Tenants’ rights when neighbors are noisy

Band practice sends tolerance to the breaking point

Question: I live in row-style apartments. I have a neighbor to the left and the right of my apartment, but none above or below me. I have a neighbor who at least once a week has band practice in his living room with amplifiers, microphones and a complete drum set. I have talked to my neighbor at least twice telling him it is unacceptable to have this loud music at any hour. I also have complained to my landlord at least four times and they tell me that they will talk to him or send him a letter, but so far the band practice continues. What can I do?

Tenants’ attorney Kellman replies:

Tenants have the right to be free of unreasonable levels of noise. In multifamily housing units, we are sometimes expected to put up some reasonable amount of normal living noise, but band practice goes a bit too far. Musical instruments and apartments are a bad combination. Tenants must take great care to minimize interference with their neighbors when practicing their instruments. Also, there is a big difference with one person playing one instrument and a whole band of instruments. Clearly, a band using amplifiers should not be practicing in an apartment unless the affected neighbors give their permission.

The band-practicing tenant is most likely causing a violation of your rights to quiet and peaceful enjoyment of the unit. You have put up with too much noise and something needs to be done right away. Your landlord needs to take action in solving the problem because you are entitled to the enforcement of the same laws and rules that you must also follow. Those rules would include a prohibition against excessive noise.

Put your complaints in writing. Verbal complaints to the landlord or the neighbor may be legal but do not offer the same level of protection as written ones. You may also call the police to get their assistance. In most cases, your written complaint coupled police intervention will solve the problem. If you are forced to move due to the noise and the landlord’s failure to act, you may be entitled to receive compensation. That case may be filed in the small claims court.

Question: A coworker of mine said I could move into his apartment. My name was not on the lease but I was paying him rent. Three months later he told me he wanted me to move out and also said I owed him $150. Since I owed him the money I agreed to leave my belongings there until I paid him. Due to circumstances, it was close to four months before I could get him the money. I then found out he sold or gave away all my property. Is there anything I can legally do? I was not on the lease but friends and family knew I was living there.

Landlords’ attorney Smith replies:

It appears that you had a legally bona fide sub-tenancy in the premises, even though you were not a tenant of record with the landlord. Your possession of keys and payment of rent together with continuous occupancy established your right to co-possess the unit with your coworker roommate. Keep in mind that either of you could be in trouble with the landlord since this sublease or roommate addition was without permission.

As to your personal property, it is difficult to predict with precision the legal outcome of this case – your agreement with the roommate is both verbal and vague. On the one hand, you acknowledge the $150 debt. There apparently exists some kind of agreement to hold your items as security for repayment.

However, given the nature of this relationship, I do not believe the security agreement to be valid. When you paid the balance due, you found out that he had sold or given away your property. He did not have the right to do this. Nothing in the verbal security agreement permitted him to suddenly dispose of all the items. He should have followed a specific procedure, giving you notice before giving them away. Since he has failed to do this, he is responsible to you. Your measure of damages would be the fair market value of the converted items.

Further, he has illegally locked you out without due process. As stated, your right to possession on the sublease may not be terminated without proper procedure. Since he’s tossed everything, it’s too late to retrieve it and your only remedy will be a money damage claim against him for the value of the goods. You should be able to pursue a small claims court action as the amount at stake is low. Once you obtain a judgment, you will have to collect it. Make sure you pick your roommates carefully in the future, and maintain your standing directly with the landlord as a tenant of record.

This column on issues confronting tenants and landlords is written by property manager Robert Griswold, author of “Property Management for Dummies” and co-author of “Real Estate Investing for Dummies,” and San Diego attorneys Steven R. Kellman, director of the Tenant’s Legal Center, and Ted Smith, principal in a firm representing landlords.

E-mail questions to Rental Q&A at rgriswold.inman@retodayradio.com. Questions should be brief and cannot be answered individually.

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