How many of us have ever had to deal with an incessantly noisy neighbor or other disruptive circumstances? It happens, and when it does, it creates a sometimes hostile but always unenjoyable experience. For landlords, handling complaints from tenants may bring up the phrase “covenant of quiet enjoyment.” Although it may sound obscure, this legal standing is critical for both landlords and tenants to understand. So, continue reading as we help explain a tenant’s right to quiet enjoyment and what a breach of quiet enjoyment can mean for you and your tenants.
What is the Covenant of Quiet Enjoyment?
Broken down, the covenant of quiet enjoyment promises that individuals can reside in a property peacefully, without undue disturbance from others. This right to quiet enjoyment exists in transactions of real estate.
However, quiet enjoyment does not just relate to the obvious peace and quiet complaints. It also implies the right to exclude individuals from the premises, to have clean premises, and the right to essential services such as heat and hot water. Therefore, many landlords compare it to the more familiar Warranty of Habitability that dictates owners must keep the property in good repair.
It is important to note that courts recognize this covenant as a given part of any tenancy in the landlord-tenant relationship. Furthermore, this covenant cannot be waived for residential rental agreements. So, a tenant has a right to quiet enjoyment regardless of whether the lease specifically speaks to it or not. This is otherwise known as an implied covenant of quiet enjoyment.
What Constitutes a Breach of Quiet Enjoyment?
Definitions for what qualifies as “quiet enjoyment” are likely to differ from one person to another. Courts do not help provide clarity as anything from drug activity to a noisy smoke alarm can affect peaceful habitation. Therefore, the lesson here is that the complaint does not have to fall under extreme for the court to agree with the tenant. Check out these common examples of what constitutes a breach of quiet enjoyment below.
- The Right to Privacy – The landlord may not enter the premises without permission except in the event of a true emergency when efforts to reach the tenant have failed. Additionally, property owners cannot tamper with a tenant’s mail or conduct surveillance on the tenant.
- Restrictions Deemed Unreasonable – Tenants have the right to enjoy the property they lease. In other words, as long as it does not violate the provisions of the lease, tenants may use the property how they see fit. A common dispute between landlords and tenants is over the guest policy. Keep in mind; a renter is allowed to host guests and even small gatherings on occasion. However, if landlords restrict a tenant’s use unreasonably, it may constitute a breach of quiet enjoyment.
- Absence of Basic Services – When utilities are included, or the landlord is responsible for payment and fails to do so, this is a major issue. In addition to affecting habitability, it also allows the tenant an opportunity to claim a breach of quiet enjoyment. Landlords may shut off utilities temporarily for safety when a necessary repair is needed. However, the time must be as brief as possible, and tenants should be notified in advance.
Additional Examples of Disturbances to Quiet Enjoyment
- Frequent or unnecessary inspections of the property
- Landlord harassing a tenant or tenant’s guest in person or on the phone
- Unnecessary remodeling work or maintenance that takes an unreasonable amount of time
- Vermin or pests in the walls making disruptive noises
Examples of Acceptable Disturbances to Quiet Enjoyment
- Scheduled maintenance or repairs with proper notice
- Routine inspections as outlined in a lease agreement or with proper notice
- Emergency maintenance or repairs
- Common wildlife or traffic noise outside
- Footsteps from neighbors in common areas or above a tenant
- Smoke alarm going off, that is turned off right away.
What About Noisy Neighbors – Is that Breach of Quiet Enjoyment?
Well, that depends. For tenants living in a multi-family building, complaints against neighbors is an easy subject to approach. Landlords must take action to address the issue with both tenants to come to a resolution. That said, it is a different story if the nuisance generates from outside the property.
Some laws protect a landlord from a breach of quiet enjoyment complaint if they have no control over the source. So, the circumstances must be within the landlord’s control and fall within their natural scope of landlord duties to be held responsible.
