breaking a lease because of bad neighbors--can i?

corrinembDecember 9, 2006

Hi! I've got a question about breaking leases. My husband, 12-year-old, and I moved into a 4-family place in September. We were assured it was a "quiet building" and that the only people above us were a "quiet couple." We were also told that there were no dogs allowed, no longterm guests allowed (like letting friends live with you), etc. etc. We thought it was perfect and signed a year lease. Since then, we have discovered that the "quiet couple" has a 6-year-old (the husband's kid from a previous relationship) who they let run and jump through the apartment at all hours of the day and night. I should mention that the noise sounds like WW3, my ceiling fan actually rocks, and ALL of us have heart palpitations. (I have talked to them 2 times & they were nice and stopped the noise for a while...only to have it return another weekend). But I was learning to live with it. Then, right before Thanksgiving, they let a friend of the husband's move in "temporarily"...well, he STOMPS. I hear him stomp from 4am until he heaves for work at 7am and from 5pm when he gets home until he goes to bed. We tried to get used to it. I had to move into my son's bottom bunk because the noise from his room (right above ours) made me have panic attacks and I couldn't sleep (my husband works 3 jobs and can sleep through an earthquake, generally). JUST when I was getting up the nerve to ask them to talk to their guest (last weekend), they get a DOG. A black lab puppy. And he runs over my head night and day...and he's small right now!

Anyway, I went upstairs and talked to the wife. She apologized for the stompy houseguest and child. She said she knew they were both loud (hello? then why not stop them?). She said to come up any time if they were being too noisy (like it's my responsibility to be mom). Also, I confirmed the dog is theirs and is staying (I was hoping it'd go back to the little girl's mom's house).

Anyway, the lease clearly says that children are not allowed to run in the apartments, hallways, or common areas because it disturbs the "quiet enjoyment" of others. It also has statements about not allowing longterm houseguests or animals not previously approved by the landlord. So I called the landlords on Sunday and the wife called me back at night. I told her what was happening (the kid, the guest, and the dog). I also told her that I never would have moved in under those conditions & would have to move out if they were allowed to continue. She said she was out of town right now but that she would take care of it AND call me to let me know how it was being handled. It will be one week tomorrow and I have heard nothing.

I'm calling her again today. I know she may still be away, but I need to know what's going on. My question is about breaking the lease has conditions and I really want to leave and be able to keep 100% of my security deposit because the situation is not our fault. (Also, I should mention that we were told that taking out the garbage was a shared thing among all tenants but we are the ONLY ones who have been doing this since we MOVED IN...if we let it go, it doesn't get picked up...also, since moving in, the landlord hasn't come to mow or trim back the bushes...we borrowed a mower and bought hedge clippers and did it the owners aren't the "nice, responsible landlords" they seemed to be at the beginning)

Anyway, I'm sorry for rambling but I'm stressed out to the max. We hate our living conditions now and cannot afford to move without the security deposit. Can I keep it all if the landlord rented to us under false pretenses and doesn't do anything about our complaints?

Stressed and sad in CT,


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Well, you didn't ask about this part, but why pester the landlord's wife while she's away? It could be a 'fun' trip, perhaps she's on vacation. But it could be anything: tending to a sick parent, or attended a funeral and stayed to take care of matter etc. and that's why you didn't get a call back. Or she's waiting till she returns to handle it in person (what I would do). It's unrealistic to expect her to jump through hoops and manage a situation long distance that is not of crisis proportions and can wait until they get back. Making a pest of yourself in that regard is not going to help your cause. Wait till someone is on the premises and can handle it.

I don't manage apartments (houses), but suspect unless these people are of a generous nature you won't get your deposit back for bailing out. You're bound to stay as much as they are bound to provide accommodations as outlined in the lease. It's the tenants upstairs who are breaking all the rules, it's the landlord's responsibility to enforce those rules. You've enlightened the landlord to the situation, so why not hold out a couple weeks and let them get that resolved, give it a chance?

    Bookmark   December 10, 2006 at 7:48AM
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No, of course not. Living in a multi-unit building there will invariably be some noise, like walking around sounds. Blasting a stereo at 3am is unreasonable, simply walking around is reasonable. They too are allowed "quiet enjoyment", ie being able to walk in their apartment without being harassed.

