Set House Rule Barring Residents, Guests from Site's Roof
During summer months, household members often like to use a site’s roof for recreational purposes, such as sunbathing, barbecuing, watching fireworks, or catching a breath of fresh air. But letting residents and guests use your roof could lead to liability for your site. For example, if a resident gets seriously injured or causes costly property damage, a court may rule that you’re liable for the injuries or damage because you let residents and guests use the roof.
That’s why it’s important to set a house rule barring household members and their guests from using your community’s roof, advises New York attorney Daniel W. Morrison. We’ll tell you more about the risks of letting residents and their guests use your roof. And we’ll give you a Model Letter: Get Tough with Resident Who Uses Roof, that you can adapt and use to remind household members and their guests of the safety risks and house rule violation of such use.
Risks of Letting Residents, Guests Use Roof
Sites that let residents and their guests use their roof are looking for trouble, Morrison cautions. Such use can lead to the following problems for a site:
Liability for injuries. If a resident or guest gets hurt while on your roof—or falls off your roof—you could be held liable for his injuries, warns Morrison. And a judge may order you to pay a hefty amount to compensate the victim for his injuries and suffering.
Liability for damage or injury caused by roof defects. Letting residents and guests use your roof adds unnecessary wear and tear to the roof, which could shorten its life and create defects, says Morrison. As a result, your insurance premiums could increase, he cautions. And if, say, a roof defect leads to a leak that damages residents’ property in the units below the roof, you could be held liable for that damage, he warns. In addition, letting residents and guests use your roof may also void your roof’s warranty. In such a case, you may have to pay to repair any roof defects.
What Rule Should Say
To help avoid such risks, set a rule barring household members and their guests from using your site’s roof for any reason except an emergency, says Morrison. Here’s Model Language you can adapt and use. Show it to your attorney before adding it to your house rules.
ACCESS TO BUILDING ROOFS IS STRICTLY PROHIBITED. Residents and their guests are strictly prohibited from accessing, storing personal belongings on, or using the roof/roof landings for any purpose, except in an emergency.
Notify Residents of Rule
As with any new house rule you create, you should notify residents of the new rule and attach a copy of the rule to your letter, recommends Morrison. Owners must give residents written notice 30 days before implementing new house rules [HUD Handbook 4350.3, par. 6-9(B)(5)]. In addition, house rules are listed in the lease as an attachment and must be attached to the lease [HUD Handbook 4350.3, par. 6-9(B)(4)].
But if you know or suspect that residents are using your roof, it’s a good idea to post a copy of your roof rule in conspicuous places, such as by the entrance to the stairs leading to your roof or on the roof-access doors, Morrison suggests. That way, residents and their guests may think twice before going up to the roof. And this extra step may save lives and prevent liability, he says.
Enforcing No-Roof Rule Against Residents
Simply having such a rule may not be enough to prevent residents from using the roof anyway. If residents violate your no-roof house rule, take the following two steps before you spend time and money on an eviction lawsuit.
Step #1: Speak with resident. You may find out that a resident has used your roof for a reason other than an emergency. For instance, a maintenance staff member may have spotted residents sunbathing when he inspected the roof. Or a household member in a top-floor unit may have complained to you that someone has been playing loud music from the roof, and further investigation proved it was a resident and her guest. As soon as you find out about a resident’s use of your roof, talk to the resident about his actions, suggests Morrison. Remind the resident that your site has a rule that specifically bars residents and their guests from using the roof for any reason other than an emergency. And point out that violating this rule is a lease violation that could lead to his eviction, he says. You may even want to give the resident a copy of the house rules with the no-roof rule highlighted.
Step #2: Send get-tough letter. If, after speaking with the resident, you learn that he has continued to use the roof, send him a get-tough action letter, advises Morrison. This letter should be stern and, like our Model Letter, should:
- Remind the resident about your prior conversation with him about his unauthorized use of the roof in which you reminded him that your site specifically bars such activity for any reason other than an emergency;
- Note that despite this conversation, it has come to your attention that the resident has continued to use the roof, citing examples of how and when he did so;
- Warn the resident that his continued use of the roof is both a serious safety risk and a material violation of the lease. Cite the specific house rule the resident is violating and refer to the specific rule the resident is violating, and attach a copy of that rule to the letter; and
- Say that if the resident continues to use the roof, you’ll pursue whatever legal remedies are available to the site—including evicting him.
If a resident continues to use the roof after receiving your letter, your site may have no choice but to sue to evict the resident. If you decide to do so, you’ll have a stronger case, Morrison notes. By speaking with a resident informally and then sending a warning letter, you can show that the resident was on notice that he violated his lease, and that you took reasonable steps to enforce your no-roof rule, rather than rushing to the drastic step of suing to evict him. Also, if the resident continues to use your roof and injures himself while doing so, the fact that you warned him orally and with a get-tough action letter will help you defend yourself if the resident sues you for his injuries, he adds.
Daniel W. Morrison, Esq.: Jones Morrison, LLP, 670 White Plains Rd., Scarsdale, NY 10583; www.jonesmorrisonlaw.com.
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