The following questions were submitted to John Roska, an attorney/writer whose weekly newspaper column, "The Law Q&A," runs in the Champaign News Gazette.
What can I do about noisy neighbors? I’ve rented for years, and don’t want to move, but the new tenants above me are unbearable. Their TV is loud, they slam doors late at night, and their dog constantly barks and scratches. Our landlord says he can’t anything because they pay their rent.
The landlord’s really the only one who can do something, so your best bet is to pressure him to enforce your lease, or help him build an eviction case against your neighbors. If the landlord won’t act, though, your options are limited.
The common law that’s been handed down over centuries says that all leases guarantee “the right of quiet enjoyment.” That right is so fundamental it’s presumed in all leases, even oral ones.
The right of quiet enjoyment can’t be defined precisely, but it’s something like a right to privacy. It means tenants get to enjoy their apartment quietly, undisturbed by other people—including the landlord—and other things.
It’s not, however, a guarantee of complete silence and solitude. Living together requires a certain give and take, so you’ll have to be reasonable and put up with some sounds from your neighbors.
In addition to your general right to quiet enjoyment of your premises, your lease may also give you more specific rights, and apartment rules may impose specific limits on what your neighbors can do. If they’re violating a rule about “quiet hours,” for example, the landlord has something specific to enforce.
Theoretically, a breach of your right to quiet enjoyment entitles you to damages, or an injunction to stop the breach. Practically, though, you either get the landlord to quiet or evict the noisy neighbors, or move.
A good first step would be to diplomatically contact your neighbors directly, on your own. The next step would be to notify the landlord, with a specific request that he fix the problem. Put your request in writing, date it, and keep photocopies. Then, keep a diary of incidents. Your paper trail could help the landlord’s case against the noisemakers, or could help your own case against the landlord if you want out of your lease.
If pressuring and/or helping the landlord to correct the problem doesn’t work, a last resort would be getting out of your lease, and moving. Just as landlords can terminate leases when tenants breach, tenants can terminate when landlords breach, and the breach of the right of quiet enjoyment is a breach of your lease.
If a written lease says anything about tenant remedies, make sure you follow any procedures it lays out. Even if it says nothing, notify your landlord in writing that you’ll consider the lease terminated, and move out, if the breach isn’t corrected within a reasonable time. Something like 15 days is probably reasonable, although it could vary according to the severity of the breach.
If the landlord won’t let you out of your lease, he could sue for unpaid rent after you’ve move out. That’s when your paper trail will come in handy, and hopefully help prove that breaches existed which justified canceling the lease.