Sounds like your husband & son are ok with this, what is probably causing more problems is your reaction. Here are your choices:

1) wear earplugs at night, and move out when the lease is up
2) find someone to sublet your apartment

Next time, keep in mind your sensitivity to noise, and either rent a single family home, or a top floor apartment.

    Bookmark   December 10, 2006 at 3:14PM
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Your landlady is a liar. She knew the people were noisy. Thats probably why the unit is empty. The last tenants probably left for the same reason.

I wouldn't put up with this. It isn't going to get any better. Get a tape recorder and document the noise. Have the landlady listen to it. Often.

Ask her to let you trade places with the water buffalo herd above you. That way they can see what what inconsiderate idiots sound like. If she won't move you to another (quiet) unit, then save up your rent, tell the landlady your pay check is going to be late and that you will pay her as soon as you can. Move out and let her keep the deposit. Now you can afford to move.

If you need a reference, ask a friend who owns a house to give you one so they won't have to call her. The next time you sign a lease, make sure there is language in it that allows you to break it for a job change or extraordinary noise. That way you have a safety hatch if things don't work out.

    Bookmark   December 10, 2006 at 8:46PM
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if you want to break your lease, you will need to build a case.

Write a letter to the landlord stating what's going on, and what the problem is. Make it dispassionate and factual. Include statements that are intended to document your conversations with the upstairs neighbor, and with the landlord ("as you recall, I spoke to you on the phone on this date, when you called in resposne to my message left on this other date. I informed you of this and that; you said this and that....")

Send it registered mail.

Then, you'll have the beginning of a paper trail. If you need to move to another letter, bcs things don't get better, then you can end that letter with a statement that you consider the landlord to be in breach of contract, and if he/she doesn't fix things, you will consider the lease broken and you will move.

You should ALSO try to find a local housing agency, or landlord/tenant agency, or tenant-advocacy group. Get them to help you craft the letter and the strategy. There may be local regulations regarding the official notices for breaking a lease that you must follow, or that will help you.

(also, my experience w/ labs, which is admittedly very limited, is that they calm down a lot as they age).

    Bookmark   December 12, 2006 at 10:04AM
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Thank you to the reasonable, helpful people who responded to my questions. I appreciate that instead of blaming me for being "too sensitive" or accusing me of harassment, you actually had some compassion for my plight.

I did call back the landlady (she is co-owner and is not merely "the landlord's wife")...which was my second call in a week (not harassment). She said she did indeed talk with the people upstairs about all issues and that they would have the dog gone by Christmas, the houseguest would be a temporary stay, and that they will refrain from letting their daughter jump off the furniture (which gives my husband and son as much of a coronary as it does me).

I started a paper trail by sending my landlords a letter confirming I'd called and we'd spoken about these issues (and I referred and listed the sections of the lease they pertained to). I thanked them and it was a positive, pleasant experience on both ends (they were not feeling harassed and told me they'd evict the lease-breakers if they didn't live up to their promises).

I didn't send the letter registered mail--I forgot about that--but I did keep a copy for our file (just in case). However, the landlords were so reasonable about this situation, I doubt I'll need it. But it's there.

The people upstairs have been much better about the noise. They realize we're not complaining about people walking & enjoying their lives...we're talking stomping, jumping, etc. The stuff that makes life miserable for even the deaf (earplugs don't work because the vibrations can be felt all through the place). We are very lucky.

We have lived under people at other times in our lives and have never had this level of problem--so it was very stressful. But we are rational people trying to live in relative peace with the other families sharing this house...and other reasonable souls see that.

Thank you, dreamgarden and talleysuenyc for your input--we're keeping it all in mind!


    Bookmark   December 23, 2006 at 10:04PM
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No one accused you of harassment. Two calls in one week to an out of town landlord for a non-emergency is being a pain in the rear.

    Bookmark   December 24, 2006 at 6:42AM
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Corrine, I've lived in places where the walls reverberated from the sound of people running down the hall above me at 3am. It stinks. I don't think you are being unreasonable at all. I'm glad things have improved for the time being. Hope it stays that way.

