Residential tenants understand that their leases contain obligations that their landlord owes to them and visa versa. These are commonly known as covenants. One of the principal covenants that exists in just most residential leases is that of “quiet enjoyment”. But does quiet enjoyment mean? This article will investigate that question.
Does it mean I am entitled to a quiet property?
Some residential tenants believe that quiet enjoyment means that they should be able to enjoy a literally quiet property. Consequently, tenants experiencing noise nuisance will often refer to the covenant of quiet enjoyment. Unfortunately, this is a misinterpretation of what the covenant means.
Tenants should not read ‘quiet enjoyment’ literally. It does not mean that the tenant has the right to enjoy a quiet property. Instead, it means that the tenant has the right to use their property without unreasonable or unnecessary interference from their landlord. As Lord Denning explained in McCall v Abelesz, the question is whether the offending act, “substantially interferes with the tenant’s freedom of action in exercising his rights as a tenant”.
What behaviour would breach the right to quiet enjoyment?
We looked at an example of where a landlord breached the covenant to quiet enjoyment in a previous article. Other examples of behaviour that would breach the covenant of quiet enjoyment include:
- The landlord visiting the property without prior appointment or notice. An exception to this would be where the landlord’s attendance is reasonable in all the circumstances (e.g. an emergency);
- The landlord sending agents or workman to the property without giving notice to or agreeing this with the tenant in advance;
- The landlord physically interfering with the property. For example, by demolishing or other damaging the property, or interfering with utilities such as gas, electricity and water; and
- The landlord harassing the tenant, verbally or in writing, particularly with the aim of forcing the tenant to leave the property.
Therefore, a noise nuisance could potentially amount to a breach of the covenant of quiet enjoyment, but only if it was so significant that it prevented the tenant from properly using the property. Mere inconvenience is not enough. In practical terms, the noise nuisance would also have to be caused either by the landlord, or someone under their control (e.g. another tenant of the same landlord). If the noise nuisance was caused by someone outside the landlord’s control, then it would be very difficult, if not impossible, to argue that the landlord was in breach of the covenant.
Finally, it is also worth noting that a nuisance that is the result of an action or decision taken before the tenancy started (such as bad sound proofing in a block of flats) has been held not to constitute a breach of the covenant of quiet enjoyment.
A useful tool
As you see, the right to quiet enjoyment is a very useful covenant for residential tenants. It is however only of qualified assistance in the case of a noise nuisance. Quiet enjoyment does not unfortunately mean the right to a quiet property. That being said, there are usually a number of other remedies open to people facing with noisy neighbours.