Shouldn't the landlord deal with my noisy, demanding, downstairs neighbors?

Landlords often have a duty to deal with neighbors who interfere with tenants' enjoyment of a rental.

Question

Last year, I notified my landlord that the neighbors below me played their music too loud, and even though the frequency of occurrence has diminished, they still periodically play it so loudly that it comes through the floor. Also, one of them accused me of turning the hot water on and off, causing a fluctuation of temperature in her shower every time she uses it. She demanded I refrain from using all of my water outlets while she's in her shower. What's a person to do?

Answer

As unsatisfying as it felt in the past, your first line of defense is still your landlord. Have another chat. Restate the specifics of the music problem. And point out that you can hardly be expected to intuit when your neighbor is taking a shower. It’s a good idea to put your concerns in writing—email is okay, but a mailed letter is even better, as it signals to your landlord that this is a serious matter that needs attention.

Keep written records of your issues with your neighbors. For example, jot a note of the date and time when your peace and quiet is disturbed by loud music, or the neighbor complains about hot water.

You landlord’s ability to deal with the situation might be limited if the upstairs neighbor is not your landlord’s tenant—if, for example, you live in a condominium complex and the person above you happens to be an owner. Your landlord might try to approach the neighbors, or talk with the property manager, if there is one.

If, on the other hand, the neighbors are also renting from your landlord, if your landlord refuses to intervene, you have some other options:

  1. Threaten to move out or withhold rent. In most places, tenants are entitled to quiet enjoyment of their rental, either through state law or an explicit statement in the lease or rental agreement. If you can convince a judge that the harassment from the neighbor constitutes an intolerable situation for you, and your landlord did nothing about it, you might be able to withhold rent or get out of your lease without being responsible for future rent. Proving that your landlord hasn’t delivered on quiet enjoyment can be difficult, though, and occasional loud music likely doesn’t rise to the level contemplated by the law. It’s a good idea to contact a local landlord-tenant attorney to discuss your situation and options before actually taking the drastic steps of withholding rent or moving out.
  2. Move out. If you have a month-to-month or other short term rental agreement, you can leave the rental without further responsibility for rent by giving the proper amount of notice. In most areas, tenants with month-to-month rental agreements must give 30 days’ written notice to terminate. Note that if you have a long-term lease, and you decide to move out before it expires, you are breaking your lease, and your landlord can hold you responsible for unpaid rent and other damages such as the costs of advertising the unexpected vacancy (however, landlords in most states have a duty to mitigate their damages). One possible option is to see if you could sublet your rental (get your landlord’s written permission, first) to someone who won’t mind the neighbors as much.
  3. Sue your landlord. You could attempt to sue your landlord for the diminished value of your rental due to your neighbors’ actions. For example, if you rented what you perceived to be a “professional” rental for $2000 a month, rather than pay $1500 a month in a student part of town, but have found that the noise is making the rental more like the $1500 rentals in town, you might be able to recover the $500 difference in rent.
  4. Stay put and try to resolve the matter without your landlord. You could stay put. You might try to enlist the help of a third party to work out a resolution, such as a community mediator, if you can convince your neighbor to join you. The small claims court or your local district attorney in your county can refer you to neighborhood mediation services. Also see Nolo's Mediation, Arbitration & Collaborative Law section.

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