"why pester the landlord's wife while she's away? "It could be a 'fun' trip, perhaps she's on vacation." "Making a pest of yourself in that regard is not going to help your cause." "why not hold out a couple weeks and let them get that resolved, give it a chance?" "Two calls in one week to an out of town landlord for a non-emergency is being a pain in the rear."

I don't get it. You are more sympathetic of the landlord (who is able to sleep peacefully at night) than of the person who is paying good money for the "quiet enjoyment" of their premises. Have you ever lived beneath someone as noisy as corrinemb's neighbors?

    Bookmark   December 25, 2006 at 8:28PM
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moonshadow- I don't get it. You are more sympathetic of the landlord (who is able to sleep peacefully at night) than of the person who is paying good money for the "quiet enjoyment" of their premises. Have you ever lived beneath someone as noisy as corrinemb's neighbors?

First of all, if you're going to quote me, please use all the words I said. Quoting selectively chosen text tends to alter the meaning of the original text. (Although I mentioned vacation, please note I also said the landlady could have been away at a funeral, or tending to a sick parent).

Also, you make some really strong assumptions in your posts, dreamgarden. You called the landlord a liar and said she knew about the noise from above all along and that's why the unit is empty. Umm, it's not empty, corrinemb is living in it. And you know the landlord is a liar how? Because you've lived in one of her rentals and dealt with this individual before? "Liar" is a very harsh word. Personally, I despise that word.

You've also assumed (and presented as a fact) that the landlord is able to sleep peacefully at night. (Again, you know this how?) So why am I sticking up for her? Because I am a landlord. And if you read that post carefully, you will see there is a bit more going on there. I know exactly how it feels to be 500 miles away (not on vacation) and have all h*ll break loose over a non-emergency. Sure, I can and would make a phone call to disruptive tenants. But phone calls tend to not be taken too seriously and do not create the critically necessary paper trail. As an effective landlord, what I need to do is go over there and check out the situation for myself. I need to make the determination whether the extra person has indeed moved in or was just visiting for the holidays. Then put the transgressions in writing and send it via certified mail to the tenant.

Let's say the landlord wasn't away, that she was in town. Let's say landlord drops everything for this situation and made it her utmost priority in life that week. Here's how it would have transpired (and I'm taking these dates directly from corrine's post.) Corrine calls landlady on Sun 12/3. Landlady immediately calls upstairs tenants, gives 24 hours notice that she's doing an inspection. Now it's Monday afternoon, 12/4. Landlord inspects, assess, talks with tenants. Landlord goes home, sits down, and types a letter that same day. By now P.O. is closed, so landlady goes to P.O. first thing Tues morning 12/5, letter goes out that day. Since landlord and tenants are geographically close, letter will probably arrive at tenant's on Wednesday 12/6 or Thursday 12/7. Friday 12/8 rolls around, no results, and corrinemb is going to call again, because she came here and posted very early on the morning of Saturday morning, 12/9. Do you see the illustration here? IF the landlady were in town and IF she acted immediately at every phase of this step, that STILL would only allow 2 1/2 weekdays or so (Wed-Fri or Thurs-Fri) to resolve all the issues at hand. Landlords are people with problems and crises and LIVES, just like everyone else, yet some tenants act as if they can demand the landlord "jump" and landlord will respond with "how high".

