Q: We rent a cottage behind our landlord’s house. We have two pit bull dogs that are there with the landlord’s consent, and we have a lease that’s up in a few months.
Although the dogs have caused no problems, the landlord has told us that he’s "not comfortable" with them on the property, and that if we want to renew our lease, we’ll have to sign one that has a "no pets" clause. We think he just wants us out so he can offer the cottage to his son. Is there anything we can do? –Betty and Fred
A: Your landlord is a bit confused (about the law and possibly about your dogs). If he wants to use the rental for his son (or anyone else, or to leave it vacant, for that matter), he can simply decline to offer you another lease and tell you to leave when your lease term is up. He need not give you a reason: Any reason he might have (other than a discriminatory or retaliatory one) will support his decision.
That said, in the few cities that have "just cause" eviction protection, and in New Hampshire and New Jersey, which have similar statewide protections, landlords may not refuse to extend leases unless their reason is one that’s enumerated in the rent-control ordinance or state law. But even then, moving in a child will usually qualify as an allowable reason to not renew a lease.
Not knowing that he has the ability to simply decline to offer a new lease, your landlord is trying to pressure you out by saying that you’ll have to get rid of the dogs. He’s banking on your loyalty to your pets to force you to move.
But here, too, you unfortunately don’t have a legal right to insist on the same terms in a renewal as were present in your original lease. If the landlord decides he doesn’t want pets, he has that right (as long as the animal is not a service animal needed by a person with a disability).
Q: We own a small apartment building that we also live in. I’m going to build a play area for our kids, and want it to be used by the residents’ kids, too. Are there laws about how I should build it? –Mary J.
A: Good for you for thinking ahead about how to build your play area — and for including your tenants’ kids in your planning. The best place to start your research is with your local building permit office. Check with them to see whether your city or state has adopted playground standards for use in multifamily residential settings.
You may find that the guidelines published by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) have been adopted as requirements. (You can find them at http://www.cpsc.gov/cpscpub/pubs/325.pdf.)
The CPSC guidelines apply to equipment used by youngsters ranging from six months in age to 12 years. Revisions in 2008 addressed track rides and log rolls, adjusted the critical height table (covering children’s minimum height for specific playground features), suggested surface covering over asphalt, and even added sun-exposure guidelines.
The guidelines’ goals are to prevent falls from, and impact with, equipment; to use protective surfacing to decrease the effect of impact with equipment; to eliminate openings that may result in head entrapment; and to prevent injuries due to bad design, poor construction, sharp edges and protrusions. The majority of emergency room visits following a playground accident (79 percent) were the result of falls.
The CPSC guidelines are written in plain English and address practical concerns, starting with the site you select (for example, if the site is near a hazard, such as traffic or waterways, you’ll need to design it with containment in mind).
Sun exposure, slope and drainage must also be considered, lest you create a play area with equipment that gets dangerously hot or waterlogged.
Age separation — for the safety of the younger ones and older kids, too — must be considered, and you should make sure that parents have an uninterrupted sight line towards their children’s play.
The guidelines go on to cover age-appropriate equipment, equipment that is not recommended, surfacing, maintenance, and recordkeeping.
Be sure to engage the help of a reputable contractor (you might begin by checking with local city parks and recreation offices, to find out who does their work). Get a plan that follows the CPSC guidelines, and let your insurance company know that you’re following a "best practices" approach.
You may find that your liability premiums include a discount to reflect the care you’re taking, as it should: After all, the whole point is to reduce the risk of injury.
Finally, educate your tenants on their role as parents and supervisors of their children. Encourage discussion of what’s working at the playground — and what’s not. If there are problems, address them promptly. Your goal is to make and maintain a reasonably safe, fun place for residents to gather and play.