Under California law, every residential lease contains two implied promises (or “covenants”) that apply regardless of whether they explicitly appear in a rental agreement. One is the warranty of habitability, which provides that rented properties must meet certain minimum standards of liveability, as set forth in California Civil Code section 1941.1 and California Health and Safety Code sections 17920.3 and 17920.10. Another is the covenant of quiet enjoyment.
The covenant of quiet enjoyment states that a tenant has the right to enjoy his or her rental unit without “substantial interference” from the landlord. It ensures that tenants benefit from the full use and enjoyment of their rental unit.
The covenant of quiet enjoyment is similar in many ways to the warranty of habitability. Both are implied in lease agreements, both are intended to protect tenants from substantial interferences with their use of the premises, and both may apply in the same situation. For example, a physical defect such as faulty plumbing or a leaky roof technically breaches both because it can render the property unfit for human habitation and prevent tenants from enjoying their rental unit.
Bay Area landlords who do not provide tenants with quiet enjoyment as codified at California Civil Code section 1927 can be liable to tenants for a partial or full refund of rent paid for the period during which the landlord was notified of the offending activity but failed to remediate it. To establish a breach of the warranty of habitability, a tenant must be able to prove that the interference was substantial. Mild annoyances and inconveniences do not count.
The activity must also be caused by the landlord or by someone under the landlord’s control, which may include other tenants. For example, if the student renting an apartment across the street from you keeps you awake at night, your landlord cannot be held responsible. However, if the adjacent unit in your building becomes party central every weekend, or the property manager has a habit of revving the engine of his motorcycle at the crack of dawn and the landlord does nothing to stop it, you may have a claim for breach the implied covenant of quiet enjoyment against your landlord.
Additionally, in certain jurisdictions such as San Francisco and Oakland, a breach of the covenant of quiet enjoyment in bad faith can give rise to money damages for mental and emotional injury, treble (triple) damages, and attorney’s fees and costs. See, e.g., S.F. Admin. Code § 37.10B(a)(10); Oakland Mun. Code § 8.22.640(A)(10).
What Can You Do?
If your landlord in bad faith breaches the covenant of quiet enjoyment, one or more of the following courses of action may be available to you:
- Request in writing (e.g., text, email, fax, and/or letter) that the landlord stops the behavior interfering with your enjoyment of the rental unit.
- Call the police to intervene and ask that they stop the behavior.
- Seek money damages amounting to a partial or full refund of rent paid for the period during which the covenant of quiet enjoyment was breached. In jurisdictions with tenant harassment ordinances, such as San Francisco and Oakland, tenants can also seek money damages for mental and emotional injury, treble (triple) damages, and attorney’s fees and costs.
- Move out of the rental unit and seek money damages against the landlord for all the aforementioned claims plus damages arising out of the forced displacement.
- Use the breach as a defense in the event the landlord tries to evict you.
If your landlord is engaging in behavior that breaches your right of quiet enjoyment of your rental unit, your first action should always be to notify your landlord of the behavior in writing and ask that it be stopped. If this step fails to accomplish the desired outcome, contact Tenant Law Group to discuss your next steps. As a law firm dedicated exclusively to tenant rights, we can advise you of your rights and recommend actions to stop the behavior and/or recover money damages via legal action in, particularly egregious cases.