January 9, 2016 • By Dennis Beaver
‘How much control can a landlord have over the lives of tenants, and especially, tenants who have children? Does owning an apartment house give the owner a right to dictate behavior? And if so, what are the limits?”
“I plan to use my 401K retirement savings to purchase an apartment complex located close to where we live, here in Chico. One of the nice features is a large swimming pool and hot-tub/Jacuzzi,” Russell’s email began.
“Noise, rudeness, loud parties often comes with apartment living in a college town, and I want tenants who respect each other’s desire to not be annoyed, and specifically by children. So, I drew up a list of house rules and would appreciate your opinion. I admit to being a control freak, so if any of this is not legal, I will just invest in something else and forget being a landlord.”
Under “Requirements for Families with Children,” the following were listed:
Due to the risks of heat exposure, young children are not allowed in the Jacuzzi at any time and may not be in the swimming pool unless supervised by an adult.
While in the pool, if there is any roughhousing, screaming or yelling by your children or your guests, you will be warned the first time, and if this behavior is repeated, eviction is possible.
Children are not permitted to play on the parking lot, but are encouraged to use the common, grassy areas. The use of Frisbees or objects–such as baseballs-capable of breaking windows or harming other tenants and their property is strictly forbidden. The public park, located one block from here, is for those activities.
For their own safety, children must return home no later than 7 p.m.
We ran our reader’s question — and his House Rules — by San Diego attorney Craig Fagan, who has spent over 16 year representing families who are victims of housing discrimination.
“Dennis, your reader is not alone in believing that he can exercise such a high degree of control over tenants. Many landlords who do not understand Fair Housing laws feel that way and wind up in legal hot water.”
“First, any rule that attempts to impose a curfew on children is going to be declared illegal. There’s nothing wrong with ‘quiet time’ from 10 p.m. until 8 a.m., but a landlord cannot have a curfew for children only,” Fagan points out.
“House rules that neutrally apply to all residents aren’t always legal. You cannot have rules that prohibit children from playing. Many landlords try to hide the fact that they are targeting children with rules stating, ‘Tenants cannot play.’ If a rule disproportionately affects children, it is considered discriminatory even if it is neutral on its face,” he observes.
“However, some rules are permissible. In a swimming pool, a landlord can say that children under 14 must be supervised by an adult. In many states, that is the law, and also makes sense as children that young generally need supervision.
But you cannot say, “Children may never be in the Jacuzzi because exposure to high heat is a known health risk,” because a 17-year-old minor would be perfectly safe in a Jacuzzi.
We asked Fagan, “What would be a truly dangerous situation where the landlord can legally impose limits on where children could play?”
“Parking lots are a good example. ‘No playing in the parking lot’ addresses a real danger to children. But, ‘I am worried about kids being injured, so they cannot play anywhere outside on the common areas,’ is too broad.”
What are the most common violations of Fair Housing Rules?
“Imposing unreasonable conditions on where children may play and what they can do tops the list of common violations of Fair Housing rules,” according to Fagan. These include rules which:
Require supervision of children playing in common areas. This is a covert way of saying, ‘Children cannot play outside at all.’ So, just visualize teenagers who come home after school while mom is at work. With these types of rules, they can’t even sit outside and use their I-Pad. Obviously they need no supervision, and this is one way of keeping the kids indoors.
Forbid playing outside. Typically, they will say, ‘There is a park down the street—go there to play.”
Dictate a schedule, state how kids may play or to what time they can be out.
There is more to being a landlord than simply buying an apartment house. It requires knowing your legal responsibilities. Fagan’s website —www.discriminationiswrong.com — is an excellent place to begin.
And Russell? He probably should consider some other type of investment.
Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.