The right to quiet enjoyment of rental property is one of the most misunderstood landlord-tenant laws. Yet, the covenant of quiet enjoyment can be one of the most common areas of friction, and reasons behind evictions and broken leases. What is quiet enjoyment and what are your rights as a tenant? What should you do when you have an issue with your landlord or neighbors?
The Covenant of Quiet Enjoyment
This provision of a lease agreement between renters and landlords applies to tenants, the property owners, property managers, and neighboring tenants.
According to the dictionary, the legal quiet enjoyment definition is:
“A Covenant that promises that the grantee or tenant of an estate in real property will be able to possess the premises in peace, without disturbance by hostile claimants.”
The right to quiet enjoyment is among the most confusing concepts in landlord-tenant law. “The name, for one, is misleading,” Ohio Attorney David Woodburn says. “Excessive noise may qualify if it is repeated, disturbing enough, and is something under the control of the landlord. But, the covenant also relates to safety and comfort issues.”
Landlordology breaks this down even further into covering the tenant rights categories of:
- Right to Peaceful Enjoyment & Quiet
- Right of Use
- Safety & Security
- Basic Utilities
Implied Covenant of Quiet Enjoyment
If you have a lease, you can find more specific details of your rights and responsibilities within that agreement. However, whether you have a lease or not, or whether your landlord used a standard lease or one with their own clauses, most lawyers agree that there is an implied warranty of quiet enjoyment. According to real estate attorney Mary Jo Hanson “A renter, or tenant, has the right to quiet enjoyment of the leased premises regardless of whether the rental agreement contains such a covenant.”
Quiet Enjoyment Laws
It is very important to understand that landlord-tenant laws and their application vary extremely widely by location. Different states have different laws. Different judges in different counties may apply these laws differently,or give more leniency to tenants or landlords. Laws and legal precedents change over time too.
Be very careful about what you read online. It could apply to another state or be out of date. Always check with an experienced local real estate lawyer before taking any action or making any claims.
The Right Not to Be Harassed
One of the most common ways this shows up is in tenant harassment. Landlords who show up unannounced, and repeatedly just drop in, or even keep knocking to demand rent are harassers. Under rights of quiet enjoyment in Florida, for example, landlords must provide 24 hours’ notice before showing up. They may use many excuses to come by, including showing the property to potential buyers or new tenants. Unfortunately, some use these tactics to try and harass renters to the point of frustration that they leave so the landlord can rent it for a higher price.
Some states are very tough on landlords in these situations. In Massachusetts, this can fall under stalking laws and landlords may be sued for emotional distress. In New York, each offense can be punishable by fines of $1,000 to $10,000.
The Right to Habitable Living
Disputes over living conditions also fall under the the right to quiet enjoyment. These debates often include:
- Lock outs
- Utility problems
- Broken windows
- Construction work
- Broken appliances
- Sanitation and pest control
- Safety and security
Some of these are pretty obvious black-and-white factors – such as the landlord‘s obligation to provide electricity, running water and heating. Others, like air conditioning, can be a little more confusing. Some property owners try to exploit these seemingly gray areas (for example when they fail to repair AC units for weeks in the middle of summer). However, as a rough rule of thumb, if there was an appliance in working condition when you moved in, you had the reasonable expectation that it was included, and the landlord should be obligated to fix it.
Probably the most obvious situation when breach of quiet enjoyment comes up is when there are noise issues. Landlords can try to use this to get renters out, especially if the police have been called for disturbances. There can also be frequent and very heated complaints between neighbors in apartment buildings and small multifamily properties. Your landlord may have some responsibility to control the other tenants or compensate you. Though, as an occupant, you must also respect the other tenants’ right to peaceful enjoyment of their property. If they have kids who don’t sleep well, or they work night shifts and are using the blender at 1 am, that is quite different to hosting a wild all-night party on a Tuesday night.
Whatever the case, and no matter how right you think you are, be very careful about getting into shouting matches and verbal confrontations with landlords or neighbors. In some jurisdictions you may face serious charges for simply raising your voice at someone. Finding a place to rent after that may be very difficult.
Satisfying Breach of Covenant of Quiet Enjoyment Clauses
The law may give you the right to withhold rent, or move out early, or even to win big settlements in many of these cases.
However, in practice, it doesn’t always work well in execution. Things can spiral out of control, and sometimes it is just better to walk away. Just make sure you can do it clean and protect yourself. Consider the impact on finding another place to live. Consider this is probably better handled when your landlord is motivated to get you out and will give a good reference, and maybe even a refund. If you are having issues, document everything, and get a lawyer early.