Every residential lease in California has one thing in common—the right of the tenant to quietly enjoy and use the property without interference. This so-called “covenant of quiet enjoyment” is implied in every lease agreement, whether or not it’s specifically written in. California is one of the few states to set it in stone in its civil code.
If a landlord violates this right by harassing a tenant, constantly entering their apartment without permission, or failing to provide basic services, they can be sued and may have to refund part or all of a tenant’s rent. The covenant of quiet enjoyment goes a long way toward protect tenants, but it can be difficult to prove the landlord was in violation.
Tenants have a right to enjoy their property without interference
Under the covenant of quiet enjoyment, tenants have the right to enjoy and use their property as agreed upon without the landlord interfering.1 That means the landlord can't disturb the tenant by doing such things as entering the unit without notice, harassing the tenant, violating the tenant’s privacy, or constantly creating noise near the unit.
In turn, the tenant can't use the property for illegal purposes or reasons other than indicated in the lease. Also, the tenant must have a valid lease in order to claim the landlord breached the covenant of quiet enjoyment.
Landlord interference has to be substantial to violate the covenant
If a landlord does disturb the tenant, by, for example, entering the unit once or twice without notice, that alone is not enough. For a tenant to claim that a landlord violated their right to quiet enjoyment, the interference must be substantial and not just an inconvenience or annoyance.2
Examples of interferences that may violate the covenant of quiet enjoyment include the landlord:3
- Not letting the tenant onto the property
- Physically removing the tenant
- Trying to rent the property to another person
- Threatening the tenant
- Shutting off utilities
- Invading the tenant’s privacy
Actions that breach a tenant’s warranty of habitability, such as faulty wiring or lack of hot water, may also violate their covenant of quiet enjoyment.
A third party could violate the covenant of quiet enjoyment
It’s not just a landlord who can violate the covenant of quiet enjoyment. If a neighbor or other tenant substantially interferes with the tenant’s right to use or enjoy their property, a claim can still be made against the landlord.
Courts have found, for example, that a landlord failing to fix ventilation problems caused by an attached business violated a tenant’s right to quiet enjoyment of their property.4 They have also found that a landlord failing to intervene when one tenant verbally and physically harassed another breached the covenant of quiet enjoyment.5
To claim a third-party violation of the covenant of quiet enjoyment, the landlord must have some control over the third party—such as a noisy neighbor in the same building who constantly plays the drums at night. If the disturbance happens across the street in another building the landlord doesn’t manage, a claim can’t be made against the landlord.
Tenants can sue their landlord for a rent refund
If a landlord does breach the covenant of quiet enjoyment, there are several things a tenant can do:6
- Request in writing that the landlord stop the violation
- Sue the landlord for breach of contract
Move out of the unit and sue the landlord for any damages (sometimes referred to as "constructive eviction")
If the tenant does sue, the landlord may have to refund part or all of the tenant’s rent for the period of time during which the covenant was violated.
In certain parts of California, a landlord may also have to pay the tenant additional money if they breach the covenant of quiet enjoyment in bad faith, or on purpose. In San Francisco, for example, a landlord may have to pay monetary damages for emotional and mental injury, triple damages, and attorneys’ fees.7
The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice.