From the Forum – Any experience with baby gates for top of stairs in an old row home?


Any experience with baby gates for top of stair for old row home?

“My husband and I own a 90 year old + row home on Capitol Hill and are currently leasing it out when we are overseas. Our tenants recently had a baby and we indicated to our property management company that we wanted to address the issue of baby proofing and include an addendum in the renewed lease next month. Our concern is that we don’t want anything permanently affixed to any surface in the house. The home still has all the original woodwork which we worked to restore and plaster that is in great shape in most areas.

The area of major concern seems to be a gate that could go that the top of the stair from the first floor to the second. If going up the stairs, a banister is on the left and a curve plaster wall/corner is on the right. Has anyone found a gate that works in this type of situation? From research, it looks like there are options that allow it to be secured to the banister by ties and a support system as opposed to being drilled in. This design appears that it still needs to be secured to the wall by drilling into it. We are afraid of damaging and cracking the plaster and have wide baseboards in the location which means it would also need to be secured into the woodwork. We don’t want to have either of these things happen.

We realize the need to make sure the baby is safe, but are also not willing to have our home damaged in the meantime. Are there any gates that work in this situation that do not require drilling into any surface (though I am assuming there are not)? We have suggested to the property management company that the tenants hire a baby proofing service who is familiar in old DC row homes, but they seem resistant. If something does need to be installed we would like to require that they hire a professional to install it and then bear the costs of hiring a professional to repair all damage to the plaster or woodwork. Is this a reasonable request?

Any insight anyone has would be greatly appreciated.”

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71 Comment

  • It would be nice if they complied, but you need to deal with the fact that you cannot control what people are doing in your house when you rent to them. You just deal with any damage and clean up once they move out. No renter will care for your home the way you want, I’m sorry. That is the price of renting. And, no, asking them to spend their own money on a baby proofing company is not reasonable. If you pay for it, on the other hand…

  • mtpgal

    We just installed baby gates in our 100 yr old row house and we used the kind you drill in on either side. The installation didn’t cause any damage. We removed the remains of an old baby gate system from the previous owners (into both plaster and woodwork) and that, also was easy to cover/didn’t cause any real damage. If I were you, as a landlord, I would be more concerned with the possible liability you are exposing yourself to by making these kinds of demands. In all likelihood, the type of gate you’re referencing has a bar that goes along the bottom and one has to step over. In many people’s opinion, this is the less safe alternative at the top of the stairs as this creates a tripping hazard where you lease want it. Secondly, anything that isn’t drilled in is less sturdy and thus most likely the less safe alternative. If anything should happen, especially to the baby, not only will you have to live with yourself, you will also likely face one hellacious law suit. I know drilling sounds bad, but it really doesn’t cause much damage and it’s so much better than the alternative.

    • As a landlord the worst part of having a tenant install anything is the unknown skill level of the installer. Its one thing to have something properly installed and another when it takes several tries and damages your property. If the OP is willing to let the tenant install the gates perhaps they could require a professional to do the installation.

      • As renters, we just had one installed in our apartment that is a similar (120-year old) rowhouse with plaster walls. Our landlady told us we would be responsible for the damage whether we installed it or a “professional” did. We decided to have our handyman do the installation while he was taking care of another issue in our apartment. That way, we were confident in the workmanship and safety of the installation–and the minimal damage.

        One thing he did do was to install a 1″ thick piece of lumber on each side of the gate (fastened into the wall), and to attach the gate to that, rather than attaching it directly to the walls. That allows more flexibility into where exactly one drills the holes into the wall (and in your case, railing).

    • ah

      This all should be reasonably possible with only a need to patch the plaster.

      Use a drill on plaster and it shouldn’t crack, or won’t crack much. Reparable easily when it’s gone.

      Attach a board to the bannister using zip ties, and then mount the hinge side of the gate to that. For the latch side, find a gate that connects only at the top, or suck it up and put a 1/4″ hole in the wood, which can also be patched.

      By the way, if they have a toddler, the toddler is going to do far more damage to the rest of the house than the gate will to this one point.

