The lease sets forth many of the landlord’s contractual obligations to the tenant, but not necessarily all of them. Every lease in the District includes an “implied warranty of habitability.” Thus, whether or not the lease says it, the rental property must meet minimal conditions of safety and livability. Generally, this means that the landlord must maintain the premises in substantial compliance with the District’s housing code.
Under District case law, however, the “warranty of habitability” goes beyond just the property’s physical aspects, and includes the tenant’s right to the “quiet enjoyment” of the rental unit. For example, where the tenant has been subjected to an unreasonably prolonged and noisy construction project in the building, a court will likely hold that the landlord is in breach of the lease.
What else does the “warranty of habitability” cover? The key factor is the reasonable expectations of the parties. Certainly, it is reasonable for a tenant to complain to the landlord about a chronic disturbance caused by another tenant.
It’s also reasonable for the tenant to expect that the landlord will take appropriate actions within the landlord’s capacity. Such actions range from a “cease and desist” request to pursuing eviction on the grounds that the offending tenant is in breach of his or her lease.
In determining how and whether to seek redress, the aggrieved tenant should consider how serious the problem is. If it is serious enough, he or she may go to court and seek injunctive relief against the offending tenant. It is appropriate to call the police in the event of an extreme breach of the peace or a threat to personal safety or property. But if the parties are mutually comfortable doing so, merely discussing the problem may be the way to go. If the offending tenant likes to play recorded music or a musical instrument, and the sound level is questionable, it may be appropriate to measure it to determine whether it exceeds the level permissible under District regulations.
It may also be appropriate for the aggrieved tenant to consider compromises — for example adding “sound buffers” such as carpets and wall-hangings — to minimize the problem.
This column is for informational purposes only. Contact the D.C. Office of the Tenant Advocate if you have any questions about a specific dispute with your landlord.
About the Advocate
The D.C. Office of the Tenant Advocate is an independent agency of the District government providing legal assistance, policy advocacy, education and outreach services to District renters. Learn more and contact the agency at ota.dc.gov or 202-719-6560. The office says it is the first tenant advocacy voice within any state or city government in the U.S.