Margaret is a landlord who’s trying to do her best to make all of her tenants happy—in hopes that they’ll renew their leases and save her the time and effort of finding new tenants. But she’s discovering that keeping one group of tenants happy could be putting her in legal hot water.
Here’s what happened: Margaret owns a four-plex rental property, with a shared carport, individual patios, and a common back yard. There are no fences or dividers, and each tenant uses the back yard as they please. Two of her tenants have children, and two do not. All are on one-year leases.
The basic lease that all four tenants signed stipulates that children are allowed to play in the front and back yard areas of the building, and on sidewalks that lead up to the unit they live in. They are not to play in the carport.
Stacy is one of the tenants without children. She complained to Margaret that her neighbors’ kids were playing too close to her patio, and too loudly. She threatened to move at the end of her lease, which was coming up in 60 days. Stacy is an ideal tenant—never late with her rent, respecting Margaret’s time and appreciative of her efforts to keep the rental unit well-maintained. She rarely complained about anything.
Margaret wanted to appease Stacy. Besides, she agreed with her that it was unfair for the neighbors’ kids to play near her patio, disturbing Stacy’s peace and quiet. So Margaret sent letters to the two tenants with children, informing them that effective immediately, the children’s play area would be limited to their own front sidewalks and patios.
The result? The parents responded negatively, and threatened legal action against Margaret. And they had a legitimate point—their leases, clearly stipulating where the children could play, were still in place. Additionally, the lease only mentioned quiet hours from 10:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m. So, Stacy’s noise complaint had no basis.
All of Margaret’s tenants signed the same lease. If Stacy had an issue with the rules about where kids could play, she should have dealt with it before she signed the lease. And if Margaret wants to change the rules for her long-term lease tenants, she can only do so at lease renewal time.
Landlords are also obligated to comply with the Fair Housing Act, which forbids discrimination against tenants due to familial status. So her rule about where children can and cannot play should apply to all tenants, not just children—just to be safe.