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What Is the Covenant of Quiet Enjoyment?

The covenant of quiet enjoyment is an implied term in every residential lease in the United States. It prohibits a landlord from interfering with a tenant's use of a rental unit.

“Quiet enjoyment” refers to a tenant’s right to spend time in their rental without being disturbed. The term itself can be confusing. “Quiet” does not necessarily mean without noise. It means without interference. Enjoyment does not mean that the rental is necessarily pleasurable or comfortable, but that a tenant can use and benefit from it.

The right exists in every lease agreement, even if it’s not explicitly mentioned. The specifics also vary depending on the state—choose your state from the drop-down menu at the top of the page to find out more about the laws where you live.

The covenant of quiet enjoyment can be breached by a landlord

A landlord is violating the covenant if they're letting anything happen that:

  • Prevents a tenant from accessing their unit
  • Damages the property
  • Disturbs a tenant’s ability to use all of their unit in any way

If a landlord threatens eviction, they're definitely violating the law. Any attempt to force entry without a tenant's permission or without giving proper notice could be construed as a violation of the covenant—as well as self-help eviction methods, which are also illegal.

A landlord’s action must be intentional to be considered a breach

The landlord has to have interfered with the property on purpose, otherwise it's probably not a breach of the covenant. In 1987, a tenant in Wisconsin tried claiming a breach of the covenant when an accidental fire damaged their rental and they had to move out. The court ruled that it wasn’t a breach because the fire wasn’t intentional.1

Something similar happened in Tennessee in 1990. A landlord hired a roofing contractor to fix a leak. The contractor made a mistake and caused water damage to the rental unit, interfering with the tenant’s ability to use the space. But since that interference was the contractor’s fault—the work the landlord ordered could have been feasibly accomplished without bothering the tenant—the court said that the landlord wasn’t liable.2

In both cases, the landlords definitely interfered with their tenants' ability to use the space, but it wasn't deliberate.

The issue must interfere with a tenant’s “expected use”

In other words, if a tenant plans on using their kitchen to cook delicious meals and something happens which stops them from being able to use the kitchen for cooking, then it's interfering with their "expected use" of the rental when they signed the lease.

Most of the previous court cases on this topic are from commercial leases. For example, in 1976 in Pennsylvania, a dry cleaning store claimed that the landlord breached the covenant by building a structure around the store so that it was harder for potential customers to spot the store or park near it. The judge agreed with the store—it was a breach because it interfered with the tenant’s anticipated use of the premises.3

It’s not a breach if the landlord tried to prevent it

If a landlord made good faith efforts to stop the disturbance from happening—even if they weren’t totally successful—then they're probably not violating the covenant.

In one example from 1987, a Georgia landlord began construction on an office building. An accounting firm that leased an office in the building complained about the noise. The landlord proved that they had designed the construction work so as to minimize disruption of the tenant’s businesses, so the court found that the covenant wasn’t breached.4

Tenants can claim constructive eviction if there’s been a breach

Tenants can claim constructive eviction, stop paying rent, and leave the rental unit if their landlord is clearly in violation of the covenant of quiet enjoyment. At that point, the landlord can sue the tenant for damages—at which point the tenant would have to prove the breach in court. What’s considered a violation is relatively arbitrary in most states, so it’s recommended tenants consult with a lawyer before taking this step.

[1] Dane Radebaugh v. Wausau Underwriters Insurance Company (2017)]

[2] Marshalls of Nashville v. Harding Mall, 799 S.W.2d 239 (1990)

[3] Pollock v. Morelli, 245 Pa. Superior Ct. 388 (1976)

[4] Hardwick, Cook & Co. v. 3379 Peachtree, Ltd., 184 Ga. App. 822 (1987)

The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice.