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The Covenant of Quiet Enjoyment: An In-Depth Guide

By: Justin Chaplin
October 30, 2019

Landlords fielding complaints about noisy neighbors and the tenants who are dealing with the disturbance have one thing in common: the covenant of quiet enjoyment. 

Don’t be fooled, though. The covenant of quiet enjoyment may sound like the name of an Oscar-worthy drama film. However, in reality, it’s a lease term of great importance for both landlords and tenants alike.

Both tenants and landlords benefit from understanding this obscure lease term, as it could help them avoid headaches down the road. It can also help tenants avoid any breaches of this covenant.

Check out our in-depth guide on quiet enjoyment below to learn more.

What is the Covenant of Quiet Enjoyment?

In most rental agreements, the lease outlines certain terms. Those terms serve to protect and guarantee a tenant’s right to undisturbed and peaceful habitation of the property. 

The covenant of quiet enjoyment is difficult to define. That’s because “enjoyment” is subject to reasonable expectations. 

Those reasonable expectations include:

  • Tenants may refuse entry from their units
  • Tenants need to have basic utilities, including clean water and heat
  • Landlords must perform proper maintenance on units
  • Tenants have the right to a clean property

This covenant is often paired with the warranty of habitability. Those are the two major terms that guarantee a tenant’s basic rights in a rental agreement. The warranty of habitability promises that the property will remain in top condition throughout the lease.

Implied Covenant

In most rental agreements, the lease outlines the covenant of quiet enjoyment. It serves to protect and guarantee a tenant’s right to quiet enjoyment and peaceful habitation of the property. 

However, this covenant may be implied. It doesn’t have to be explicitly written out in the lease to be legally binding as a landlord-tenant agreement. 

The covenant of quiet enjoyment may not be waived in residential real estate contracts. However, with commercial leases, the tenant enjoyment clause may be negotiated prior to signing the lease agreement.

Breaching the Covenant of Quiet Enjoyment

It can be difficult to determine what qualifies as a breach of the covenant of quiet enjoyment. That’s because the definition of quiet enjoyment may vary from one person to another. 

For example, different court cases have determined that anything from ringing smoke alarms to drug-dealing neighbors can be defined as a disruption to quiet enjoyment. 

However, even if the tenant issue doesn’t quite reach that extreme, there may still be a case for a breach of the covenant of quiet enjoyment.

Here are a few things that would be a breach of the covenant of quiet enjoyment.

  1. Privacy Concerns - The landlord is invading the privacy of the tenant by reading their mail or entering the apartment without permission. Any surveillance of the tenant is also a breach of privacy.
  2. Lack of Basic Services - If the landlord is responsible for utility bill payments and fails to pay them and any utilities are turned off, the tenant may claim a breach of the covenant of quiet enjoyment. This also includes any issues within common areas of a property.
  3. Unreasonable Restrictions - A tenant should be able to enjoy their leased premises. That could mean hosting others for a period of time. It can also mean using the apartment in a way that they see fit, as long as it doesn’t violate the lease. If a landlord unreasonably restricts this use, they may have breached a tenant’s quiet enjoyment.

Landlord Control

The law protects landlords from any broken covenant of quiet enjoyment complaints if they have no control over the source of the complaint. The issue must be within the landlord’s control.

That means that your landlord needs to have sufficient resources to solve the problem. It also needs to be within their natural duties as a landlord. 

For example, a landlord may have to evict noisy neighbors. That’s well within their rights if the neighbor lives on the property the landlord owns. 

On the other hand, if your next-door neighbor is the rowdy issue and your landlord doesn’t own that property, then your problem doesn’t fall under the covenant of quiet enjoyment. 

However, there are many ways to handle noisy neighbors. One of those ways includes filing a police complaint which can result in heavy fines.

What to Do If the Covenant of Quiet Enjoyment is Broken

There are several things that both a tenant and a landlord may consider when the covenant of quiet enjoyment is broken. It’s important to consider taking less extreme action before taking your case to court. That may save time, headaches, and money. 

Here’s what tenants and landlords can do if the covenant of quiet enjoyment is broken.

1. Covenant of Quiet Enjoyment Letter

A covenant of quiet enjoyment letter is a letter that a tenant or landlord sends to a landlord or property management company. Its purpose is to formally acknowledge that the covenant of quiet enjoyment has been broken. 

This letter should describe the major issues that you are facing. It should also outline how it has negatively affected your living situation. Provide as much detail as possible and don’t leave anything out.

Landlords should work to respond to a covenant of quiet enjoyment letter promptly. That’s because any written response will serve as evidence that they have been made aware of the problem. From that point on, they’re responsible for addressing it. 

A reply should contain information about the steps the landlord will take to resolve the problem. It should also include a time frame for the solution.

2. Halted Rent Payments

Depending on your state or municipality laws, tenants may be legally allowed to stop paying rent in the event that the covenant of quiet enjoyment has been broken. However, tenants should be sure to check these laws prior to making the decision to withhold rent payments. 

Consider consulting a lawyer. They’ll give you legal advice regarding your options.

3. Constructive Eviction

A constructive eviction occurs when a tenant voluntarily evicts themselves as a result of: 

  • A landlord’s egregious breach of the lease agreement, or, 
  • A landlord’s refusal to fulfill their duties. 

Typically, a constructive eviction is the consequence of a broken covenant of quiet enjoyment or warranty of habitability. 

Tenants who take this action must be aware that, in breaking the lease, they may be subject to unpaid rent fines. They may also be subject to a withheld security deposit refund or legal action. 

A tenant should be sure to have given the landlord proper notice of problems. They should also give them a reasonable time to fix the issue.

Landlords should be sure to communicate with tenants. They should work to resolve any issues before the situation deteriorates further.

It’s important to note that the issue must be outstanding. It must be major to be upheld in court. 

For example, a landlord’s refusal to fix a leaky pipe will not be enough. However, a mold problem that affects the health of a renter, which a landlord doesn’t get professionally treated and removed, will be more than enough to result in a constructive eviction.

4. The Court of Law

Taking the matter to court is one of the final options for both tenants and landlords. Cases that involve a breach of the covenant of quiet enjoyment may end up in small claims court. That may happen a tenant is constructively evicted and their security deposit is withheld from them. 

A landlord may also take a tenant to court over unpaid rent. That may happen in the event that the tenant is arguing a broken covenant of quiet enjoyment without reason.

There have been multiple court cases regarding a breach of the covenant of quiet enjoyment in which both landlords and tenants have come out on top. Additionally, many states have conflicting laws governing this covenant. It’s difficult to predict the outcome of every unique case. 

For the best chance of winning your case, ensure that you have documents and various pieces of evidence. Those will support your claims in court whether you’re a tenant or landlord.

Final Thoughts

It's imperative for both tenants and landlords to have an in-depth understanding of the covenant of quiet enjoyment. They must consider what it means for their rental agreement.

This can help both parties to avoid breaking the covenant. It’ll also help ensure that they’re protected from legal action. 

However, if the covenant is broken, it’s best to seek legal help from a lawyer in your state about your options. That’s the case regardless of whether you’re a tenant or a landlord.

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AUTHOR
Justin is a Content Manager and contributing author at Apartment List, helping people navigate the world of renting. Justin previously spent his time earning his BBA in Marketing from Boise State University. Read More
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