Most leases include the same basic clauses that define the relationship between the landlord and their tenants, but with some variation depending on the specific situation.
One thing every rental agreement includes at its core: an unwritten clause known as the “implied covenant of quiet enjoyment.”
What is an implied covenant?
An implied covenant is a foundational concept built into every rental agreement, whether written or verbal, that gives the tenant certain rights.
The reason it’s “implied” is because it doesn’t have to be mentioned in the lease. And, as far as I know, a landlord can’t force a tenant to waive this covenant.
What is the covenant of quiet enjoyment?
The quiet enjoyment clause is one of two basic entitlements, or covenants, that the tenant buys with their monthly payment. (The other is the implied warrant of habitability.)
Quiet enjoyment is difficult to define because each rental situation is unique, and there are varying opinions on what “quiet” and “enjoyment” mean.
In general, the covenant of quiet enjoyment indicates the landlord won’t do anything to disturb the tenant’s right to peacefully and reasonably use their rented space—and the landlord will act in a way that allows that peaceful use.
Essentially, the quiet enjoyment clause gives tenants the right to reasonably occupy the dwelling peacefully and without recurring disruption.
With every lease, a tenant gets the following rights:
- Privacy: A reasonable expectation of privacy
- Peace and quiet: Freedom from unreasonable and recurring disturbances from the landlord and/or other neighbors
- Right of use: Exclusive right of use, except for the landlord’s reasonable right of access
- Safety and security: A premise and dwelling that provides adequate security and are free of bodily hazards
- Basic utilities: Access to basic services such as electricity, heat, and hot water, which are also part of the implied warranty of habitability
That said, these rights don’t supersede a landlord’s right to enter the property with proper notice to conduct showings or make repairs in a reasonable manner—or in an emergency.
Noises vs. nuisances
The quiet enjoyment clause generally applies to anything that creates a legitimate nuisance.
In most cases, it’s only relative to the tenant’s ability to access and enjoy the premise.
Further, it doesn’t guarantee silence as the word “quiet” would suggest. If that were the case, every rental in New York City would be in violation of this basic covenant.
To some, the sound of distant crickets is too overwhelming, while others won’t even hear the sound of a freight train barreling past the house.
The term is subjective, not clearly defined in any law that I’ve seen (though I’m not a legal expert or lawyer), and certainly not restricted to audible noises.
How to apply the quiet enjoyment clause
The best way to figure out the severity of a disturbance is to ask yourself:
“Would X prevent an average resident from reasonably accessing and enjoying the rental?”
If the answer is “yes,” then you should probably do something about it. At the very least, attempt to remedy the situation.
A true story
I’ve personally experienced the nuances of the implied covenant of quiet enjoyment. In 2013, my wife and I had just bought a duplex, and it needed a lot of love. It was a short sale, and the previous owners had let it go into disrepair.
After fixing up the two units and finding tenants in the other half, we turned our eyes to the backyard—which included an in-ground swamp pool.
April arrived, and the weather was getting nicer. One night, I heard the sound of a single frog croaking through the night. By the next evening, I had noticed there were multiple frogs singing in a unified chorus.
It was quite relaxing, to be honest. I imagined myself sitting in an Adirondack chair, sipping an Arnold Palmer, at sunset in the Louisiana bayou.
By the third night, there were hundreds of frogs broadcasting their mating call, which could be heard from five blocks away. Apparently, this particular type of tree frog comes back to its birthplace to mate!
Since my newly uncovered pool had been in disrepair for over seven years, it meant that up to seven generations of tree frogs were gathering at my pool for a midnight “romp in the swamp.”
Needless to say, my tenants weren’t too happy about it. They couldn’t sleep–in fact, they could barely watch TV without blasting the volume.
Though these frogs were a part of nature, they were on my property, and they were creating an excessive disturbance. It was my responsibility as a landlord to find a solution.
Eventually, I caught almost 400 of them over the course of two weeks and relocated them to a nearby pond. I also collected the multiple thousands of frog eggs and donated them to a nature center to prevent a new generation from spawning in pool.
It took about three years for my efforts to pay off, but I’m proud to say that my rental no longer attracts these lovely amphibians. Now everyone truly enjoys the quiet.
What happens if a tenant violates this covenant?
Similarly to the warranty of habitability, if the covenant of quiet enjoyment is continually or unreasonably broken by the landlord, manager, or owner’s agents, then the tenant can be relieved of his/her obligation to pay rent. Further, they could even terminate the lease.
That’s right—a tenant can terminate the lease..
In fact, this is the most basic concept in the landlord-tenant relationship: the tenant pays rent in return for a safe, habitable dwelling that they can enjoy.
Common violations of quiet enjoyment
A landlord or manager can be in violation of this covenant if they either create or don’t remedy a legitimate issue.
Here are some common violations to the covenant of quiet enjoyment:
Landlord or agent
- Enters the unit too frequently or without proper notice
- Snoops through personal property
- Fails to control disruptive nuisances, noises, or behaviors (within reason)
- Harasses a resident in person or over the phone
- Restricts or terminates essential services, such as water or electricity
- Fails to repair items that affect habitability or items that were promised in the lease
- Prohibits reasonable enjoyment of the property, such as entertaining guests
A tenant isn’t allowed to infringe on their neighbor’s right to quiet enjoyment. Since you don’t have a lease with the neighbor, this disturbance is simply called a nuisance. Though not covered under the covenant of quiet enjoyment, this nuisance could be a lease violation.
A neighbor could call the police and file a nuisance complaint, and if enough complaints are filed, the city or county may hold the landlord responsible for the disturbances.
Your tenant, like every other citizen, is obligated to follow civil laws and noise ordinances.
It may be difficult to separate true violations of the quiet enjoyment clause from events that are simply frustrating to tenants. Let’s look at the difference between noise-related covenant violations and mere annoyances.
Violation: Loud parties happen next door every weekend and last late into the night. Annoyance: Occasional dinner parties that end by 11 p.m.
Violation: Wrestlemania! The upstairs neighbors are banging around or teaching their kids to wrestle in the evening or late at night. Annoyance: Neighbors are walking around during the day but their footsteps can be heard downstairs.
Violation: Dogs are barking next door—all day, every day. Annoyance: The neighbors’ dogs bark on occasion.
Even when a situation is annoying, but not against the rules, listen to and address your tenants’ concerns. Take the time to acknowledge frustration and try to help where appropriate.