An apartment complex in Lyon Park recently issued a warning to tenants saying the only place for child’s play is the playground.
A note provided to ARLnow, addressed to the residents of Washington & Lee Apartments (2200 2nd Street N.), said “children are to be playing in the playground and in no other areas,” in bolded, italicized and underlined letters.
They cannot play in “common areas which include… on the grass or trees,” only the area designated as the playground, according to the note.
It’s one of two notes ARLnow has obtained indicating that some apartment communities are cracking down on play in common areas in response to an uptick in complaints from other tenants about noise and property damage.
The Washington & Lee note was a first for Nicole Merlene, a Tenant-Landlord Commission member and ARLnow opinion columnist. She tells ARLnow it describes a potentially discriminatory practice and reveals the need for Arlington to offer mediation services between tenants and landlords.
“Since I have been on the commission we have not received a complaint of this kind where there is potentially discrimination based on age for activities,” she said.
The note responds to an increase in complaints from tenants about damaged cars from kids playing in the parking lot, a property manager for the complex told ARLnow. In a phone interview, the manager said five complaints have come in the last few months of kids hitting cars with rocks or scratching them up with scooters and bikes. As for the trees and grass, the manager said kids were breaking limbs and digging holes.
“It’s just gotten to the point where the damage and complaints were so bad I’d have to take action,” the manager said. “Because of COVID… [parents] didn’t have adequate care and the children were just left at home on their own.”
The note also bans sidewalk chalk because kids drew on the brick walls, according to the manager. The note said “stricter action will be taken” if the problems continue. In 2014, the same apartments launched a campaign against tenants feeding squirrels.
Merlene said that these kinds of landlord-tenant disputes could be resolved through an out-of-court mediation service — one that Arlington has not had since it was defunded a few years ago, she said.
“This type of out of court service requires both parties to willfully participate, but after conversations with both Alexandria and Fairfax, it is by and large extremely successful at finding a solution when a tenant is the one bringing a grievance,” she said. “The Tenant-Landlord Commission is in the process of looking into ways in which other jurisdictions have successfully provided this service and will recommend a system that works for our community for the Board’s consideration.”
Asked to evaluate the letter, she said commission members are not lawyers or trained in discrimination policy, so commissioners avoid determining if something is illegal. Instead, those with complaints are referred to the county’s Office of Human Rights.
But taking apartmentment owners to court, while a recourse for Arlington tenants, rarely happens.
“Reasons range from fear of potentially losing the case against a big landlord’s lawyer and having to pay their attorney fees, immigration status, cultural barriers, and various other hurdles,” she said.
Complaints of noise and kids’ behavior have also registered with the management office at Union on Queen (1515 N. Queen Street), near Rosslyn.
Tenants received a “friendly reminder” that no residents can hang out in or around the courtyard fountain. It told parents they are responsible if their children play there, according to a screenshot shared with ARLnow.
“Thus far we have seen trash left in the courtyard and in the fountain, and we’ve seen children playing in the courtyard [spraying] water on other resident’s [sic] windows,” the letter said.
The Union on Queen reminder also noted that the office “has received numerous complaints about increased noise levels due to groups being in the courtyard and around the courtyard’s fountain.”
“We will unfortunately have to issue lease violations should the issue persist,” the note said. “Again, we don’t want them to hurt themselves or others in the building. We want all of our residents to be safe and comfortable.”
Photo via Google Maps
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