You may have noticed while reading your lease that you, as the tenant, promise not to create a nuisance. Sometimes, leases also require you to respect quiet hours, not play musical instruments, or do things like car repairs in your parking space. Have you ever wondered why? The reason is a legal doctrine called the Covenant of Quiet Enjoyment. If the weird name sounds confusing, the actual language of the law is even more puzzling. “An agreement to let upon hire binds the letter to secure to the hirer the quiet possession of the thing hired during the term of the hiring, against all persons lawfully claiming the same.” (California Civil Code § 1927.)
For people born after a time when leagues, furlongs, and fathoms were considered common units of measurement, the last sentence means this: if I agree to pay you something of value in exchange for you letting me use something that belongs to you, you are legally required to protect my use of that thing against anyone else who has a right based on your ownership of it, including you. What that translates to is that the landlord is obligated to protect their tenants from one another’s harmful behavior. The reason is straightforward, having given the landlord something of value, the tenant is owed the benefit they paid for. So, the landlord creates these terms in their leases, requiring a promise to follow basic standards of behavior. If one tenant comes to the landlord with a complaint that their neighbor is not following the rules in the lease, the landlord is obligated by the covenant of quiet enjoyment to investigate the complaint and do something about it. This can involve a series of actions that grow progressively more severe based on the seriousness of the violation or the tenant’s failure to respect warnings from the landlord: starting with verbal warnings, escalating to written warnings and potentially ending in eviction based on the tenant breaking one of those rules in the lease.
This process is usually better as a matter of public policy than the tenants sorting out issues themselves, since the landlord has the power to evict disruptive tenants from the property. However, it can lead to abuse by landlords who may not enforce rules fairly or use threats of eviction to force out tenants benefiting from rent control. It can also leave tenants without a clear solution when landlords fail to live up to their obligations. In those cases, reaching out to a tenant rights attorney might be the next step to ensuring you don’t wake up in the middle of the night the next time your neighbor decides to practice their drum solo at 3 AM.