Whenever I review a tenant’s rental agreement (or a lease) for potential concerns over discriminatory treatment, one of the first things that I look for is whether it contains an adult supervision rule. What is an adult supervision rule? Simply put, it is a rule contained within the rental agreement (or lease) that states something like, “All children under 16 years of age must be supervised by an adult at all times.” As you might expect, not all adult supervision rules are worded alike. Some forbid children under 16 from playing outside unsupervised, while others forbid children under 14 or 12 from playing outside unsupervised. While adult supervision rules are often like the tip of the iceberg when it comes to discrimination, you have to ask yourself: What is right about an adult supervision rule? At the heart of the matter is a landlord’s desire that parents supervise or watch over their children while they are outside in the common areas of an apartment complex. That sounds logical enough, doesn’t it? For who wants a bunch of screaming kids running around an apartment complex unsupervised? No one. So a rule that appears to try to stop that type of behavior can seem like a good thing, right?
But the problem with adult supervision rules is that they are sort of like large fishing nets: they catch everything. So I’ve seen situations where adult supervision rules have forbid children from sitting in their doorways reading books. Adult supervision rules have been used to stop children from writing with sidewalk chalk right in front of their own apartments. (Newsflash: sidewalk chalk actually comes off as soon as water is poured onto it.) Adult supervision rules have been used to forbid young teenagers from sitting in the common areas of apartment complexes with their friends after school. In a case I recently tried, one mother was told that she could not allow her son to play outside in the common areas just outside of their apartment while she cooked their dinner. Put simply, while adult supervision rules, at first blush, seem like they are aimed at true problems, the reality is that they are frequently used to force children (16 and under, in most cases) to go inside. With child obesity rates continuing to climb, the last place that most children need to be is sitting on a couch in front of a TV or a video. What is more, social skills are thwarted when children are forbidden from congregating with one another. In the end, while there is a time and a place for children to be supervised by an adult, it surely isn’t 24/7.