Question: I came home after work Sunday night to find firemen in my rental condominium removing my belongings. A hot water pipe from the unit above me had broken and 500-700 gallons of water were inside my unit and soaking my belongings. Ceilings and walls were coming down, and a restoration person had already started working on the upstairs unit when I arrived. He worked on my unit until 3 a.m. the first night and several days thereafter. I am still in a motel and will be at least until the end of next week. My mattress and furniture were soaked, the drawers won’t open on chests, upholstered items and clothing are damaged, etc. Is my landlord or the homeowner’s association (HOA) responsible for my damaged personal items or perhaps the owner of the condo above me?

Property Manager Griswold replies:

Contact your renter’s insurance carrier and they will take care of you and then they can subrogate against the other unit owner and/or the HOA. If you don’t have renter’s insurance, you are at the mercy of the insurance carriers of your landlord, and/or the other unit owner, and/or the HOA. Make a claim to them, but your situation is clearly living proof as to the importance for renters to have a good renter’s insurance policy. Your renter’s insurance company will take care of you immediately and then they can hassle with the HOA, the other owner/tenant, etc., to determine who is ultimately responsible while you attempt to return your life back to normal as soon as possible.

Question: I have been enduring noise from another tenant’s child who constantly runs, drops heavy objects, bounces basketballs, and jumps on the floor above me. In addition, the noise occurs for hours at a time, and has continued into late-evening hours, which have resulted in calls to the police. The vibrations from the noise have required an adjustment to a ceiling light fixture by the maintenance man to prevent the fixture from falling. I have talked directly with the parent of the child on two occasions, which resulted in no change in behavior. I have written three letters to the property manager concerning this problem and have offered solutions, such as allowing my family to move to an upper floor. This process has taken a period of five months and I’m still awaiting a resolution. What are my rights concerning the type of noise?

Tenants’ attorney Kellman replies:

Tenants have the right to be free of unreasonable intrusion into their unit by excessive vibrations, smoke, fumes, odors and noise. In multifamily housing units, we are sometimes expected to put up with some of these intrusions, but not much. As to noise, we expect that while noise levels may be higher in the daytime, they should be kept much lower at night. As you probably know, your landlord must rent to families with children. These families have the right to allow their children to play and, well, just do normal kid stuff, which makes some noise. While the law protects those families, it also protects you from an unreasonable amount of such noise. In your case, you have apparently put up with a lot of noise and vibrations from the upstairs unit due to their child. When the noise gets so unreasonable and excessive that it clearly disturbs the neighbors, the scales of justice tip against the family making that noise. This is especially true if the noise is at night. Your landlord needs to take an active role in solving the problem. The upstairs tenant is probably breaking rules, which need to be enforced by the landlord. Putting your complaint in writing was a good idea and in most cases that, coupled with calling the police, would have solved the problem. Since that action was not successful, you are now faced with accepting the noise, moving out or taking legal action against both the noisy neighbor and the landlord, which may be filed in the Small Claims Court. Remember, in any court you will need to prove the excessive noise and vibrations to the judge, so have witnesses come by and hear it for themselves and consider using a decibel meter (which you can buy at Radio Shack) to measure the noise levels.

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 your questions to Rental Q&A at rgriswold.inman@retodayradio.com.

Questions should be brief and cannot be answered individually.

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