Disturbing Neighbors
November 10, 2006 12:09 AM   Subscribe

Leases often contain a clause saying you can be evicted if you disturb the neighbors. Mostly hypothetical question inside.

I was never bothered by this clause when renting apartments next to other renters. Now I rent houses which are typically next door to owners. So, if my landlord can evict me for disturbing the neighbors, why can't I evict the neighbors for disturbing me? It seems an unfairness where I don't get equal rights. Obviously it is silly to speak of evicting an owner. But these clauses I've seen are written in such a way that the distruption could be purely in the mind of the disturbed.

I'm not in such a situation, yet. I do have a landlord trying to break contract (because he wants to sell, not because of a problem with us). I am seeking legal counsel. Just asking because it bugs me.
posted by Goofyy to Law & Government (9 answers total)
As the owner of the property, the landlord by definition has more rights that you do. You're entitled to some rights because you're a renter, but don't think that you have nearly same amount of rights as an owner.

As to being able to evict your neighbors, you frankly just don't have that right, unless for some strange reason, it was written into your lease agreement.
posted by Cog at 12:23 AM on November 10, 2006

Part of my issue is the whether 'disturbed' is defined in law. Some neighbors would be 'disturbed' because I'm gay, and live with my partner.
posted by Goofyy at 3:05 AM on November 10, 2006

If you think this clause might be used by the landlord, you could get signed statements from some of the neighbors saying you haven't disturbed them.

As to your being able to evict them, it's tempting to say GYOH.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:32 AM on November 10, 2006

I think you may be able to bring a civil action against your neighbors if they are so noisy. There are local noise ordinances, too, so you can alwasy phone the cops if things get really crazy. Don't expect much from either remedy, but you're not entirely powerless.

The landlord can evict you for a couple of reasons -- first, because you probably have a clause in your lease agreement covering this situation, so it'll be treated like a contract. Or because -- and this is where my memory fails me -- renters enjoy a covenent of quiet enjoyment, and landlords have a duty to maintain this CQE. So, if tenent A is excessively, and repeatedly, loud at specified times, this touches on tenent B's CQE. Prolonged, this may put the landlord in breach w/r/t Tenent B. Landlord doesn't want this, and will act proactively to stop it. But it generally takes a lot of problems/complaints before it gets to this.

As a renter you have more rights than you may think. The owner doesn't necessarily have more rights than you, just different -- and more valuable (i.e. ownership) -- rights. For instance, during our lease you have the right of possession, not your landlord. If this hypothetical extends into reality, be sure to find out what the your state/local rights are. (Or turn the stereo down just a tad...)
posted by herc at 5:13 AM on November 10, 2006 [1 favorite]

Oh, I'm not making any ruckus. Hell, I'm old enough to say 'ruckus'! (LOL). I could imagine the landlord/management attempting to use that clause, however.

Since living in Germany, I've grown used to scrutinizing and quibling over what a lease actually says. There, and also the UK, we were able to demand, and get, changes. I can't imagine that working in the States anyplace I've lived! But this clause, which I saw in the States and the UK (likely Germany, too, but I couldn't read that one) and now, in South Africa.

When I get to reading in a legal way, I get to wondering such things. So, I've wondered about this 'disturbed' business. I'm fairly sure my one neighbor is a bit disturbed, only because the one time I spoke to him he acted like he was scared. My other neighbor I doubt, as we're friendly. Her only complaint might be our nude bathing (which we consider practical). Not our fault they might look at our pool (caveat: their patio faces the Indian Ocean, not our little pool).

I've never had a landlord make a complaint over my behavior, anywhere, after decades of renting. I may occasionally crank up the tunes, but only briefly (the longest would be those rare occasions when I simply must listen to Inna-godda-davida).

But I've got a lease that says there is a rewal up to 3 years, at MY option, under the same terms as the existing lease. That lease also says they can't show the house to prospective buyers except in the last 2 months of our occupancy. For this, we didn't dispute an annual increase in rent of 8%. Now they want to renege.
posted by Goofyy at 6:07 AM on November 10, 2006

Speaking theoretically (not legal advice, since who knows what the law in South Africa is) the landlord's right to evict you for disturbing the neighbors is *his* right -- not the disturbed neighbors' right. So, the fact that you can't evict your neighbors doesn't mean that there's an inequality of rights based on ownership.

There is, however, a common law tort called "private nuisance" that better reflects your notion that fairness would call for equal rights among neighbors.
posted by footnote at 8:14 AM on November 10, 2006

In the US, most of these clauses that I've seen have been specifically related to noise, not just general "disturbing." If what you are doing is making me unable to go about my daily life without unreasonable noise or active botherance (is that a word?), then I would have reason to complain. The fact that I don't like you doesn't mean you're bothering me; the fact that you're blasting your stereo at 3am (which probably violates local noise ordinances) does.

I do understand, however, that a lot of these distinctions can get blurred in the name of homophobia or other discrimination. But I think the intent is to keep tenants from becoming noise nuisances.
posted by occhiblu at 9:17 AM on November 10, 2006

You are worried about you disturbing the neighbors by simply being? That's not what the clause is about. This clause is about getting rid of people who party till all hours, or people who put a giant strobe light in the front yard, or people who slaughter goats and chickens in the back yard, or people who have 84 "guests" visiting their home on a daily basis, or people who have 96 cats and no litterbox, or people who let their pit bull mastiffs roam the neighborhood. I have seen all these things happen.

As for recourse against neighbors who disturb you, I only have experience in apartments. In that case your neighbor's landlord is your landlord, and you do absolutely have the right to complain to management should one of the above situations arise. Oh heck, I have had people complain that their upstairs neighbor walks too loudly! That's not an evictable offense sorry, and we had to sort of mediate that one.

Seriouly though, if you are worried that you simply bother your neighbor for whatever reason, I'd be more worried about physical violence than eviction.
posted by ilsa at 10:05 AM on November 10, 2006

'woried' isn't the right word, if that wasn't clear. However, when people claim words in a contract are "about" something that isn't written there, then, personally, I write the words in their to make it clear. I tend to be of the opinion that anything ambiguous in a contract is there in order to find a fault when you need one.
posted by Goofyy at 9:53 AM on November 11, 2006

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