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What is the Covenant of Quiet Enjoyment?

The covenant of quiet enjoyment is an implied term in every residential lease in the United States. It prohibits a landlord from interfering with a tenant's use of a rental unit.

Quiet enjoyment refers to your right as a tenant to spend time in your rental without anyone disturbing you. Although it is present in every lease even if not specifically mentioned, some leases will elaborate upon the clause, furthering the landlord's duties to ensure quiet enjoyment.

The term itself can confuse renters. “Quiet” does not necessarily mean without noise. It means without interference. Enjoyment does not mean pleasurable (necessarily), but just that you can use and benefit from your unit.

Breach of the covenant

Your landlord is violating the covenant if they're letting anything happen that keeps you from accessing your unit, damages the property, or disturbs your ability to use all of your unit in any way.

If they threaten eviction, they're definitely violating the law. Any attempt to force entry without your permission or without giving proper notice could be construed as a violation of the covenant as well as self-help eviction methods, which are also illegal.

How to tell if your landlord is violating the quiet enjoyment law

If your landlord did something and you aren’t sure if it’s a breach of the covenant or not, your only way to find out will be to look at previous court rulings on the topic. Here's some guidance from court cases from the past century.

Their action has to have been intentional:

Your landlord has to have interfered on purpose, or else it's probably not actually a breach of the covenant. A tenant in Wisconsin in 1987 tried claiming a breach of the covenant when an accidental fire damaged their rental and had to leave. The court said that it wasn’t a breach because the fire wasn’t intentional.

Something similar happened in Tennessee in 1990. A landlord hired a roofing contractor to fix a leak. The contractor made a mistake and caused water damage to the tenant. Since the cause of the interference with the tenant’s ability to use the space was the contractor’s negligence - the work the landlord ordered could have been feasibly accomplished without interfering - the court said that the landlord wasn’t liable.

In both these cases, the landlords definitely interfered with their tenants' ability to use the space, but it wasn't deliberate.

It must interfere with your expected use:

In other words, if you plan on using your kitchen to cook delicious meals and something happens which stops you from being able to use the kitchen for cooking, then it's interfering with how you planned on using the unit when you signed the lease.

Most of the previous court cases on this topic are from commercial leases. For example in 1976 in Pennsylvania a dry cleaning store claimed that the landlord breached the covenant by building a a structure around the store so that it was harder for potential customers to spot the store or park near it. The judge rules that it was a breach because it interfered with the tenant’s anticipated of the premises.

They're in the clear if they tried to prevent it:

If your landlord made good faith efforts to stop the disturbance from happening then they're probably not violating the covenant.

In one example from 1987 in Georgia, a landlord started construction to an office building, and the accounting firm that leased an office complained about the noise disruption. The landlord proved that they had designed the construction work so as to minimize disruption of the tenant’s businesses, and so the court found that the covenant wasn’t breached.

What are your options?

You can claim constructive eviction, stop paying rent and leave if your landlord is clearly in violation of the covenant. Beware that they could sue you for damages, and you would have to prove that they were in violation. What is or isn’t a breach is still pretty arbitrary so there is no assurance that a court would rule in your favor.

Before taking these measures, try bringing up the law with your landlord in a written communication. This might cause them to change their behavior.

Next steps

Have more specific questions about what your landlord can and cannot do? Read about the landlord entry laws in your state, and protection against unnecessary noises that your state or city might grant you.

The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice.

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