  • One solution might be to have the gate go from the banister to an opposite wall instead of across the top step. Depending on the layout it may leave a room of the stairs side of the gate but as long as it isn’t the child room it might be ok.

    We have a similar situation to the picture above at the top and bottom of our stairs. So we similar to the above picture in both places with pressure gate and adhesive cups. This gate is rated for the top of a staircase, but most people like to attach gates to the wall for the extra assurance. I figure that since there is a fairly large landing only 2 steps down it will be fine. So far so good.

  • They’re looking for a baby Gates to run Microsoft too.

  • Your request isn’t reasonable, nor is it likely legal in DC for at least two reasons I can think of. Your property management company should have told you that. Like the first commenter said, you can charge for damage but that’s about it.

    Besides, if I were you I’d be FAR more worried about lead paint in your 90+ year old townhouse.

    • Why? Hopefully no one’s doing major work on the house that would expose the lead.

      • Because if there is lead paint, major work isn’t the only way to expose kids to it. I have no idea if the woodwork in this case is painted but if the windows and doors are, paint dust will be present unless someone’s abated the lead hazard already.

        • Maybe the landlord should tell them that so they get scared and leave. Problem solved!

          • …. or they contact the Office of the Tenant Advocate or DCRA and the DC government forces the landlord to spend thousands of dollars — unreimbursed — on abatement.

            Either way, this could be irrelevant to the question asked, as we don’t know if the woodwork is even painted.

          • Probably the management had them sign a lead paint acknowledgement (standard protocol whenever buying or renting an old house) so they’re SOL.

        • Acknowledging that you’ve received the lead paint handout isn’t a waiver to damages from lead paint poisoning, nor is it a safe harbor if lead paint is actually discovered.

          • Yikes, people aren’t kidding about the laws being renter friendly in DC! So the tenant can hire someone to find lead paint (which most DC houses have been painted with at some point) and use it to sue the landlord?

          • I mean sue and win.

          • Not exactly. You have to have actual damages in order to sue (and win). But your general point is correct. And not just in DC. Many other states have strict liability rules for landlords with older buildings. But in reality what we’re talking about here is most likely enforcement action by DC in the form of inspections and orders to abate if (and that’s a big if) a lead paint hazard is found. Under DC law, ALL paint in a pre-1978 residential property is presumed to be lead paint, triggering the need for those disclosures that you mentioned. But the disclosures don’t end things. If there’s reasonable belief that a hazard exists (peeling paint, paint dust on windowsills), DC can step in.

  • Baby gates that are not hardware-mounted (i.e., screwed into the walls) are very strongly not recommended at the top of stairs. We’re moderately lax about babyproofing but that is one thing on which I will not compromise, especially after having seen the abuse that a toddler can dish out to a gate. I get that you don’t want major damage done to your house, but you’re literally talking about two holes, dime-size or smaller, that really should not be an issue to repair in the future. If you want to charge them for the repair when they move out, that would be fair. But making them spend several hundred bucks on a babyproofing service to have a single gate installed is absurd.

    And as Anon said, I’d sue the hell out of you as a landlord if you prohibited me from putting up a safe gate and something happened to my child.

    • Remind me never to rent to you.

    • we’re not talking about 1/2″ bolts here (i.e., “dime-size”), we’re probably talking about a couple of #8 or #8 wood screws one each side, which are ~ 1/8″ in diameter. We are talking about TINY holes here…. let’s keep things in perspective.

    • Wow. This is a prime example of not taking any personal responsibility. Not to sound old, but when I was a kid, there was no baby proofing and somehow we all managed to survive. If something happened to a kid back then, it was the parents’ fault for not watching them. Now it’s your landlord’s fault and you should sue them if something happens to your kid?! Man this just seals it, I will NEVER rent to anyone with a kid or who plans to have one in the near future!

  • This is major damage that we’re talking about! It’s practically 100-year old wood! Once you put a hole in it, it’s done! Same with putting a hole in plaster and brick! I can’t believe the other commentators are so blase about this. Though this is one reason I won’t ever rent out my 100-year-old house. I can see renters thinking it’s OK to drill holes in the window moulding for curtain rods!

