Is your landlord after your electronics?

A lease agreement for an apartment building in Houston has a clause that declares "no use of electronics in common areas." Does this sound a little extreme?

But what if you use it in the corridor? Jason Cipriani/CNET

Sometimes, readers send me things to incite an emotion or two.

Sometimes it's laughter. Sometimes it's nausea. Sometimes, though, it's mere bafflement.

An example of this last one came from a reader in Houston. She sent me a lease agreement created by a company called Fine Arts Apartments.

She asked me to focus on one particular clause: "No use of electronics in common areas."

This seemed so peculiarly draconian that I wondered how it might have come about.

Did it really mean that you couldn't walk along the corridors of one of Fine Arts Apartments' buildings listening to Beethoven or Nirvana on your iPod? Did it mean you couldn't take pictures of its no doubt pristine paintwork with your Samsung Galaxy S3?

Then I wondered about what sort of mind might have written these words, which appear to threaten that if you so much as whip your iPad out in common parts, you could be breaking the terms of your lease.

Reaching bravely for my electronics, I contacted Arne Haarhaus, who represents the management of Fine Arts Apartments.

I wondered what he had against electronics. I wondered what would happen if there had been an emergency and someone had whipped out their cell phone to, for example, warn of a hirsute intruder in the building.

Haarhaus insisted that of course he wasn't part of some movement that wished to take us back to the times when we communicated via stone tablets, rather than silver ones.

He's keen on beginning his sentences with the phrase "of course."

"Of course everyone can use any device in an emergency," he wrote in an e-mail. "Of course everyone with any special needs can use what she or he needs to use."

The intention of the clause was merely to keep the noise down in the building, he said. This is commendable. Of course.

He continued: "Since we had some experience with friends of tenants who walk up and down the bedroom window of a neighbor, we decided to write something like this and explain it at every lease signing -- everyone who signed a lease like this knows what the intent is."

But Mr. Haarhaus, my lawyer always tells me that when words are written down clearly, they mean what they say. And this lease also appeared to include the threat of a three-day notice of eviction for transgression.

Haarhaus continued: "No one ever had been evicted about anything like this, and would not."

But my lawyer would say the terms of the lease are clear. Why wouldn't people be evicted if they break the terms?

"Because we do not know if it was an emergency or not," he replied.

Indeed. So while no one enjoys noise from others keeping them up at night, why bother to have such a clause?

It wasn't my intention to harass Haarhaus. It just seemed such an odd thing to have written. He assured me that this wasn't any sort of anti-gadget crusade.

Shortly afterward, however, I received another e-mail from him.

"Probably you heard about the dogs," he wrote. "We have told everyone with this terms (sic) that we do not allow dogs at anytime."

The dogs? Wait, what does this have to do with the electronics clause?

"This was part of 3-day notices in the past," he continued.

Ah, so he enforces some clauses, but not the gadget clause? I was becoming confused.

As if returning to the principle of gadgets and emergencies, he added: "Of course we do allow medical dogs."

Even if they make a noise, it seems.

I am sure that Fine Arts Apartments' units suit many people. Those who comment on Yelp seem reasonably divided about how fine they are. One might expect that.

But I haven't heard of a clause in a lease agreement that baldly bans the use of all electronics in the common areas. Perhaps readers have.

"Maybe we should use a different text; we will review this wording," Haarhaus finally conceded.

Maybe.

 

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