Appointed Hours

An apartment-complex curfew keeps kids out of sight, but not out of mind.

Parents and guardians are the ones who have the ability -- some might say the obligation -- to impose a curfew on their own children, she says. State and local governments also have this ability: In Aurora, minors are required to pack it in at 11 p.m. on weeknights and midnight on Fridays and Saturdays, with exceptions made for emergency situations and some late-night travel (for example, driving to and from work or certain extracurricular functions, like church events).

That same authority does not extend as freely to private businesses, according to the FHA. Only certain types of covenant communities -- such as retirement complexes designed for people over 55 -- may regulate the comings and goings of individuals and impose age requirements. Additionally, age-specific regulations may be put in place to act as safety measures under certain circumstances.

That's where things get muddy in the Montview case. Robertson say there's nothing from which Montview children need protection at all times, and she regards the curfew as an abuse of the housing act's safety provisions. "Those restrictions have to be something very directly, and entirely, related to safety," she says. "For example, if you have a swimming pool, you can say that a young person needs to be accompanied by an adult so that they don't drown. You cannot say 'No kids in the pool.'

Time to come in: Montview Heights resident Ramona Gavin with her son Marcus (left) and daughter Shealean (right).
Mark A. Manger
Time to come in: Montview Heights resident Ramona Gavin with her son Marcus (left) and daughter Shealean (right).

"It seems like the Montview management is using a cannon to shoot a gnat," she adds. "If there are one or two kids who are causing trouble, they should be disciplined. But you can't just turn every kid into a bad guy and tell them to stay inside. Beyond its civil rights implications, it's just not good for the community."

Heller, on the other hand, insists that the volatility of the Montview environment necessitates some kind of overarching policy. "Things have gotten much better," he says, "and that's partly as a result of the curfew -- and partly as a result of our maintaining the house rules that the tenants agree to and comply with. [But] there are shootings; there was a firebomb there last month. We're just trying to keep the children safe."

Aurora city attorney Charlie Richardson says his office concentrates on enforcing its own youth-centric laws rather than the policies of private businesses. Because he hasn't received any complaints from Montview tenants, he says, he's never researched the legality of the complex's curfew. But Dave Lather, of the City of Aurora's Community Outreach Office, has spent a fair amount of time mulling over Montview in recent years. He says its status as a police hot spot has softened over the past couple of years. Three years ago, Lather, who teaches the owners and operators of troubled apartment communities about what measures they can take to minimize crime, led a training program for Montview's management that emphasized tenant screening and house rules, a system that seemed to work.

"They had had a number of problems with juveniles," he recalls. "There were allegations of drug dealing and gang involvement. We actively monitored the property, but with the efforts put in place by the management following our training, we were able to remove them from that special-monitoring status. Their crime calls were reduced by 50 percent."

Lather says he wasn't aware of the curfew during that training. "I think that kind of thing goes beyond what we, as a city, felt was appropriate or necessary," he adds. "As a city employee, I'm always thinking of issues from the standpoint of government and the constitutionality of certain things. We have to find the least restrictive method we can when it comes to placing regulations on citizens. But private industry is not held to that same standard."

Gavin acknowledges that the complex has seen its share of youth-related trouble over the year, but she says the curfew steps on her right to set rules and conduct her own parenting. She signed the contract agreeing to the terms of the curfew begrudgingly, she adds, and only because she was worried about finding a place to live.

Moving out isn't really an option, either. "People ask me all the time, 'Why don't you just get out of there?'" Gavin says. "But, being straight, I can't really afford it -- I'm a single mom just trying to get on. But even if I could, I don't think I would. At this point, it's about standing up and fighting."

Because of the lawsuit, Gavin and Robinson no longer speak or even acknowledge each other when they pass in the halls or in the parking lot. Gavin concedes that Robinson's "policing" of the complex has been less intense in the past couple of months, however. "It's been cold," she says.

Now, with spring in full swing, the days will get longer -- which means kids will stay out later and tickets are likely to come faster.

"My son's fifth birthday is in May, and no one is going to stop me from having a party," Gavin says. "I mean, it's my own yard. I love to be outside. I've got a beautiful view when the sun sets. My kids love to be outside. Why would someone want to take away something so simple from my family?"

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