Law Offices of Heist, Weisse, and Wolk, P.A.
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A child starts a fire in the playground, climbs on the roof, sprays graffiti in the laundry room, and hits another child. What do you do? Probably speak to the parents. The usual outcome is a complete denial by the parents that THEIR child could be involved in such behavior, and possibly the child’s behavior improves or gets worse. Rarely if ever are the police made to be involved, as you know the police usually will not do much anyway, and proof issues are tough. Ironically though, if a 45-year old man engaged in the same or similar activity as the child, you would be on the phone calling 911, and you would be pushing the police to arrest the man and pressing charges. Why the disparate treatment? The same child that caused the original problems may eventually burn the place down or shoot a child in the eye with a BB gun. Now YOU were on notice, and YOU did not do anything earlier. Liability? You bet!!

Why Call the Police?

The reason the police should be called is to clearly document the occurrence and impress upon the child and the parents of the child the gravity of the child’s actions. In most cases no arrest will be made, but often the police will speak to both the parents and the child and put a level of fear into both. By calling the police, you are showing that you consider the matter important and are building a paper trail. If the matter is serious enough, the child will be arrested.

When to Call the Police

Whether the police are called out to the property will depend upon the action of the child. Obviously, calling the police for every incident large and small will result in the police eventually ignoring your calls and potentially a discrimination claim by the parents that you are engaged in familial status discrimination. The hard part is to determine when it is appropriate to get police involved and when the matter should be handled in-house.

Property Damage or Theft

Commonly children engage in vandalism on the premises. This may include vandalism to property belonging to the apartment community or property belonging to other residents. The vandalism may be slight; for instance the child breaks out a light bulb or pulls a shrub out of the ground or starts a small fire in a garbage can. The vandalism is more serious when a significant amount of damage occurs on the premises or to another resident’s property. In some cases you will be dealing with theft of property belonging to the apartment community or another resident.

Damage to or Theft of Another Resident’s Property

It is our opinion that in any case where a child damages or steals another resident’s personal property, the police need to be called and this treated as any other serious crime on the property, no matter how small the incident may seem. Usually the victim will not want to press charges. The police will defer to the victim’s wishes, but the paper trail has been started, and the victim knows that you consider the resident’s personal property important. Failure to take definitive action could result in the victimized resident using this incident as a way to break a lease.

Damage to Apartment Community Property

A policy needs to be set whereby the property manager can decide if the damage warrants calling the police or just speaking with the parents and serving the Seven Day Notice to Cure. This policy can be based upon a monetary limit or the type of damage involved. Toilet papering the balcony would not warrant police action, while graffiti with paint or some difficult to remove substance certainly would. Discharging a fire extinguisher is an illegal action, and we feel this warrants police involvement. Breaking light bulbs with rocks may seem slight, but if some other resident is the victim of a criminal act because the crime area was not well lit following the prior vandalism, you can see the severity of a child breaking a light. In many instances of property damage, the damage is reported to you by other children. While their testimony often will not hold much weight, the child may admit to the damage. You might choose not to get police involvement, but rather serve the parents with a Seven Day Notice to Cure, charging the parents for any costs related to repairing the damage.

Theft of Apartment Community Property

Not a week goes by when we do not have a case in which a child decides to take a golf cart on a joy ride throughout the premises. Usually the maintenance tech has left the key in the switch, and the temptation is just too great. We recommend calling the police if a child uses a golf cart without permission and/or causes damage with or to that golf cart. If an adult did it, you would want them put in jail. Don’t be so easy on that “future” car thief.

Actions Which Do Not Rise To The Level of Criminality

Children often engage in behavior such as climbing on the buildings, skateboarding down railings, using the pool after hours or throwing the pool furniture into the pool. These actions would usually warrant a Seven Day Notice to Cure rather than police activity.

Actions of a Sexual Nature

Rapes and attempted rapes or sexual molestations occur on a regular basis in apartment communities and condominiums. Often you hear about something occurring through the grapevine. There are a huge number of children who engage in sexually inappropriate behavior, sometimes with the consent of the victim. These matters are extremely important to deal with using the police, even if just based on a rumor or one child’s word against another. Often the police will make an arrest if the child admits to the action or there are enough witnesses. Insisting on a police report is crucial, as the police report will include the statements made by the child, which your attorney can then use against the child later in court upon subpoena of the police officer. A child who commits sexually inappropriate behavior on the premises has a serious problem which usually does not go away. but instead worsens.

Use of Firearms or Weapons

Any use of firearms, weapons or projectile shooting equipment should immediately result in police action. A child who shoots a BB gun off the balcony at other persons, property or animals has absolutely no regard for the seriousness of his actions, and this needs to be dealt with swiftly. BB guns, paint ball guns, sling shots and other common weapons are given to children as gifts on a regular basis. They are fine on the 5-acre farm but completely inappropriate and potentially illegal and deadly when used on the premises of an apartment community. Will the child be arrested? Probably not, but this is a serious matter. A report must be created, and potentially the resident will be evicted if your attorney advises this action.


Suppose the Police Do Nothing?

Often the police will do absolutely nothing other than maybe speak to the parent or child. You need to insist that at a bare minimum some report is written up, other than simply a visit log that the police normally will have if they respond to the site. Even though the police may do nothing, the property manager MUST serve their Seven Day Notice to Cure, or in rare cases, the Seven Day Notice of Termination. Your attorney will assist you in wording the notice to avoid any danger of it appearing that you are engaged in some sort of discrimination.

At a bare minimum, make sure the parent or guardian of the child involved is served a Seven Day Notice. Never stop at a long lecture or a warning letter. Whether it is a Seven Day Notice to Cure or a Seven Day Notice of Termination will of course depend upon the circumstances, and most importantly the advice of your attorney. Many property managers become frustrated when they believe a child’s actions merits a termination notice and eviction, when their attorney advises against a termination notice. Trust your attorney’s judgment on this. Most property managers have no clue how difficult noncompliance cases can become or the financial consequences of losing the noncompliance case. An Agreement to Vacate may be another possibility, and your attorney will be able to best advise you.


  • The Curable Noncompliance Examined PART 1