    Also, why does anyone need a baby-gate? Aren’t parents supposed to watch their kids? No one I know grew up with a baby gate.

    • Yeah, I don’t know why some commenters have such a problem with this. You wouldn’t let tenants change the light fixtures or add a roof deck, even if they promised to bring it back to the original state when they left.

    • Here’s your operative statement: “Though this is one reason I won’t ever rent out my 100-year-old house.”

      Once you rent it out, you lose a lot of control. The law doesn’t care how much you love your woodwork.

    • You must not have anything hanging from your walls if you cannot put a hole in the plaster. I agree with Dreas — this is not major damage. Two small holes that can be filled, stained or painted, and no one will ever know the difference. Plus, I’d love to see the 100 year old row house that doesn’t have a few flaws in the woodwork. I know my certainly does.

  • Is the baby even on the lease? If your lease limits to two adults you can simply terminate it. Better than being stressed out about the woodwork being destroyed. Who knows what else the kid will damage when he gets older. But really, you should not be researching baby gates for them. It is the tenants’ problem and the management company needs to make sure it happens.

    • Worst advice ever. I assume that you have no clue about DC landlord/tenant law.

    • Leases can only restrict the number of occupants and cannot limit based on other factors.

      • Ate babies and children not considered occupants? If landlords can prohibit cats and dogs it seems like they should be able to limit the number of humans.

        • You just can’t have more (human) occupants than the size of the property will allow under the housing code. Kids most certainly do not have to be on the lease in DC. And you can ban pets all you want — unless you’re in public housing (long and unrelated story).

          • Actually, I need to correct one thing: you can limit the number of adults, even if the property could theoretically handle more. You can’t do that with kids.

        • You cannot legally restrict the number of occupants to fewer than two for a studio or three per bedroom of the house (3 in a one-bedroom, 6 in a two bedroom, etc). So, unless you’re renting a one bedroom and your tenants have a SECOND baby, you’re stuck with them. You also can’t legally deny a renewal of the lease (though I think you should) to a tenant because they have children. Lastly, from a purely legal perspective, a potential tenant has absolutely no legal obligation to even tell you they have children before they move in. If you lease a two bedroom to a couple, you are legally allowed to force them to name the two adults on the lease, but if they show up on move-in day with a set of toddlers in bunk beds and a crib to put in that second bedroom, it’s within the legal occupancy limits, the kids are under 18 so they didn’t have to be disclosed, and there isn’t squat you can do about it as the landlord. That’s why it’s always wise to walk the potential tenants out and to the car – they always forget to take the child seats out of the back when they apartment-hunt, and you can see them from 15 feet away.

          • GREAT advice! I never even thought of that. There is no way I’d ever rent to someone with a kid, but you’re right, you can’t legally say “sorry no kids.”

  • As a parent of twins who never gated the top of the stairs, let me make this suggestion. Install a gate in the doorway of any rooms on the second floor where the baby might play unsupervised. Then don’t let the kid roam the second floor hallway unattended.

    • bad advice. The stairs are a specific danger, whether immmediately supervised or not. virtually impossible to enforce once the child is walking, and that 2-3 year old sweetspot is a real risk.

  • PoP, the photo at the top of the thread is an unrelated photo of another rowhouse/baby-gate combo, not the OP’s staircase, right?

  • ummm….maybe you could strongly suggest the one that is in the picture?

    and if you’re wondering about liability with regard to requiring the renters to use a certain type of gate you should probably ask a lawyer knowledgeable about DC liability/rental law and not commentators on popville.

    You can always strongly reiterate to the renters that they will be charged for the repair of damage to walls and banisters and that you will use professional carpenters to do so. that can deter many tenants from doing shoddy stuff in your property.

  • I’m really confused why this is anyone’s issue other than the tenants’. I had a baby in an apartment and never in a million years would I have thought my landlord had to do anything to ensure my child’s safety. Why on earth should you have to buy baby gates?

    • I don’t think that’s what OP is asking. OP wants to minimize damage to the woodwork and plaster by requiring a certain type of baby gate, or at least a certain type of installation.

