The implied covenant of quiet enjoyment protects a tenant’s rights to a safe, habitable dwelling that they can occupy freely and comfortably. To understand what exactly quiet enjoyment, we’ve broken down the basics.
What is an Implied Covenant?
Before we dive into what the implied covenant of quiet enjoyment is, let’s talk about what an implied covenant is in the first place. In the legal world, an implied covenant is an agreement between two parties that is inferred or implied to enforces a certain intention. Implied covenants are very common in rental contracts and make certain obligations for landlords and tenants to ensure that both parties are meeting the lease’s standards.
The reason that these duties are “implied” is because these kinds of responsibilities don’t necessarily have to be mentioned in the lease. A landlord is also not able to force a tenant to waive this right, as it interferes with a tenant’s basic rights. The implied covenant of quiet enjoyment is a fundamental element of lease agreements and it ensures that landlords will protect tenants in the event of any kind of disturbance. It is one of the two covenants presents in rental agreements — the other being the warranty of habitability. These covenants serve to ensure that landlords protect a tenant’s basic rights.
What does Quiet Enjoyment Mean?
The concept of “quiet enjoyment,” regarding the implied covenant in rental agreements, protects a tenant’s basic right to privacy and peace and quiet. Sometimes it is difficult to define the parameters of quiet enjoyment since the term can mean different things to different people. As a rule, the implied covenant of quiet enjoyment is explained as a promise made by the landlord to maintain a tranquil environment that the tenant can reasonably use and enjoy.
Tenants have the right to a space that they can occupy peacefully without recurring disruptions and disturbances. For the most part, a tenant can do whatever they want in their home, as long as it isn’t illegal and doesn’t violate the lease. If someone or something else is getting in the way of their daily home life, then they have every right to complain and demand a landlord’s help and attention.
Tenant’s Basic Rights
In general, lease agreements grant tenants the rights to:
- Privacy: Tenants have the right to a reasonable expectation of privacy. Landlords are allowed to enter the rental unit in order to make repairs, inspect the property for safety and maintenance purposes, and show the unit to a potential renter toward the end of the lease term. A proper notice of entry should be given to tenants when landlords plan to enter the rental unit. Landlords may not harass tenants, spy on tenants, let others into the unit without the tenant’s permission, give information about tenants to strangers, lock tenants out of the unit, or shut off the utilities.
- Peace and Quiet: Tenants are entitled to an environment that they can freely occupy (within reason) without recurring disruptions. This can mean loud neighbors, landlords constantly contacting the tenant or anything else that interferes with the tenant’s enjoyment of the property. If the tenant feels bothered or unsafe, then they have every right to take legal action since the covenant of quiet enjoyment is being violated.
- Right of Use: Tenants have the right to use the rental space as they wish, as long as they are not violating the lease or the law. Landlords are allowed to enter the property with proper notice, but their right to access must remain within reason.
- Safety and Security: The rental unit must be free of health and safety hazards and must meet the requirements of the warranty of habitability. If a tenant does not feel safe or thinks the security of the rental is compromised, then these issues need to be addressed immediately, as they get in the way of a tenant’s daily life and violate the implied covenant of quiet enjoyment.
Violating the Covenant
If the landlord violates the implied covenant of quiet enjoyment in any way, then the tenant has every right to withhold rent payments. The tenant may even choose to break the lease if they feel they can no longer occupy the rental unit due to recurring disturbances. Nuisances that are not eliminated in a timely fashion can warrant the breach of a lease agreement. Failing to meet a tenant’s standards for quiet enjoyment will result in your violation of the implied covenant present in all leases, whether explicitly stated or not. Remember that your tenant is paying you rent in exchange for a safe, private, and habitable dwelling that they can reasonably enjoy.
As a landlord, you should value your tenant’s opinion and hear them out if they are encountering nuisances in their residence. Building a good landlord-tenant relationship is essential to ensuring that both parties are on the same page (sometimes literally). To better understand the covenant, here are some common violations made by landlords to consider:
- Entering the rental unit too frequently or without giving the tenant proper notice.
