Every renter deserves peace and quiet. But people interpret “quiet” in different ways, which can lead to uncomfortable situations for landlords.
For example, consider this true story that I call “The Case of the Midnight Guitarist.” The landlord, a friend of mine who owns several properties in California’s San Lorenzo Valley, told me about a musician who lived in one of two rental units in a quiet, creek-side setting.
“One day I received a noise complaint from the tenants in one of the units. It seemed the renter in the other unit had a habit of unwinding from a long day at work by practicing guitar. Unfortunately, his guitar was electric and had to be plugged into an amplifier to be heard. He would play what he thought were peaceful riffs well into the night. My other tenants didn’t think the riffs were peaceful.”
My landlord friend asked the guitarist to wear headphones, but he refused. All the renters had signed a standard rental agreement that failed to address noise issues, so my friend faced a quandary: How to ensure that every tenant experienced quiet enjoyment without violating the guitarist’s rights?
What is Quiet Enjoyment?
An implied warranty between the tenant and landlord, a provision for “quiet enjoyment” may contain the word “quiet,” but that doesn’t necessarily proscribe noise. It simply means that the tenant is entitled to undisturbed use of the premises. Courts read this warranty into every lease, whether or not it’s expressly stated.
Among the benefits it guarantees are:
- Use of all amenities supplied with the unit.
If an appliance breaks, the landlord has to fix it.
- Unimpeded access to the unit.
The landlord is expected to keep the driveway clear and all doors and lock sets in good working order.
- Freedom from intrusion.
In the absence of lease violations or overt damage to the premises, tenants have a right to privacy, which includes freedom from an unreasonable number of landlord visits.
- Peace and quiet.
The landlord must address any disturbing noise within his or her control, such as a chirping smoke alarm.
One Person’s Noise is Another’s Music
It’s difficult to make everyone happy all the time. In the case of the midnight guitarist, one set of tenants was disturbed. But the guitarist viewed the noise he created as inspiring. As far as he was concerned, his guitar playing constituted quiet enjoyment of the premises.
After my friend received several complaints, he voluntarily granted the aggrieved tenants a rent reduction to encourage them to stay. My friend lost money, because of his failure to address noise in the lease.
A properly worded lease can provide much-needed leverage.
The landlord’s bottom line was affected the most, because he failed to address noise in the lease.
Avoid Generic Rental Agreements
My friend used a generic California rental agreement downloaded from the internet. It contained no specific quiet enjoyment clause and did not address noise at all. Covering little more than rental payments, late fees, and security deposits, it left most other issues—such as maintenance and usage guidelines—open.
There’s nothing “free” about a free lease template. It’ll cost you thousands of dollars in damages.
More sophisticated leases usually contain a quiet enjoyment clause, but it generally covers the use of the unit itself—not the impact of the tenant’s use on other renters. It is possible, however, to include language concerning noise in that clause. Moreover, the clause can contain a caveat, such as “subject to all terms and provisions of this lease,” and the lease can address potential disturbances in a separate clause.
Enforce Quiet Hours
An effective way to ensure equal enjoyment of quiet time for all tenants is to specify hours during which noise is to be kept to a minimum. These hours may differ on weekdays and weekends, but they typically begin at 10 p.m. The lease should specify that “quiet time” applies to guests as well as tenants.
Also check with your local county or town code enforcement office. They might already have noise ordinances in place, which you could enforce. The great thing about noise ordinances is that if a tenant doesn’t comply, you can call the police and they will enforce it for you.
Even if all renters agree to a “quiet hours” clause, it can be difficult to resolve a dispute. Different people tend to have different noise thresholds.
Landlords typically use some of the following criteria to help them adjudicate noise complaints:
- Multiple complaints.
Has more than one tenant complained? Multiple complaints carry more weight than one from a (possibly oversensitive) individual.
- Recurring issues.
Are complaints recurring? This points to a pattern of willful disturbance.
- Source of the noise.
Is the noise a product of everyday activities? An 80% carpet rule can help prevent noise disturbances in the case of multistory dwellings.
- Actions to remedy.
Have any steps been taken to address the source of the noise? The Midnight Guitarist, for example, may have tried turning down the volume.
- Documentation and credibility.
Has the complaining tenant documented instances of disturbances? Dates, times, and estimates of noise levels are all helpful.
The quiet hours lease clause should also specify penalties for violation. Eviction should be an option but not the only one. A monetary penalty should prevent recurrences in most cases.
A Sample “Quiet Enjoyment” Clause
While the exact language to use in a quiet hours clause may vary from state to state, a typical one might look something like the following:
Quiet Enjoyment. The tenant may live in and use the apartment without interference subject to this lease. Tenant may not disturb the quiet enjoyment of any other tenant in the building or surrounding neighbors. The tenant is responsible for adhering to the building’s quiet hours. Quiet hours are from (Insert Quiet Hours for Property) on weekdays and from (Insert Quiet Hours for Property) on weekends. If tenant violates the quiet hours policy on three separate documented occasions, the tenant is in violation of the lease agreement. The landlord reserves the right to charge the tenant a penalty of $ (Insert Dollar Amount) and/or evict the tenant, the decision of which is the sole right of the landlord.
Keeping the peace among tenants with different noise tolerances must done. Clear language in the lease makes the job easier and may save landlords money.