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Q&A Regarding Tenant Disputes

Q. Tenants in my duplex have been arguing for a year. The upper unit consists of a family with two young children. The lower tenant complains almost daily (to me and the family) about the kids making noise. The upper unit is carpeted, and the parents claim the kids are at daycare from 8:30 - 5:30 on weekdays, and that they’re sleeping from 8:00 pm to 7:00 am every night. I’m at my wits end. What can I do?

A. You can, and should, make a serious effort to help resolve this problem between your tenants. Not only will it cause them to stop bothering you, but it will help shield you from liability in the event one (or both) sets of tenants alleges legal damages based on your failure to take action. I know of more than one property owner who has been sued for constructive eviction when one tenant vacated rather than face continuing disturbances from another tenant.

You have primary two areas of focus, the people and the property. Regarding the people, it is best to be fair and impartial while also applying pressure to correct any clear wrongdoing. If face-to-face, phone, or email communications do not achieve the desired result, you should send both units a letter encouraging them to do their best to avoid conflicts and respect each other. If you do not feel like they are listening to you or responding with sufficient concern, you should consider retaining an attorney to write a letter on firm letterhead; sometimes tenants need their landlord to take this step to be taken seriously.

If their lease agreements have a clause regarding nuisance behavior at the property, you can remind them that they agreed to refrain from disturbing their fellow tenants. You should encourage them to use the services of a local dispute resolution service if they have difficulty resolving the dispute on their own, or volunteer to attempt to facilitate the changes necessary to permit them to live in peace. You can suggest that the upstairs tenants remove their shoes while inside, and ask both units for suggestions.

Regarding the property, you should inspect (or hire a professional to inspect) the units to identify likely causes of noise pollution and potential steps to take to reduce the transmission of sound from upstairs to downstairs. (This is also a good time to make sure the upper tenants are not using the hallway as a bowling alley or the living room as a gymnastics studio.)

Although the upper unit is carpeted, the carpet pad, if any, is probably not ideal. Most standard carpet pads are engineered for comfort, with only minimal, incidental reduction of the sound of children jumping off the furniture. You should look for carpet underlays engineered for reduction of sounds transmitted through the air, which reduce both impact and air-based sound transmission, and decide whether you would rather spend that money on sound reduction – or a much larger sum resolving a lawsuit.

© 2019 by Fried & Williams LLP. All Rights Reserved. The information contained in this article is general in nature. For advice on any particular matter, please consult with our attorneys because the facts of your situation may be unique and the law changes from time to time.

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