- Snooping around the tenant’s personal property or invading their personal space, like looking through their drawers or opening their mail.
- Failing to reasonably resolve any noise complaints or ongoing disruptions and disturbances occurring near the rental unit.
- Harassing a tenant in person, like showing up to their home unannounced, or confronting them at their place of work, or harassing the tenant over the phone.
- Restricting the tenant from basic services, like shutting off the water, electricity, heating or A/C, or locking the tenant out of their unit.
- Failing to handle maintenance requests within a reasonable amount of time or neglecting issues that affect the property’s habitability.
- Interfering with a tenant’s social functions, such as prohibiting them from entertaining guests or having dinner parties that are reasonably quiet and end at a respectable time.
Tenants may also violate the implied covenant of quiet enjoyment of by:
- Infringing on a neighbor’s right to the quiet enjoyment of their residence and causing a nuisance that violates the lease agreement. The neighbor may choose to contact the police and file a nuisance complaint, coming after the landlord and blaming them for the disturbances.
- Affecting another tenant’s quiet enjoyment of the property. If you have a multi-unit complex, then it is likely that tenants interact with or encounter each other from time to time. Tenants may file noise complaints and if you do not handle them accordingly, then the tenants will have the right to break the lease or pursue you legally.
What Constitutes as a Nuisance?
Now that we’ve gone over the fundamental elements of quiet enjoyment, it’s time to analyze potential situations of violations. Understanding what constitutes as a nuisance is essential to determining whether or not the covenant is being breached. In most cases, the definition of a nuisance is relative to the specific tenant’s ability to access and enjoy the rental unit. If the tenant is not bothered by a certain disruption, then they do not feel their right to quiet enjoyment is being violated.
The term “quiet enjoyment” does not guarantee complete silence as it may suggest. No rental unit can be completely free from disruptions and noise levels will vary depending on the property’s location. A tenant living in an apartment near the subway station in the heart of New York City is obviously going to experience a lot more noise than someone living in a home in the remote countryside. Your tenant has to be able to understand that not all disruptions constitute as legitimate nuisances — a lot of them are just simple annoyances.
Here are some examples of nuisances vs. simple annoyances:
- Get-Togethers: Loud parties that are markedly obnoxious and close, or parties that happen every weekend or way too late into the night are considered nuisances. An average dinner party with music and talking at a moderate noise level that ends at a respectable time isn’t considered a significant disturbance.
- Smoking: If a neighbor is smoking inside and the secondhand smoke (SHS) or environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) is entering the tenant’s unit from the walls, floors, and outlets, then the tenant’s rights to quiet enjoyment may be violated. Smoke inside of a home can cause health issues for tenants (and their pets), as well as turn into thirdhand smoke and leave a residue on the walls and furniture. Over time, smoking can have a negative impact on the conditions of a property. However, if a neighbor is smoking outside in their own private space, then that is perfectly okay. If a tenant is smoking marijuana in their rental, make sure you know the laws surrounding this. Tenants doing drugs in rentals can also be a nuisance.
- Parking: For a tenant, a legitimate nuisance would be other tenants parking in their dedicated parking spaces. However, if there is “first come, first serve” parking, then a lack of parking would just be an annoyance.
- Harassment: If a landlord is genuinely harassing a tenant by consistently confronting them in person, at their workplace, or over the phone, then a tenant’s quiet enjoyment is being jeopardized. If a landlord enters the unit reasonably with proper notice, or the landlord calls the tenant to ask for rent when it is overdue, then there is no violation taking place.
- Footsteps: If you own a multi-unit complex, then it is likely that tenants live above and below each other. When it comes to hearing neighbors stomping around their apartment, there’s a difference between hearing the occasional footstep and someone jumping around or running all the time. If it sounds like a wrestling tournament is going on in the middle of the night, then your tenant has every right to complain and claim the covenant of quiet enjoyment is being violated.
- Pets: Pets are awesome and pet-friendly rentals can offer a variety of benefits for landlords and tenants alike. However, if someone has a dog who barks constantly at all hours of the day, then something needs to be done about it. You can’t expect for a dog not to bark occasionally, but if an owner can’t keep their pet under control, then the covenant of quiet enjoyment will be infringed.