      You’re right, though. The tenant has the responsibility of installing his or her own gates. If I were a landlord I wouldn’t take on that liability.

    • I don’t think the OP couple are thinking that they’re *obligated* to provide the baby gates — I think it’s more that they think that the tenants, if left to their own devices, are going to install a baby gate in such a way as to cause damage. However, it also seems like the OP couple wants the tenants to *pay* for a special OP-approved method of gate installation.
      I don’t think the OP couple can have it both ways — either you supply the gate and/or installer and have it done how you want, or leave it to them and they do it how they want.

      • I think most normal people know that they are not permitted to drill into the woodwork. Or at least they’d know they would have to replace it which seems like a silly thing to do for renters. Would it cost more than the security deposit to replace, OP? How long will you be overseas?

  • I wonder how long before the tenants in question come to this thread.

  • not only would I drill into the wall and let the owners figure out how to recover the cost of damages (if any — small drilled holes in plaster can be easily repaired and the paint touched), but I would recommend using tap con screws directly into the masonry. This will require smaller but deeper holes, but when you hit brick with a masonry drill bit and attach the longer blue tap cons the thing won’t budge. Like the advide on the stair post, you can install a furring strip with 3-4 tap cons to provide secure mounting (instead of the zip ties), then drill your gate mounts into the furring strip.

  • This is why I think it should be legal to decline to renew a lease (or to sign one in the first place) to someone who has a child. My friends are (mostly) upstanding responsible renters – they’ve gotten 100% of their security deposits back every time – until they had kids. It’s not as bad in the first year since the kid can’t do much damage to the house itself (but upholstered furniture is usually trashed by everything that comes out of a baby), but once they get mobile, most parents kiss the security deposit goodbye because kids are destructive, period. And once you know that the security deposit is gone anyway, you just do what you need to do – drill into whatever you feel like, etc.

    Sorry, but if you keep these tenants once that kid learns to walk, that railing and baseboard is getting a child gate drilled into it. I’d rather incur the wrath of an angry landlord and lose my deposit than risk something happening to my child, and any sane parent would feel the same way. And no, you won’t be successful suing them if the damages exceed the deposit. It will take you 18 months MINIMUM to work through landlord tenant court or small claims, and even then the judge is likely to say drilling into a railing for a child safety contraption is “reasonable wear and tear” for a family home and make you pay your tenants attorney’s fees, and maybe even give back the deposit altogether.

  • Risk of renting, for sure. Recommend a gate that requires only small holes (as suggested above) and let the tenants know that you’ll be taking the repair costs out of their security deposit. That incentivizes the tenants to cause as little damage as possible and covers the landlord up to the cost of the security deposit.

  • I have raised two sane, successful, professional daughters.

    Babies need to learn that it is a bad idea to fall down the stairs. It is an early lesson in being careful.

    • This is just trolling, right?
      Do you also leave chocolate around the house, and if your dog eats it and gets sick, hope that it teaches him to be “careful”?

  • I can’t beleive your so worried about a little wood and plaster over the safety of a little kid. I have a completely restored ( not flipped ) 100 year old row house and it didn’t cause any damage to install and then remove baby gates. I hope your house gets destroyed and I’m happy you don’t live in DC anymore.

  • OP here. Thank you to those who provided some actual helpful feedback. We will communicate to the property management company that it is their responsibility along with the tenants to find a solution that is agreeable to everyone. We intend to fully comply with all DC laws and will rely on the property management company to provide guidance on that. We, of course, value the safety of the child. We also value our home which isn’t a long-term rental and we plan on moving back into sometime in the future.

    Does anyone have any clue as to where the gate in the picture came from? Something like that may work…

    • “We will communicate to the property management company that it is their responsibility along with the tenants to find a solution that is agreeable to everyone.”

      After all that you’re still getting it wrong. It’s not the tenants’ responsibility to do anything other than pay for damages out of their security deposit AFTER they move out. They might choose to, and it would be a nice thing for them to do, but they don’t have to work with your manager on this.

