Q: I recently signed a one-year lease to rent an apartment in a large complex. Early on, I noticed that there was a lot of turnover in the apartment above me; tenants seemed to stay from two days to several weeks, but not longer. I’ve recently learned that this is a "corporate unit" leased by a large, local company to put up their visitors and guests. Some of these tenants are noisy, playing loud music late at night and having regular parties at mid-week. When I complained to the property manager, I was told there was nothing he could do about it. What are my options now? –Ron A
A: Rental arrangements like this are increasingly popular, as companies realize the benefits of having an apartment available to new employees looking for permanent housing, short-term or visiting employees, and long-term guests. Legally, these visitors are guests or subtenants (the company is the tenant), and as long as the landlord has agreed to accept a continuous string of short-term guests or unscreened subtenants, there’s nothing illegal about the setup.
However, this doesn’t mean that these subtenants are entitled to behave any differently than regular tenants, guests or other subtenants. All occupants are legally required to act in a way that does not destroy the other residents’ ability to live in reasonable peace and quiet (known rather quaintly as your right to "quiet enjoyment"), and every tenant is responsible for the behavior of his or her guests and subtenants. You can be sure that if you (or your guests) were to disturb your neighbors in the same way, management would respond with a stern warning and, if your behavior persisted, a termination notice.
The property manager’s refusal to tell the corporate tenant that it will lose its tenancy unless all guests and subtenants behave appropriately may be driven by money: It’s likely that the company pays a premium for the privilege of sending unscreened residents to the building. Or maybe management is simply lazy or intimidated by a corporate tenant. Whatever the reason, you’ll need to make management confront the situation. Basically, you want to make it more costly for the property manager to ignore the misbehaving corporate tenants than the potential risk of losing the corporation’s business. To do this, you’ll need the help of other tenants who have been affected by the noisy corporate tenants. Get together with as many neighbors as possible and present a united front, demanding that management tell the corporation that all visitors must respect their neighbors’ rights. Your ultimate threat is that of breaking your leases and moving out, on the grounds that the landlord has failed to ensure your collective right to live peacefully and quietly. In the face of many threatened vacancies, the value of one corporate tenant should quickly fade.
In the unlikely event that management doesn’t respond, think carefully about the risk you will take by breaking your leases. If management keeps your security deposits (or sues you for future rent) and you end up in court, a judge will decide whether the subtenants’ commotion justified your lease-breaking. Be sure you prepare now, with evidence (like copies of written complaints from lots of neighbors and tape recordings of noisy parties) that will back you up.
Q: I have a question about how to return a security deposit when my tenant has refused to supply a forwarding address. I want to follow my state’s law, which is very protective of tenants’ deposits, but if I can’t locate the tenant, what should I do? –Jack
A: In most states, you’re legally obliged to itemize and return the security deposit, minus legitimate deductions, to the tenant at his last known address. If your tenant refuses to give you a forwarding address, some states will end your obligation right there, but taking advantage of that option is risky — What if the tenant later claims that he did, in fact, supply a forwarding address, and you simply ignored it? Instead, play it safe and send the letter and check to the rental unit itself — after all, that’s the tenant’s last known address. If the tenant has left a forwarding address with the post office, it will forward the mail. Don’t rely on writing the words "Address Correction and Forwarding Requested" on the envelope.
If the tenant has not given the post office a forwarding address, the letter will come back to you. The postmarked envelope is proof of your reasonable attempt to comply with the law. Keep this letter and envelope for several years in case the tenant challenges you. Your tenant’s right to sue for the return of his deposit will expire in a few years, depending you your state’s "statute of limitations," or time period in which cases like this can be brought.
Q: I rent a condo with two other people. We are all on the rental agreement, which is month-to-month. One of the roommates has lived in the condo for much longer than I have. She believes that this gives her the right to evict me or the other roommate. I thought that if I was on the lease, I could be evicted only by the landlord, not by my roommate. Am I correct, or should I be worried that the roommate who’s lived in the condo the longest can kick me out whenever she feels like it? Thank you for your time and expertise –Alyson B.
A: You’ve got it right. As a resident who has signed the same lease as the other roommates, you’re a "co-tenant," which means that you have rights (and responsibilities) equal to all other co-tenants. A co-tenant cannot evict another co-tenant — only landlords have that power. Your roommate would have the power to evict you only if you were renting from her, as a subtenant. In that situation, you’d be paying rent to her, and she, like any landlord, could terminate your month-to-month rental agreement with proper notice (30 days in most states). But that’s not the case here, so unless your landlord (the owner) decides to terminate your tenancy, you shouldn’t worry. You might, however, give some thought to why you’re living with someone who is talking about her right to kick you out!
Janet Portman is an attorney and managing editor at Nolo. She specializes in landlord/tenant law and is co-author of "Every Landlord’s Legal Guide" and "Every Tenant’s Legal Guide." She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .
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