- Wildlife: If your rental property is located in an area with active wildlife, then the common sounds of crickets, birds, and small animals scurrying in the grass is expected. However, if issues with wildlife like raccoons, possums, bears, or loud frogs persist, then you may need to do some sort of pest control on the unit. Certain wildlife can definitely be dangerous too, so make sure your property is prepared for emergencies and that your tenants are informed.
- Alarms: If the smoke alarm in your tenant’s unit is going off for consecutive days in a row, then this is definitely a nuisance. However, if a simple fire drill is being conducted, or the smoke alarm goes off and is turned off quickly, then this is just an annoyance.
- Repairs: Severe issues with the property like holes in the walls, large leaks, burst pipes, and broken locks or windows, affect a tenant’s ability to enjoy the property. Small cosmetic issues and maintenance requests that are handled promptly are not significant problems and do not violate the covenant.
- Improvements: As a landlord, you have the right to make reasonable improvements. However, if improvements are constantly being made, and the loud noises of heavy machinery and the inconvenience of shutting off utilities begin to interfere with a tenant’s everyday life, then the improvements become nuisances.
As a landlord, it’s your responsibility to deal with any issues in the rental property in a timely and effective manner. To ensure that you protect your tenant’s right to quiet enjoyment, you should always listen to them when they bring a disturbance to your attention. In the event of a legitimate nuisance, you should:
- Talk to the tenants: Inform your tenant of the covenant of quiet enjoyment and assure them that you will handle the problem with care. If the disruption is being caused by another tenant in a multi-unit complex, make sure you talk to them as well. Lay down the law and let them know that there can be legal consequences for their actions. By violating the covenant of quiet enjoyment, these tenants are also violating the terms of their lease.
- Compensate the tenant: If the nuisance results in damages or loss to tenant property, then you may need to compensate the tenant accordingly. You may need to replace or repair certain parts of the property as well. If any bodily harm was inflicted because of the nuisance, then the accident may be considered your fault. For example, if renovations in the hallway result in a tenant tripping and breaking their arm, your insurance will need to cover the medical bills.
- Evict the tenant: If the nuisance is being caused by a tenant in your multi-unit complex, and they fail to change their actions after being made aware of the consequences, then you may have grounds to evict them. Not many landlords want to take this route, but if a tenant’s actions are affecting the lives of other tenants in your property, then an eviction will be plausible in order to mitigate risk. Note that you need to have reasonable cause to evict a tenant. You can also find an alternative way to make the tenant move out without an eviction.
Make sure that you and your tenants understand the consequences associated with violating the covenant of quiet enjoyment. Your tenant’s happiness is important to having a successful rental business, so ensuring that their unit is free of disturbances and disruptions is essential.
Besides all of the information outlined above, you can take an extra step to mitigate risk and explicitly include the covenant of quiet enjoyment in your lease. Remember that it is not necessary for the covenant to be present in the lease since its terms are implied for all landlords and renters.
Quiet Enjoyment. So long as Tenant shall pay all Rent as the same becomes due and shall fully comply with all of the terms of this Lease and fully perform its obligations hereunder and thereunder, Tenant shall peaceably and quietly have, hold and enjoy each Leased Property for the Term hereof, free of any claim or other action by Lessor or anyone claiming by, through or under Lessor, but subject to all Permitted Encumbrances, including, without limitation, liens and encumbrances of record as of the Existing Lease Effective Date or otherwise permitted to be created by Lessor hereunder, liens as to the obligations of Lessor that are either not yet due or which are being contested in good faith and by proper proceedings, and liens hereafter consented to by Tenant. No failure by Lessor to comply with the foregoing covenant shall give Tenant any right to cancel or terminate this Lease or abate, reduce or make a deduction from or offset against the Rent or any other sum payable under this Lease, or to fail to perform any other obligation of Tenant hereunder. Notwithstanding the foregoing, Tenant shall have the right, by separate and independent action, to pursue any claim it may have against Lessor as a result of a breach by Lessor of the covenant of quiet enjoyment contained in this Section.