Renting in the time of Covid: Dealing With Noise & Construction

For most of us Covid-19 that means spending a lot more time at home. It also means being more aware of noise and what is going on in your building. For tenants, this is leading to new problems with neighbors and landlords. So, whether your upstairs neighbor is learning to play the tuba or your landlord is doing construction San Francisco tenants face new challenges. Here’s how to identify if your noise complaint is legitimate and what you can do to address it.

Your Landlord Owes You a Duty of Care

Under California law, your landlord owes you the implied covenant of quiet enjoyment, which gives tenants the right to enjoy their home without substantial interference. This is true regardless of whether it is stated in your lease.

“Substantial interference” can be any activity caused by a landlord or other tenant in your building. Examples of a violation can include your next door neighbor blasting loud music or hosting noisy parties (let’s hope not during shelter in place),or it could be loud construction noise. Noise can be difficult because it is so often about our own personal experience. Unlike finding a hole in your wall, proving that someone’s behavior is interfering with your use of your home can be difficult. Here are some things to think about if you’re dealing with this situation.


Evidence, evidence, evidence


In the situation of a noisy neighbor we still recommend approaching your neighbor directly in a polite manner. If you are worried about your safety do not confront your neighbor. Try not to leave notes or letters as this may create more tension or come off as passive-aggressive.

Assuming that doesn’t work create a paper trail. This can include writing your neighbor or keeping a log of the times when the problem is happening, including what time it occurred, and how long it lasted; taking audio or video recordings; or calling 311 to make a noise complaint. In more extreme situations you may consider hiring an acoustical engineer to take a decibel reading. All of this is important evidence if you ever need to take legal action.


Notify your landlord


If the problems persist contact your landlord about the issue in writing. This can be done by simply sending an email or letter. Try to keep a record of every time you have to contact your landlord. You can also submit a complaint to the Rent Board for a decrease in services (though these can be challenging when noise is concerned). In the case of construction, find out how long the project is going to take. You may try asking to be relocated until the work is completed or getting a discount on rent.

Notify the City

In the case of construction issues you may need to contact the city’s Department of Building Inspection to file a complaint. Certain construction projects require building permits. If your landlord failed to obtain a building permit for the work they may be violating the law. A building inspector can inspect the property to determine if any work violates the city’s building code. As a result your landlord may be required to stop the construction work or change their approach to ensure that it is safe. 


Taking Legal Action


If the problems continue and are severe, you may have grounds to pursue legal action against your landlord. This can take several forms, the most extreme of which is to move out of your home and sue your landlord for damages. This is known as a “constructive eviction.” If you live in a rent-controlled apartment you may be entitled to substantial damages if you are forced out of your home due to unreasonable living conditions.  


Know your rights


While we are all living in unprecedented times, excessive noise can make the situation even more difficult to bear. If the noise continues and your landlord has failed to resolve it you may have grounds to sue your landlord for damages. Contact us for more information about your rights.