Can our landlord evict us for noise when we leased space for an arcade?

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Question:

I took on a commercial lease to have an under-21 arcade. Now that I have redone the building and opened the arcade, the owner threatens to close me down because of the noise. We asked about the noise when we signed the lease and he said it was covered. What can I do now?

Answer:

Check your lease. Is there anything limiting your rights to operate the arcade -- which the owners surely knew about beforehand? What did he think he was getting into -- restful vibes of the sort that might emanate from a meditation center?

Also, there may be a chance that you can negotiate your way out of this unpleasantness. Perhaps it would solve your problem if you agreed to limit your hours of operation. You might also look into any soundproofing techniques that would keep nearby residents from being disturbed. In the best world, the owner may even agree to share the cost of the soundproofing.

If your initial attempts fail, consider calling in a mediator to help you and the owner resolve the problem. A good mediator may come up with a creative solution.

But if it turns out there is no acceptable middle ground, then your dispute will likely wind up in court -- either because the owner will sue to evict you or because you take the initiative and scurry to court for a declaration of rights. A judge will then decide whether you can stay or must move.

A court case would focus on two things: (1) what the lease says about how you can use the space, and (2) what you and the owner discussed before the lease was signed. If the owner was fully informed about the level of noise your customers would be generating -- and it's hard to imagine he couldn't have been -- you are in a reasonably good legal position. Otherwise, your chances are fair to middling. That is why a negotiated settlement sounds attractive.

To learn more, see Nolo's section on Business Spaces & Commercial Leases.

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