Both independent living and senior apartments provide a place to live for seniors ages 55 and older or, in some cases, 62 and older. While they have some similarities, the biggest difference between the two is that independent living communities provide a level of senior care while senior apartments offer an affordable housing option. In general, both types of facilities are for seniors looking to downgrade from a private home or a large apartment. The choice between the two can be a tough decision. In many cases, seniors need to show creditworthiness to apply for a senior apartment, while independent living communities only require a completed application and proof of age.

This guide covers both types and provides a general overview of each one.

Independent Living

Senior Apartments




Amenities Provided

Different housing options, multiple dining options, close proximity to local health care facilities, health and wellness centers, common spaces

Paid utilities, individual climate controls, locked mailboxes, unfurnished, courtesy transportation

Average Monthly Costs



Who Should Consider It

Those looking for a maintenance-free community

Seniors looking for affordable living spaces

Independent Living

Independent living communities provide healthy and active seniors ages 55 and older a comfortable place to live with others of the same age. The majority of seniors in independent living communities can perform most of their activities of daily living, including dressing, showering, bathing and meal prep on their own. This type of housing is often located close to medical facilities, which makes it easy for the senior residents to receive care quickly if the need arises. Although these communities don’t offer personal care assistance, there’s usually increased security and staff members on-site 24/7.

Independent Living Options

Independent living offers several options. Retirement communities look like regular neighborhoods where seniors may purchase or rent their homes. These communities have amenities like a community clubhouse and pool, tennis courts and planned community activities. Independent living communities may also offer studios, one- and two-bedroom apartments and separate cottage-style homes. 

When Is Independent Living the Best Choice?

Independent living may be the best choice for seniors who are finding it harder to take care of their residences on their own. Because many independent living communities offer transportation, they are also ideal for seniors who have difficulty driving to family and friends and getting to and from medical appointments and other errands. Independent living is also a good fit for seniors who are still healthy enough to pay their own bills, remember to take their medications and take care of activities of daily living.

Cost of Independent Living

The cost of an independent living community depends on many factors. Homes can be high-end with additional HOA and maintenance fees. For those who rent, the cost can depend on the size of the apartment, the entrance fee and add-on services, such as medical care.

Senior Apartments

Senior apartments are independent living communities reserved for seniors ages 55 and older and, in some cases, ages 62 and older. Typically, the cost for an apartment in a senior apartment complex is less than traditional rent, but the apartments are usually smaller and more cozy, and nearly all are wheelchair-accessible. The biggest advantage to senior apartments is older adults can live in a community without worrying about maintenance and yard work, and the facility usually pays for additional services like pest control, trash pickup and landscaping.

Common Features of Senior Apartments

Senior apartments sometimes have a resort-like feel with a wide variety of amenities. Some common features of senior apartments include:

  • Shared dining areas
  • Health and fitness rooms
  • Day spa services
  • Transportation
  • Swimming pools
  • Game rooms
  • Laundry rooms
  • Patios and balconies
  • Beauty shops

Costs of Senior Apartments

Just like independent living communities, the cost of senior apartments varies depending on the geographical location, the age and size of the apartments and the amenities provided.

Who Qualifies for Senior Apartments?

Senior living communities, including senior apartments, have minimum age restrictions. For most, the minimum age is 55. These age restrictions make it easier for apartment complexes to make the environment more comfortable for older adults. Under the Fair Housing Act, it’s illegal to refuse to rent to anyone on the basis of age; however, the 1995 Housing for Older Persons Act allows restrictions for senior housing communities.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can children and spouses live in senior apartments?

As with senior living communities, children and spouses are often allowed to live in senior apartment homes as long as at least one family member is the minimum required age. One of the requirements for an apartment complex to qualify as a senior apartment living complex is that a large number of its residents are aged 55 and older.

What common amenities are included in senior apartments?

Senior apartments are designed with the comfort of older adults in mind. Some of the most common features include bathrooms and walk-in showers with grab bars, solid surface floors without thresholds, adjustable beds, small living spaces with wide doorways and wheelchair ramps or elevators.

How do you pay for independent living?

Most people pay for their independent living accommodations with personal funds. This includes Social Security income, retirement benefits, life insurance policies, pensions and annuities, and personal savings.