Q The tenants who live above me are notorious for slamming doors, drawers, apparently walking in cement boots and doing something that sounds like bowling late into the night. I have talked with the apartment management several times, and each time I've been told the issue is beyond their control, but that they will send a generic "please-be-courteous-to-your neighbors" notice. The apartment policy is that if you have a problem with a disruptive tenant, you should call the police. When I have called the police late at night, the noise stops for a short period, then resumes a week later. It is up to the police to report back to the management office whether in fact it was a noise disturbance. I find that peculiar; don't you think the police ought to be stopping by my apartment first to hear the disruptions I am dealing with? The management then logs the police findings into the tenant's file. If the complaints exceed more than three official occurrences, the tenant is ousted. So far only one official complaint has been logged.
I have talked with the residents politely about the issue. They either deny it or sarcastically say "Sorry." Their latest excuse was that it was the tenants above them who were making noise. When I asked them whether they truly believed that sound skipped a floor, I got the deer-in-the-headlights look. What action can I take if they do not settle down? Is the apartment management able to enforce any legal measures, or are their hands truly tied?
A Excessive noise from a neighbor is very frustrating. You do have options, none of which are sure things. You can file a nuisance suit against the neighbors for any damages you can prove and possibly get an injunction to stop the noise permanently. This type of lawsuit will cost you a filing fee and attorney's fees, or to save on expenses you could represent yourself. It can take awhile for your case to be heard, and a decision in your favor will revolve around how well you can present evidence of the nuisance.
If you want a quicker resolution, under Minnesota law, you can file a rent-escrow action in housing court. To do this, you need to first send your landlord a written letter stating you need the noise problem fixed. Make sure your letter is dated and signed, and keep a copy for yourself and the court. If the noise continues after 14 days, then file the necessary paperwork with the county in which you live. Most tenants complete the paperwork on their own and represent themselves. In your rent-escrow action, you can ask the court to lower your rent, force the landlord to remedy the noise problem, or even terminate your lease early. When you are filing a rent-escrow action to remedy a noise problem, you are basing it on Minn. Stat. 504B.161, under which the landlord promises your apartment is fit for the intended use. Since the loud noise is occurring at night, your place is not fit for sleeping and may even become uninhabitable.
Another solution would be to ask management to move you to a quieter part of the building. Cases in which one tenant alleges that the landlord needs to stop another tenant from making noise are difficult to prove, and you should know that this will be a hard case to win.
Your apartment management has to recognize your loud neighbors' right to privacy and enjoyment of their apartment, however, they do not have to tolerate loud noises that are disrupting their other tenants. As you indicated yourself, three official police visits or occurrences and the loud tenants may be evicted. You never stated whether or not other neighbors have complained about the noise upstairs. If other neighbors are complaining, it would be a greater incentive on management's part to document the police visits and use that information to evict them. You can also approach your landlord and ask that you be let out of your lease. In rare circumstances, landlords do occasionally let tenants terminate a lease early. If you reach an agreement with your landlord, make sure to get it in writing, and save the document for your records.
Kelly Klein is a Minneapolis attorney. Participation in this column does not create an attorney/client relationship with Klein. Do not rely on advice in this column for legal opinions. Consult an attorney regarding your particular issues. E-mail renting questions to email@example.com, or write to Kelly Klein c/o Star Tribune, 425 Portland Av. S., Minneapolis, MN 55488. Information provided by readers is not confidential.