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What is the covenant of quiet enjoyment

If you’re having a conflict with your landlord, you’ll need a good understanding of the covenant of quiet enjoyment

One of the reasons behind a strained landlord/tenant relationship is conflicting interests between the two involved parties. The landlord has a responsibility to maintain the property, and has a vested interest in monitoring its condition. The tenant wants to feel comfortable and safe living in the property, and when this isn’t achieved, it can lead to tension and conflict.

As the owner of the property, the landlord has a great deal of power in the relationship. But your home should be your shelter, a place of security and comfort, whether you own or rent. This is the purpose behind the covenant of quiet enjoyment. This is a legal clause that obligates the landlord to provide comfortable and free use of the property, within reason.

Where this gets tricky is the exact definition of the term quiet enjoyment of property. There isn’t an exact legal definition, and the scope and application of the covenant of quiet enjoyment varies dramatically by state. Additionally, the lease agreement can be written to include a clause defining the terms of the covenant, and this definition can be more limited than the state definition. The result is a confusing mess of legal gray areas that leads to an almost case-by-case definition of how the principles behind the covenant apply to a situation.

Understanding the legal obligations of the landlord

The covenant of quiet enjoyment is one of the two implied covenants that are assumed to be included in every rental agreement. These represent the landlord’s responsibilities to the tenants, and give the tenant rights on par with the landlord’s ownership right.

The landlord’s implied rental covenants are:

  • The covenant of habitability: The landlord has an obligation to maintain the property to a livable standard. This includes meeting structural and safety requirements, accessibility, and reasonable cleanliness.
  • The covenant of quiet enjoyment: The landlord also has an obligation to respect and protect the tenant’s right to enjoy the use of the property. This can cover a broad range of rights, from proper notice of landlord visits to ensuring equal access to shared resources such as yards and laundry facilities.

Many of these concepts overlap, and it can sometimes be unclear which covenant applies to a given situation. Access, for example, can mean physical structures such as wheelchair ramps, but it can also mean that the tenants in apartment B have to leave their aggressive dog on a leash so the other tenants can feel safe in the shared yard.

Often, tenants will claim violation of these covenants as their defense in an eviction proceeding. If a violation can be demonstrated, it may protect the tenant from legal consequences.

Ensuring a tenant’s rights to quiet enjoyment

While the exact definition can vary, the rights provided by the covenant of quiet enjoyment are considered to include:

  • The right to privacy: A tenant can expect a reasonable degree of privacy, both from the landlord and other tenants.
  • The right to peace and quiet: This protects the tenant from frequent or unreasonable disturbances. This right also covers the landlord’s activities and those of other tenants.
  • The right of use: The tenant is permitted to use the property as their own, outside of reasonable maintenance visits by the landlord.
  • The right to safety and security: The tenant has the right to a property without bodily hazards
  • The right to basic utilities: The landlord can’t limit or prevent the tenant’s access to basic utilities.

Often, these rights are defined under the broad umbrella of the term reasonable disturbances, which can vary on an individual level, adding to the apparent confusion regarding the exact extent of the protection.

Violating the right to quiet enjoyment

Despite the confusion over the exact definition of the term quiet enjoyment, some of the common violations of the clause include:

  • Landlord entering the property too often, or without providing notice.
  • Landlord going through your belongings.
  • Failure to address nuisances and problematic behaviors.
  • Harassment of a resident.
  • Denial of services or utilities to the property.
  • Failure to maintain the property and any items included in the lease.
  • Interference with reasonable enjoyment of the unit.

If the landlord is in violation of the covenant of quiet enjoyment, a tenant may be found to be justified in withholding rent or even terminating the lease agreement.

But this is where the broad variation in definition and application can become a problem. While it can be easy to find possible violations of the covenant of quiet enjoyment, the exact legality in a given situation can be more complicated and open to interpretation. Always consult with a lawyer to see how these concepts apply to your case.

When you are having a dispute over a confusing legal concept like the covenant of quiet enjoyment, it makes sense that you are going to have questions. As an alternative to scheduling an expensive meeting with a lawyer, you could bring your landlord-tenant questions to the qualified legal Experts on JustAnswer. The advice they provide will help you choose the best course of action, depending on the details of your situation.

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