paying higher property taxes for schools, according to Morton.
"When people here are on a fixed income, any type of taxes, it puts a strain on a lot of people on what they can do and what they can't do," Morton said.
The exemption for age-restricted communities requires that at least 80 percent of the homes be occupied with somebody 55 or older.
The law also requires the communities to publicize the age rules and enforce them, verifying ages at least every other year.
"If the association fails to keep track of the number of seniors living in its community, or if it fails to do surveys every other year, it could fall out of compliance," Krupnik said.
Such was the case for the country's first exclusively senior community, Youngtown, which opened in 1954.
By 1998, the state ruled Youngtown's age-restricted ordinance was illegal because it wasn't written in to the deeds on all homes.
Most retirement communities were created with the age-restrictions in place. In that way, they more easily could meet the requirements of the Federal Housing Act exemption.
But problems can crop up from time to time, as a Phoenix condo community recently discovered.
The Sunrise Village Condominiums Association tried to change the rules to bar children under the age of 16, according to condo owner Ward Tyczka, who sued.
"You can’t just simply say, 'There’s no age limit but we’re not going to let you live here," said Jon Dessaules, the attorney representing Tyczka.
The community association has since dropped the rule, according to the property manager's filing in Maricopa County Superior Court.