How to Communicate Common Area Rules to Protect Site, Reduce Liability
Your common areas play a major role in your site’s success. They’re the first part of the site that applicants see and they’re the “neighborhood” in which all your residents live. But your residents may cause problems in your common areas, deliberately or not. They may leave their garbage out, store personal property there, or act inappropriately. Besides being an eyesore and a nuisance, these things can leave you open to liability and inspection problems. Personal items blocking an exit could violate the local fire code and a person who trips over them could sue the site for injuries suffered.
Your site may not have house rules prohibiting this sort of behavior. We’ll tell you why regulating resident conduct in common areas is a good idea and give you Model Rules: Avoid Common Area Problems with House Rules that you can adapt for your own use.
How Common Area Rules Help
Many residents incorrectly think that their leases concern their units only, and that they’re not responsible for anything that happens outside their front doors. HUD’s model leases say the tenant agrees to not litter the ground or common areas and not destroy, deface, damage, or remove any part of the common areas of the site. The model lease also restricts tenants from engaging in unlawful activities in the common areas.
Although the model lease mentions maintenance and behavioral rules in common areas, adding common area rules to your house rules can help you in two ways. First, it clarifies and puts additional attention on how residents must conduct themselves in common areas. It puts residents on notice that they’re responsible for the site’s common areas as well as their own units. For example, some residents may not realize that they shouldn’t store things in stairwells.
The rules will also be useful as extra ammunition against a resident you’re seeking to evict. It may be tough to evict a resident for leaving items in a hallway. But you can add such violations as further grounds for eviction for other, more serious offenses.
What to Say in Rules
To control resident conduct in common areas, consider adding the following rules to your house rules. Your rules, like our Model Rules, should do five things:
Define common areas. Residents may have a very narrow definition of what constitutes your site’s common areas. For example, they may assume that the common area is just limited to the lobby. Tell them that common areas include hallways, stairwells, lobbies, laundry rooms, basement areas, roof areas, courtyards, lawns, pathways, and any amenity areas such as pool or playgrounds.
Bar residents from leaving garbage or laundry in common areas. Residents sometimes leave their garbage or laundry in hallways, basements, or entrances to dispose of later. But these areas are for the use and enjoyment of the entire site; they’re not loading zones for a few inconsiderate individuals. And worse, garbage and debris stored improperly around the indoor or outdoor areas of the site can invite noxious odors, pest infestations, and increase risk of injury or disease. So tell residents up front that they may not leave trash or laundry outside their units.
Bar residents from leaving personal property in common areas. Residents sometimes leave bicycles chained to railings, store baby strollers in breezeways, or leave children’s toys on lawns. Besides being unsightly, these objects can present a hazard to residents. You could be sued if someone trips over a bicycle chained to a stair rail or be cited as a fire hazard if items block any passageways. So tell residents that they must keep all their personal possessions inside their units.
Give yourself the right to remove any unattended personal property. Warn your residents that if they leave personal property in a common area, you may remove it, even if you need to cut a lock to do so. Remember to take reasonable care to prevent theft or damage to the confiscated property.
Bar residents from creating a nuisance in common areas. Most leases ban residents from creating a nuisance, engaging in conduct that bothers or offends other residents. More broadly, the law gives every resident a right to “quiet enjoyment” of his or her unit. This legal term means that a resident has the right to live in and enjoy her unit without being disturbed, harassed, or threatened by an owner, manager, employee, or by other residents.
Section 13(e) of the model lease says that residents agree not to “make or permit noises or acts that will disturb the rights or comfort of neighbors.” Also, Section 23, Termination of Tenancy, says, “The term material noncompliance with the lease includes: (1) one or more substantial violations of the lease; (2) repeated minor violations of the lease that (a) disrupt the livability of the project, (b) adversely affect the health or safety of any person or the right of any tenant to the quiet enjoyment of the leased premises and related project facilities….”
However, residents may not understand that this rule applies to their conduct outside their units as well as inside. To make sure that residents know they need to behave themselves in common areas and to make sure that you can take action against those who don’t, ban nuisance conduct in common areas. Your ban, like ours, should also cover residents’ family members, guests, and invitees.
To help residents understand this rule, give examples. Say that nuisances include loud noises, offensive or harassing conduct, fighting, running, skating, riding skateboards or bicycles, and playing music without headphones.
See The Model Tools For This Article
|Avoid Common Area Problems with House Rules|