is it possible to have a party in a parking lot in San Francisco?
January 16, 2012 11:35 AM   Subscribe

I'm trying to have a party with a giant bounce house, and there's a big parking lot right next to my house. From a legal standpoint, what are the steps I would need to do to make this happen? Will I get immediately shut down by the police even if I get permission from the lot owners?

Neither of the businesses that use that lot are open during the weekend, and my neighbors are pretty nice.

Alternatively, we could only have the bounce house in the lot and keep the noise + party in the backyard if the noise is the main issue.

Is this possible? Has anyone ever done this?

posted by I like to eat meat to Law & Government (17 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
If you ask someone, they might say no.

If you go ahead and just do it, you can always feign ignorance.

Forgiveness is (often) more readily supplied than permission.

Not sure where you live, what kind of community, police etc.... but if it were me, I'd go for forgiveness all.the.way!
posted by bricksNmortar at 11:41 AM on January 16, 2012

Don't do the above, it's a jackass move. Sometimes it's the right way to go, but this is not one of those instances. Ask the businesses who owns the lot, clear it with your neighbors. Part of living in a neighborhood is sharing the space and being smart and courteous about it. That might mean that you don't get to have a bounce castle at your party. That is a severe bummer, but it's also part of being a grown up.

In general, I'd think the lot owner would be concerned about liability for injuries, so look into that. At any rate, clear it with people who are going to be affected, don't just do it and make everyone around you deal with it.
posted by GilloD at 11:44 AM on January 16, 2012 [12 favorites]

Do you already have a contact/company picked out for bounce house rental? If so, you might ask them--I suspect they'd know the answers for things like this already. I also suspect that they couldn't put up their structure on a lot without a permit for their own liability purposes, so since you don't own the lot you'd be SOL without permission of the owners.
posted by dlugoczaj at 11:47 AM on January 16, 2012 [5 favorites]

Is the lot paved? If it is, you won't be able to use stakes for anchoring the bounce house and you will need to stock up on a LOT of 75 pound sandbags as an alternative means of anchor. Be sure to properly anchor the house to prevent injuries.
posted by buggzzee23 at 11:52 AM on January 16, 2012

Don't do this. The people who own the lot could face liability if someone gets injured, even if you don't ask permission. You could face liability if someone gets injured, etc.
posted by dfriedman at 11:52 AM on January 16, 2012

Forgiveness is (often) more readily supplied than permission.

So are lawsuits.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 11:54 AM on January 16, 2012 [7 favorites]

I doubt that the lot owners will go for this, unless you can indemnify them from all liability. Do you have insurance?
posted by Ideefixe at 12:03 PM on January 16, 2012

Is it a paved lot? Will the bounce house people set up on a paved lot? In addition to staking down the bouncehouse, I could see them being afraid of kids falling on to pavement. Grassy fields are a bit more forgiving, and less likely to embed gravel into fleshy areas.
posted by kellyblah at 12:09 PM on January 16, 2012

I do know from experience that bounce houses can be set up on paved lots--I've seen them multiple times at street fairs in my town.
posted by dlugoczaj at 12:27 PM on January 16, 2012

This sounds like a really fun idea. Unfortunately, it's also a really fun idea with a non-zero risk of a six-figure (or more) bodily injury claim. So you need to handle this carefully if you want to do things responsibly. I used to do some risk management for commercial entities who would plan parties like this, and I'm currently a practicing attorney doing civil litigation defense. This isn't legal advice, and I'm not your lawyer, but I can speak in general terms about best practices for this sort of thing.

Step one: Get permission from the landowner. If they're private individuals, they may just say okay and have done with it. If they're a business, particularly a large one, odds are decent they're going to make you sign an agreement indemnifying them from any liability that results from your activities. A lot of these forms ready to hand. If you don't get permission, the risk is less that there will be any kind of extra liability (you'd already be liable for everything) than that the cops will show up and tell you all to leave because you're trespassing.

Step two: Call your insurance agent. You want to make sure you've got coverage for this. Bounce castles aren't exactly risk free, and even a minor BI claim is likely to set you back several thousand dollars if you aren't insured. If the property owners are going to make you indemnify them, they're probably going to want to see a certificate of insurance anyway.

Step three: Pick your vendor. We're not looking for some random schmo with the equipment. Rather, we're looking for an actual business that has properly trained people and insurance. Lots of them will also require you to sign an agreement indemnifying them for your own stupidity, but you should also ask to see a certificate of insurance in case they screw up. The way these things usually work is that you'll be on the hook if someone does something stupid or just manages to hurt themselves, but they'll be on the hook of the equipment itself malfunctions.

