No. Neither is a legitimate reason to require supervision. Every business in the country is fearful of these two things, but that does not mean that it can run roughshod over a person’s legal rights. By the same token, federal and state fair housing laws expressly protect the rights of families and children to be free from discrimination against children. By law, children are allowed to play outside just so long as there isn’t a compelling reason that would require supervision. A landlord’s personal fear of liability does not qualify as a compelling reason that would allow him to usurp a family’s federal and state fair housing rights. A compelling reason usually deals with a true, dangerous situation if the child is left alone, such as small children swimming in a pool unattended. If the landlord truly has a legitimate safety concern that he is trying to address, then he must take careful precautions to narrowly tailor a rule that will deal very specifically with a limited problem. For example, if the landlord is worried about young children drowning in the pool, then it is perfectly okay to have a rule that says, “Children under 14 must be supervised while swimming.” However, the landlord goes too far if, in an effort to solve this problem, he creates a rule that says, “No children are allowed to play outside at anytime.” Yes, this would also solve the problem, but the rule is too broad.
The reality is that some landlords simply don’t want children playing outside, so they come up with a vague justification for refusing to allow kids to play, namely, that playing isn’t allowed because they don’t want to get sued if the child gets hurt. This is not a valid reason to refuse to let children play outside. Your children are allowed to play outside. The landlord cannot use fear of liability as an excuse to prevent your children from playing. Courts are concerned about actual, real danger, not possible dangers that can occur. For example, there is clearly a risk if children are allowed to shoot bb guns, hit hard baseballs, or throw lawn darts in the common areas, as an injury could easily occur. Obviously, a landlord can prohibit such activities. However, there is no such risk if children toss sponge balls, blow bubbles, play hopscotch, or play badminton. There is no risk with these activities. A manager cannot prohibit kids from engaging in such activities.
Equally important is the fact that a landlord cannot require teenagers to be supervised in common areas. Multiple federal courts have found it illegal to have rules that would prohibit teenagers from being in the common areas unless they were supervised. A landlord cannot require teenagers to be supervised while in common areas.
A frequent problem that occurs is that some tenants will constantly complain to management about the noise that children make while playing outside. In other words, they want the complex to be quiet. The manager might feel compelled to listen to these complaining tenants, and tell parents to either keep their kids inside, or only allow them to play if they are quiet. This is illegal. Children have the right to run, play, laugh, and make noise. A landlord cannot insist upon a quiet complex. Children make noise. That’s part of being a kid. The law requires landlords and tenants to put up with such noises. It is illegal to attempt to silence children so that others will not have to deal with their noise. Any rule that attempts to do so is illegal and unenforceable. As such, a landlord cannot prohibit children from playing hopscotch, Hot Wheels, Barbies or dolls, hand held video games, reading books, tossing soft balls, playing tag, or any other harmless game.
Another problem that occurs is that a landlord will tell children to go back insider their apartments if they are being too loud. This is illegal for a few reasons. First, a landlord cannot order a child to go back inside their unit under any circumstances. This is true even if the child was out of control or making extremely loud noises. A child has the right not to have someone exercise control over their person. While there is nothing inappropriate about a landlord asking a child to calm down, she cannot order a child to go back inside their unit. Second, children are allowed to make normal noise while playing. As such, a landlord cannot stop this noise even if it is annoying to them. Just so long as the children aren’t being extremely loud, they are free to make normal noise while playing.
Yet another problem that occurs is that a landlord will declare that she does not want children playing outside because there are tenants who work nights and sleep during the day. This is not justification that would allow a landlord to refuse to let children play outside. Children are free to play outside even though some tenants may sleep during the day.
The same thing would apply to an apartment rule that prohibits throwing footballs, baseballs, or any other device. If there is a true danger present, then it can be prohibited. However, if there is no real danger, then it cannot be prohibited. For example, it would be okay to prohibit throwing hard baseballs, as a baseball could cause injury to person or property. However, it would be inappropriate to prohibit a nerf football, a sponge ball, or any other safe throwing device.
By the same token, a landlord cannot claim that playing is not allowed because they are afraid that children will trip over a sprinkler and get hurt. This is not a legal justification for refusing to allow children to play on lawns or outside. One court summed it up perfectly, when it ruled as follows: “Concerns that children will get hurt while playing outside, be it nicks, scratches, bumps or bruises, have been concerns dogging parents since the dawn of time. Were such ever-present, generalized concerns deemed sufficient in and of themselves to justify outdoor use restrictions to an apartment complex, there would be little place left that such a rule would not be considered valid. In short, the mantra of child safety cannot and is not sufficient to justify a restriction.” This particular court recognized the fact that landlords would be able to completely control the lives of children if they could simply claim that they were worried about liability.
In addition, a landlord cannot force a family with a new baby to move out because the landlord is worried that a crying baby will upset neighbors. Neighbors are required to put up with the sounds of crying babies. Federal law protects families of newborn babies. If a landlord threatens to evict a family because their baby cries too much, or cries at odd hours, then the landlord has violated fair housing laws. Babies are allowed to cry at any hour and a landlord is required to put up with it.