March 16, 2010

Play Haters! A condo association fines residents for letting kids play outside

Play haterPaying to play? In Methuen, Mass., some parents who told their kids to “go outside and play” were charged $500 by their condo association. That’s one expensive game of Wiffle ball.

The play haters:
Stonecleave Village Association, Inc. and its property manager, Elaine Romano.

How they’re endangering play:
According to the condo association, children were violating a bylaw by playing organized sports in a common area of the complex. In response, Romano hired a lawyer to issue $500 penalties to five families. The families fought back by filing a complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development, charging that the condo association was discriminating against families with kids. In December, HUD filed formal charges against Stonecleave and Romano, saying the hefty penalties were "impermissible coercion, intimidation, and interference."

The back story:
In 2008, after some residents began complaining about noisy kids in the common area, the association designated a play area in the rear of the complex. But according to The Boston Globe, parents complained that the area was too far away, making it hard for them to keep an eye on their children. As a result, many parents continued to let their kids play in the common area.

Notable quote:
“I feel like we are living in the projects.” – Email from a Stonecleave resident complaining about “playing and screaming” children.

Why we’re outraged:
Any policy restricting children from safe, healthy, outdoor play enters the realm of ridiculous. But hey, in a condo complex, “rules are rules,” right? Not necessarily. The Stonecleave association enforced its bylaws against children at play, but HUD says the complex didn’t take any action against adults who violated similar bylaws by throwing an unapproved party in the common area.

The icing on the cake:

In June 2009, a condo board member snapped pictures of children playing Wiffle ball in the common area. The photographer’s goal was not to capture the smiles of children at play, but rather to identify the kids so their parents could be fined.

What you can do:
Help save play in Massachusetts! Join our online petition to contact Property Manager Elaine Romano and tell her to stop picking on the kids of Stonecleave Village.

UPDATE: Justice prevails! As reported by the Boston Herald on Nov. 23, 2010, the "Stonecleave Village Association Inc. has agreed to pay $130,000 to five families and a $20,000 fine to resolve allegations of discrimination in a civil lawsuit filed by the U.S. Justice Department."

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