Step four: Communicate with the guests and assist the vendor. The vendor is probably going to insist that you certify that everyone using the thing will comply with their instructions, thus potentially shifting the liability of idiotic behavior on a semi-dangerous bit of equipment from them to you. So you need to be clear with everyone that they need to listen to the guests. If someone disregards both of your instructions, it's going to be harder (but still far from impossible) for them to stick you with liability for a resulting injury.

If at any time you're faced with a legal document, you should have an attorney review it. Otherwise you probably won't understand what you're signing, and that can really come back to bite you if you aren't planning appropriately. Some insurance companies or agents will provide assistance with this sort of thing as a value-added, as many insurance policies provide for coverage for contractually accepted liability. Otherwise, you should have a lawyer take a quick look at it. Should only take a few minutes.

The above would represent a base-line for a responsible and professional approach to handling the risks presented here. It sounds like a lot, but really, the main expense is going to be renting the equipment for the day. I'd be surprised if the insurance and anything you spend on a lawyer were more than a quarter of the total cost. Tops. Adding 20-25% to the cost of the event to ensure that everyone is covered in the unlikely event that something does go wrong is totally worth it, because it's not just yourself you're protecting. Having adequate insurance also means that the injured party will have their medical expenses taken care of, something that any responsible host should care about.
posted by valkyryn at 12:35 PM on January 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

I would ask the bounce house rental people what kind of documentation they need before they will set it up - they may not be willing to set it up on property that you don't own unless you can demonstrate that you have permission.

But people do have bouncy castles for private parties - I remember being VERY surprised to come home from work one day and find one set up in the front yard of my house (by my landlords, who lived downstairs and were having a birthday party for one of their kids). I would guess that part of what you pay to the bouncy castle people goes to insurance, though valkyryn is right, you need to know what you could be liable for.
posted by mskyle at 12:41 PM on January 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

I cannot offer advice regarding setting up the bounce house on a privately owned paved lot, but I can inform you that where I live in the mission, I often see bounce houses set up on the (public) sidewalk for kid's parties. I have also seen them set up in local parks (precita park and dolores park). These might be other options (or they might not).
posted by ruhroh at 12:43 PM on January 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

(Also, is this for kids or adults? Most bouncy-castles only allow kids, and I've never been clear on whether this is for structural reasons, or just to keep drunken 20yos from monopolizing the space. I've seen companies that specialize in adult bouncy-castlage, but maybe they have special reinforced castles.)
posted by hattifattener at 2:00 PM on January 16, 2012

It's all about the liability insurance. The bouncy house rental co will not extend theirs to cover you. I've many rented bounce houses for private parties held on my property, at public parks, and on the behalf of a school organization for events held on school property and in no case did the bouncy house rental co's offer liability insurance. At least with the companies I've used, the rental contract always state the renter and property owner is liable for any injury claims that are not related to malfunction of the bouncy house (where malfunction = something like the blower motor catching on fire). The companies also require that if the bouncy house is placed on public property (such as a park) that permits from the public space are obtained ahead of time.

The on-the-concrete issue is not a big deal, the rental co puts down a tarp, puts the house on top of that and secures it to sandbags that they supply. Note that the goal is not to protect people exiting the house, but to protect the bouncy house from the abrasive hard surface.

Aside from the liability insurance (which would make it a non-starter in my book), some other things to think about: a) how are you going to keep random non-invited people from entering the bouncy house if it's located on a publicly accessible lot? b) if the owner of the lot/police shows up and demands the house be taken down immediately, you can't count on getting help from the bouncy house rental place immediately: houses are rented for half or full days, the house arrives rolled up on a truck, is installed and the bouncy house guys go away until pick up time. I had a few malfunctions during rentals and the guys typically take an hour or so to show up: point is, you're not going to be able to get the house down and moved off the lot safely (safe to the bouncy house) and that opens you up to a damage claim from the rental co.
posted by jamaro at 2:49 PM on January 16, 2012

So the bounce house doesn't fit in your yard at all? Is there a reason that prevents you from putting the bounce house in your yard and just kind of having partygoers spill into the parking lot as more people get there? Bounce houses aren't super huge, and you can ask rental companies how much space is necessary for set-up, if you haven't already. That way, if someone makes you leave the lot, it takes ~1 minute, and people can go inside your house if they need to find someplace to go?
posted by kpht at 3:21 PM on January 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Might you be able to rent the lot from your neighbor for the night? That might take care of the liability issue.
posted by Vaike at 4:02 PM on January 16, 2012

Thanks for all the great answers everyone! To answer some of the questions, this party is for adults and yes, I live in the Mission.

I'll talk to the lot owners. Dolores Park also sounds like a great idea, I'll look into that as well although it might be really cold next month.

Thanks again!
posted by I like to eat meat at 5:01 PM on January 17, 2012

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