How can I stop children from playing in the courtyard of my apartment complex?

Property Clinic: Your questions answered

Children may have a looser definition of the ‘peaceful enjoyment’ permitted in apartment common areas. File photograph: Getty

Children may have a looser definition of the ‘peaceful enjoyment’ permitted in apartment common areas. File photograph: Getty

 

I live in a ground-floor apartment in a well-maintained development near Dublin. The development was built in 2003 and contains about 100 apartments around a central courtyard with a small green area at its centre. Most of the buyers were young couples without children or people like me trading down. However, in recent years more families with children have moved in.

One issue to emerge this year, largely due to Covid-19, is children playing much more in the courtyard, sometimes in groups of up to 10 or 12. This has led to stress and even conflict between residents, especially for people working from home. Damage has been caused to shrubs by some of the children and with more bikes being used there is the risk of an accident.

In my view the development is not suitable for this kind of activity and quite frankly it brings down the look of the complex. Another resident and I tried to talk to some of the parents but without success.

With the summer behind us, the agm of our owners’ management company (OMC) is due in the new year. Is there anything I can do to address the matter? If the situation does not improve, I would really consider moving as I am so frustrated.

Your issue is, in fact, one of the most common raised with managing agents in 2020. The unprecedented circumstances of the year have created a range of new issues in multi-unit developments. Some are positive, eg more neighbours helping neighbours; others less so.

One negative one is the emerging conflict between parents who believe their children should be able to play in the common areas and residents who believe such play should be limited, if permitted at all. The issue is a difficult one for owners’ management companies and managing agents to navigate as both sides have arguments on their side.

Those supporting the right of children to play will note that the children are entitled to live in the development just as much as adults, and landlords will note that they are fully entitled to rent to families with children (and, indeed, cannot discriminate against them). The lease agreement for your development will be relevant but may simply state that common areas can be used by residents (of all ages), although it may note that this is for “peaceful enjoyment” (normally not defined).

More practical reasons for the increase in children playing in 2020 are that, as you note, schools were closed for a long period; some families have not been able to get away for a holiday; and, with parents working from home, they may send children out to play so they can concentrate on their work or join online meetings. It is the case that the pandemic has been stressful for children as well as adults.

That said, while many residents do not mind one or two children playing in a relatively quiet way, large groups of children can quickly become noisy. For people without children working from home or simply enjoying some downtime, sustained noise can be annoying and stressful. This is before even discussing games such as football or chasing which can cause damage to grounds. And, as you note, there is a risk of injury and possible insurance claims in relation to the use of bicycles, scooters etc in areas that cars or pedestrians also use.

Sometimes an informal word can help, especially if the parents are not aware of the effects of the children playing on other residents. You say you’ve tried that and you don’t want the issues to become personalised and even harder to resolve.

Another option is to raise the matter with your managing agent. The agent is normally not based on site so they will need detailed information (preferably in writing) as to what is going on, ie nature of activities, properties involved, times of alleged nuisance and so on. The agent can then contact the owners of the properties, note complaints received and politely but professionally ask the owners (or their tenants) to modify their behaviour.

In contacting owners and tenants, the agent will review the lease or house rules. These may refer to the use of the common areas and could, for example, prohibit ball games. If they do not, or are vague, then they can be strengthened at your forthcoming agm. This will require the proposed amendments to be circulated in advance to all members of the owners’ management company (OMC).

In proposing new or amended house rules, the Multi-Unit Developments Act requires that these be consistent both with “the objective of advancing the quiet and peaceful enjoyment of the property” and “the objective of the fair and equitable balancing of the rights and obligations of the occupiers and the unit owners”. Subsequent to amending the rules, they can be circulated to all owners and perhaps new signage erected in the development.

It goes without saying that the optimal solution is that resolution is achieved without the OMC or owners having to resort to formal warnings, solicitors’ letters or court action. Those making complaints should try to empathise with the parents and the parents should try to take children to parks where possible and always take in toys etc from common areas after use.

If a minority of residents continue to breach the rules, the OMC can request the owners of the properties involved to issue formal warnings to tenants and eventually eviction orders as breaches of house rules are a breach of the letting agreement. Ultimately, owners and tenants must adhere to the rules and costs arising from breaching house rules can be billed back to relevant apartment owners. If this process still does not resolve the issues, the OMC may also be able to take direct court action against the owners/tenants involved.

The truth is that many apartment developments in Ireland are not child friendly and Covid-19 has simply shone a light on this. This has implications for the design of all new multi-unit developments. In your own case, the winter will give you, your neighbours and your OMC a chance to reflect. Hopefully, with amended house rules and the learning from 2020, your OMC will be better able to address any similar issues in 2021.

Finbar McDonnell is a chartered property manager and a member of the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland, scsi.ie

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