      There’s not a single judge on the Superior Court that would consider installation of a baby gate to be a substantial lease violation, nor would a jury (didn’t know that tenants are entitled to jury trials in DC, did you? ). As harsh as ShawGuy was at 3:56, and as much as I disagree with the opinion he stated in the first sentence, he’s right about pretty much everything else.

      • We don’t have to renew the lease with the current tenants. They are reasonable people and seem more than willing to find a solution they are both happy with. I don’t see how asking the property management company to step up to the plate and make sure both parties are happy equals me not getting it. I wouldn’t just go drilling into someone’s home and believe we chose responsible and reasonable tenants who wouldn’t as well. It seems rather short sided to just throw caution to the wind and decide to do something that is damaging to the home and figure the security deposit covers it.

        • “We don’t have to renew the lease with the current tenants.”

          Yes you do. That is, if you continue to rent it out at all. If your property manager is telling you otherwise find a new one who knows DC law.

          • In fact, let’s just put this common misconception to bed right now, since it comes up every few weeks. DC is unlike just about any other jurisdiction in that there’s no such thing as a no-fault eviction here. Here’s chapter and verse from 42 DC Code 3505.01: “Except as provided in this section, no tenant shall be evicted from a rental unit, notwithstanding the expiration of the tenant’s lease or rental agreement, so long as the tenant continues to pay the rent to which the housing provider is entitled for the rental unit.”
            The statute then goes on to list acceptable reasons for eviction, such as lease violation, recovery for personal use, renovation, etc. None of those apply here, since the lease violation must be substantial and drilling small holes to install a baby gate is extremely unlikely to be considered a substantial violation.

          • Wait, so when the OP is ready to move back the tenants can refuse to leave as long as they’re paying rent and otherwise obeying the terms of the lease??

          • No, reclaiming for personal use is one of the reasons stated in the statute. But you have to give extended notice (90 days) and you can’t rent it out to anyone for a year afterward. Things can get messy when the tenant doesn’t pack up and go, however. Self-help eviction is a crime in DC, so you can’t just change the locks. If they don’t go you still have to file a case in L&T Court, deal with a possible jury trial, schedule the eviction with the US Marshal and actually get it done. And since you can’t evict someone when it’s below freezing, you’re at the mercy of weather if things drag on past November or December.

        • Anonymouse is spot on, and the OP is in la la land. Once tenants are in place, you can’t get rid of them except for the reasons stated in the statute. DC is an extremely tenant-friendly jurisdiction.

          Another word of warning to the OP: the more you insist on inserting yourself in this process, the more you are at risk of getting sued and being found liable if something goes wrong with your “agreeable solution” and the baby is injured. You are far better off leaving it to your tenants exclusively for ensuring that their baby is safe.

      • And after consulting our lease there is a clause that states, “the tenant is not permitted to paint, make any alterations, improvements, or additions to the Lease Premise without first obtaining written permission on the landlord”. So if they chose to go your route and just install something without permission they would be in violation of the lease and I know our tenants wouldn’t do something like that.

        I realize we may end up having to give permission for something to be installed. My original question was whether anyone had encountered a similar situation.

        • OK, you win. Keep doing what you’re doing and see what happens. Your tenants might be totally reasonable and nice people, but there’s pretty much no way that you’d be able to enforce that lease clause against someone who installs baby gates.

          • Anonymouse, just be glad the OP isn’t your landlord. Wow. And tenants, if you’re reading this, do what you think you need to do for your baby and forget about your landlord. They’ve really shown their true colors here.

  • Solution: Have a plastic slide made to fit the stairwell. Cover the edges with foam so it doesn’t cut into the wall when pressure is applied during use. Simply place it on top of the stairs, unmounted. Put a bunch of pillows at the bottom.

  • I’ve seen people use heavy duty zip ties to attach a 2×4 to each banister, and then drill into/install the gate on the 2x4s. Effective and easy to seamlessly remove, if mildly unsightly.

  • We have used this at the top of the stairs at our house that was built in 1926: Our toddler rarely goes to the gate unless he knows that we are about the head downstairs. He also knows to wait for us and hold our hands when we go down the stairs. But we also keep an eye out for him too.


    Simple solution. No drill holes, more secure than a pressure gate.

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