I have good relationships with all my tenants. If they are not unreasonable demanding, or screaming about their rights, I will do whatever it takes, putting my own appointments and needs aside, to keep them comfortable and happy. If they turn out to be the screaming/demanding type, I pray they bail on their lease before I can legally get them out. They aren't worth it. Just like a homeowner has to address structural issues immediately, I have to do the same for dwellings with tenants in them. If I get a call at 4 a.m. that the furnace is malfunctioning, and it's 20 degrees out, I can't go back to bed and curl up under my warm covers. One time the town broke a water main during work and my elderly tenants had no water. Not my obligation, but I went to the store and purchased several gallons of distilled and drinking water because one of them had a colostomy bag that required purified water several times a day. I didn't have to do that. It was caused by the municipality and was in the street, not any plumbing malfunction inside the dwelling itself. They had money, a car, and the store was 3 blocks away. I did it to be NICE. I have shoveled knee deep snow for those same elderly tenants when they went to Fla for Christmas so the house didn't look vacant and it was not a temptation to break in. Why did I do it? Because the good for nothing grown kids of my tenants were "too busy" and broke the promise they made to their parents to keep an eye on things and maintain snow. I have had to drop everything and rush to a house that had raw sewage running out a pipe and down the driveway. Cost me a bundle, it was a weekend night call. You know what caused it? A washcloth flushed down the toilet. When I conveyed this to the tenant, her response: 'you know how it is when you're dumping your dirty cleaning bucket down the toilet, you don't pay attention to what's in it'. Didn't even get Christmas off this year. Tenant calls me as she's flying to CA on holiday, sewage is backing up and pipe is leaking. That problem didn't happen overnight, she just didn't tell me until she was on a plane.So guess how the plumber and I spent Christmas Eve, because the house was filled with lethal sewer gas and I couldn't let it go.

I've had to get out of bed in the middle of the night, cancel my own personal appointments, rearrange my schedule, you name it, to get emergencies taken care of. And I never complain to my tenants because it's my responsibility. However: if someone's going to bug me twice in a week over something that can and should be addressed when I get back in town, it's not going to sit well with me. Get the picture?

    Bookmark   December 26, 2006 at 11:07AM
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I "get the picture". I don't believe I quoted you out of context but if I did, I apologize. Lets not call the kettle black. For future reference, may readers review all previous posts for clarification.

Did you "selectively" forget to mention that you are a landlord until your most recent post (to me)? This is probably what confused corrinemb. I'm sure this will help her better appreciate why you played the devils advocate and showed support for her landlord (instead of her). As for assumptions, I can make a few because I HAVE lived in similar situations to corrinemb's. I've had landlords lie outright to rent units knowing full well that they had jerks living above, below, next door, etc. The neighbors told me. I don't need to live in HER particular building to know these types of people exist, and that landlords frequently do nothing about them. As for the landlord sleeping peacefully at night, they probably are. Most of the landlords I know don't live where their renters do. They have nice homes in quiet neighborhoods. If they don't like their tenants annoying them when things get out of hand they shouldn't be in the rental business.

Would you care to explain what being away at a funeral or tending a sick parent has to do with a landlords' responsibilities? Or even returning corrinemb's telephone call? Not having calls returned tends to stress some people out considerably. Especially when they are losing sleep.

Next quote (in entirety) "No one accused you of harassment. Two calls in one week to an out of town landlord for a non-emergency is being a pain in the rear."

I assume you are insinuating that someone in this thread is being a "pain in the rear" for notifying their landlord that the terms of their lease are being broken while said landlord is on vacation. Please correct me if I am wrong.

"It could be a 'fun' trip, perhaps she's on vacation." "Landlords are people with problems and crises and LIVES, just like everyone else, yet some tenants act as if they can demand the landlord "jump" and landlord will respond with "how high"."

I understand very well. I have been a landlord. "Fun trips" and "vacations" have nothing to do with a landlords' LEGAL responsibility to a tenant. I have yet to see a landlord "vacation claus" in any lease agreements. Most landlords know that all heck usually breaks loose the minute they go away. That is why they have someone who is able to fill in to take care of normal maintenance, questions and/or emergencies. At least that has been my experience! Which is why I sold my building! I wanted my life back! Stocks are much easier.

corrinemb isn't asking for special treatment. When she moved into her apt, she signed a lease. This lease said that she could expect quiet enjoyment between certain hours, no dogs, no extra tenants, proper garbage removal. corrinemb's neighbor is breaking not one, but several of the rules.

You despise the word "liar"? Well I despise neanderthal renters who have zero regard for their neighbors as well as petty tyrant landlords who belittle tenants when they complain about legitimate problems.

By the way, you never answered my question.
Have you ever lived beneath someone as noisy as corrinemb's neighbors?

    Bookmark   December 27, 2006 at 5:01PM
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