For instance, landlords can pursue eviction for a perpetually disruptive tenant in a property they own. However, a landlord has no rights against any breach of quiet enjoyment stemming from a neighboring property owned by someone else. Typically, tenants will have to rely on local law enforcement for complaints against individuals not under the landlord’s control.
What Happens When There is a Breach of Quiet Enjoyment
Not every complaint about a breach of quiet enjoyment ends up in court. More commonly, these issues get solved through proper and professional communication. To best handle a complaint when it arises, landlords must understand their tenant’s rights. So, please continue reading below as we outline the process of resolving a breach of quiet enjoyment complaint.
- Tenant Submits a Breach of Quiet Enjoyment Complaint in Writing
- Landlords Respond to Complaint
- Withholding Rent Payments
- Tenant has Option of a Constructive Eviction
- Taking the Matter to Court
Tenant Submits a Breach of Quiet Enjoyment Complaint in Writing
The first step is a notification that a problem is occurring. As with all landlord-tenant communication, it is imperative to retain a written record of the incident. This helps to mitigate the threat of any disputes or misunderstandings in the future.
- Tenant Responsibility – Tenants must submit to the landlord a covenant of quiet enjoyment letter. The purpose is to inform the property owner that there a breach of quiet enjoyment has occurred. It is important that this letter provide as much detail as possible on the major issues and how it has affected their living situation.
- Landlord Responsibility – When a complaint is received, the landlord must promptly investigate and attempt to resolve the issue before it escalates.
Landlords Respond to Complaint
Once notification has taken place, the ball is in the landlord’s court. Just as the tenant submitted a complaint in writing, that is how landlords must respond. While the goal is not to escalate the situation, this creates an essential communication trail just in case.
Additionally, this response needs to inform the tenant of the steps you are taking to resolve the issue, as well as an estimated time frame for these steps to take place. Open and honest communication is an essential part of ensuring a tenant’s satisfaction with the outcome.
Withholding Rent Payments
If there is a significant issue that is not resolved promptly, the tenant may have the right to withhold rent. Local laws will provide guidance on if or under what breach of quiet enjoyment circumstances a tenant can withhold rent. However, it is in the landlord’s best interest to address the tenant’s complaint as quickly as possible to avoid this from happening. Even if fixing the situation will take time, communicate with your tenants every step of the way so they know you take their concerns seriously.
Tenant has Option of a Constructive Eviction
When all else fails, a tenant can voluntarily evict themselves, otherwise known as a Constructive Eviction. That said, tenants and landlords must understand that this is only valid for the most severe of issues. For example, a property owner’s repeated refusal to remediate mold in the home. Generally, these escalated complaints also infringe on the tenant’s warranty of habitability in some way.
Also, the tenant may still risk losing their security deposit or be responsible for unpaid rent. Ultimately, the court will look at whether the tenant provided proper notice of the problem and what steps the landlord did or did not take. So, always keep records of any communications with your tenant and retain evidence of any actions you took on their behalf to preserve their right to quiet enjoyment.
Taking the Matter to Court
When a tenant and landlord cannot reach a reasonable resolution to the breach of quiet enjoyment complaint, they may find themselves in court. As with any legal dealings, landlords must have their documents and evidence in order to avoid possible lawsuits. Common reasons a complaint may escalate to small claims court include:
- The landlord withholds the tenant’s security deposit after a constructive eviction
- A landlord is seeking unpaid rent
- The tenant claims a broken covenant of quiet enjoyment without reason
No landlord wants to handle disruptive circumstances or a breach of quiet enjoyment complaint. However, knowing your rights and that of your tenant helps to navigate even the most intense situations if it does happen. Successful landlords know that tenant communications of any kind can become overwhelming and take valuable time out of your day.
That is why they trust their rental business operations to a top-notch property management company in Leesburg. Bay Property Management Group has both the staff and expertise to handle any landlord-tenant issue that arises, including breach of quiet enjoyment. So, if you are looking to reduce your stress as a landlord or need to free up more time, give us a call today!