Things were getting out of hand at the small senior center in Quebec City. Hordes of people gathered every evening on the lawn of the private center on a quiet residential street. Strangers set up chairs and spread blankets as if it were a public park. Using smartphones loaded with a hot new game, the crowds played late into the night.
Some nights, according to seniors who live at the site, groups of more than 100 people played Pokemon Go until 3 a.m., keeping the neighborhood wide awake. The center director finally hired a security guard to shoo away trespassers, some of whom had been urinating on trees and dropping trash on the property.
Constitution Daily describes the game process this way: “The game puts a layer of Pokemon-related content on top of a Google Map program. Players use the GPS feature of their phone to 'walk' through this Pokemon world to find characters and save them to the app.” Players then “capture” a Rattata, Zubat, Pidgey or other Pokemon character that's been spotted with a well-timed swipe of their phone screen.
Pokemon Go players who seek out these characters are causing problems elsewhere in Quebec. Police cited one player who crashed his car into a parked police cruiser while tracking down a Pokemon. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police issued warnings that players who chase the virtual characters onto and through private property are trespassing and can be arrested.
Landlords of commercial properties in the provinces, as well as in the United States and the dozen or so other countries where the game is live, are also being impacted.
Some business owners welcome the foot traffic the game brings because it is helping to revitalize stagnant downtown areas. Others have grown weary of the trespassing and the trash that Pokemon hunters leave in their wake.
How can you keep Pokemon players off your property?
Game developer Niantic Labs appeared to take note of the many complaints about trespassing and, in July, added a warning to the game login screen that tells users not to trespass while searching for Pikachu and other game figures. So far, that hasn't made much of a dent in the worrisome intrusions.
James Douglas Roy, a senior policy analyst in East Vancouver, B.C., became fed up when gamers threatened to trample vegetables in a garden behind his building. A warning sign that he posted, telling players to “GET A LIFE AND STAY OUT OF MY YARD,” thrust him into the internet spotlight and prompted some to call him grumpy. Others said that he could simply complete a form on the Niantic Labs site asking to have his property removed from the game grid.
A New Jersey man has gone a step further. Jeffrey Marder filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Northern California in July against Niantic Labs and his complaint is seeking class action status which, if approved, would permit Marder to argue his case on behalf of all affected landowners. Marder claims that the game encroaches on his enjoyment of his property and is a nuisance, and he has asked the court for an injunction against Niantic Labs as well as damages.
Along with warning signs, some commercial property owners have issued public cautions. Utility companies in South Carolina, for instance, made pleas through the media asking players to steer clear of dangerous electric substations that house high-voltage lines.
What if the property is a rental?
Rental leases serve as legal agreements that give possession of a property to a tenant for a specified period. A lease typically assigns the responsibility of property care and upkeep to the tenant. Who, then, is responsible if problems with trespassers crop up at rental units – the landlord or the tenant?
“The tenant has the right to enforce against trespassing for the leased space. For many rentals, though,particularly multi-unit, the grounds – yards, walkways, common areas – remain the landlord's domain,” says attorney James Laughlin, general counsel for ezLandlordForms.
“As a practical matter, if landlord and tenant are in agreement that the Pokemon-ers are a nuisance, it probably doesn't matter who takes action,” Laughlin says.
Landlords should consult with their tenants before taking any independent action against Pokemon players.
In fact, Pokemon Go parties can be harmless fun – much like geocaching parties that use GPS coordinates to search for hidden treasures – offering prizes for the person who catches the most characters. Such parties work best when players stay within specified boundaries, eliminating trespass concerns.
Can Pokemon coexist with property rights?
Not everyone is hanging “Keep Out” signs and giving out warnings to Pokemon players. Online humorist Jessye McGarry posted an amusing take on the crowd of Pokemon characters that she said occupy the cyberspace within her apartment; she jokingly suggested that the characters should pony up some rent for all the time they spend in her place.
A landlord in Scotland advertised his vacant rental as a “Pokespot” to help line up potential tenants. He said the gimmick drew four times the usual number of applicants. And commercial landlords in Australia are connecting with more customers after purchasing Pokemon Go lures that have increased traffic at their shops.
Obviously, there are benefits to the trend. Advocates say that players are more active than they would be otherwise. New friendships develop as players explore neighborhoods and meet one another during a hunt.
Still, as Marder's lawsuit demonstrates, there are concerns about landowners' rights that may be decided by the court. And players who get so absorbed in the game that they pose a safety risk to themselves and others, are bound to cause outrage.
Savvy landlords can minimize potential problems by being alert to tenant complaints and offering to help deter any trespassers. Tenants themselves may need to be cautioned if playing the game leads them to trespass on neighbors' property. Large Pokemon gatherings or parties can be addressed with a Tenant Guest Policy lease addendum that states limits including a ceiling on the number of permitted guests.
However, the best approach is probably to not go looking for trouble. As East Vancouver's Roy noted on his now-famous sign, Pokemon is a trend that eventually will die just like, he wrote, MC Hammer pants, the Macarena and TV's CSI: Miami.