Q: My husband and I moved into the bottom floor of a four-unit building in Minneapolis about six weeks ago. From the very first day our upstairs neighbor has played loud music between the hours of 7:30 a.m. and 10 p.m. It is loud enough to be heard on the street when her windows are open. She also plays piano and guitar during the evenings. We can hear her singing along and sometimes dancing. We’ve spoken to her twice in person, and she has brushed us off. Our knocking on her door when we knew she was home went ignored.
When I called the management office to see if she had a history of complaints, I was told there were no previous complaints but that they would be happy to call her on my behalf. I declined at the time since I wanted to work it out with her in person. Then, on Halloween night I went upstairs to ask her to turn her music down and a note was taped to her door stating, “I am WORKING. For no reason will you knock on my door.” I was put off by her note, but didn’t knock and left a note instead. The next day, I found the note torn up in the building’s common area. The music continued to play, so I called the rental office and asked them to remedy the situation. I got a rather cold reception and was told that this neighbor has been part of their community for over five years with no complaints against her. I told them that I was complaining, and that if we had known we were moving in under an alleged music studio we would’ve found another place to live. I also explained about the loudness of the music, and they responded by saying it was only for a couple of hours a night. I was told that I had no recourse, but our landlord would release us from our lease if we wanted to move. Apparently, our neighbor had already been in to complain about us knocking on her door and had another neighbor in the building vouch for her, saying the music wasn’t loud at all. However, the neighbor who vouched for her has an apartment that is farther away from the music. My husband and I are faced with the choice of moving again, only six weeks after we moved into this apartment, or putting up with the noise until we find a house to purchase. We have a six-month lease on this apartment and are dreading having to look for another apartment and signing a longer lease. However, searching for a home and navigating a mortgage will not be a fast affair. In the meantime, I feel there is nothing we can do to stop her. Last night I spent the entire evening in my bedroom to avoid hearing Dolly Parton for three hours straight. Is there anything we can do about this situation?
A: In Minnesota, there is no bright line law or rule that applies in this instance. There is an implied covenant of habitability and quiet enjoyment in every lease, which means the tenant is promised the right to undisturbed use and enjoyment of their apartment (please note, this does not mean that the tenant is entitled to absolute quiet). The covenant of habitability and quiet enjoyment means the landlord promises that during the term of the renter’s tenancy, nobody will disturb the tenant’s use and enjoyment of the apartment, and that the unit will be fit for its intended use.
Both you and your neighbor have an implied covenant of habitability and quiet enjoyment, which for your neighbor includes being able to play and listen to her music in her apartment. The problem is that your neighbor’s music is interfering with your ability to live in and use the property. You handled the situation well by first contacting your neighbor regarding her music, and then contacting your landlord about the noise when your neighbor wouldn’t cooperate. Unfortunately, your neighbor doesn’t seem willing to listen or work out a resolution with you. Your landlord should remedy the situation, which it seems they attempted by offering you the right to terminate your lease with no penalty. However, your landlord could also try to mediate the situation by meeting with you and your noisy neighbor to work out an agreeable solution for both tenants. However, unless you can prove that your neighbor’s noise is disturbing or violating the noise ordinances, there is no legal requirement that your landlord do anything. The problem with your landlord siding with your neighbor is that the noise problem will continue for whoever rents your apartment when you move out. In most cities, including Minneapolis, there are noise ordinances, and if the music can be heard on the street when your neighbor’s window is open, she may be in violation of the city noise ordinance. Playing music in your apartment is acceptable, but not when the music is so loud it interferes with the neighbor’s quiet enjoyment.
You should start documenting the days and evenings when the music is disturbing you and your husband. The next time you experience an immediate noise problem with your neighbor, call the police at 911 and report the noise problem. According to some city ordinances, when a person in a property is conducting activity that is not compatible for the neighbors, noise measurements are made to determine a violation. If you don’t want to call the police, then call Minneapolis 311 or complete the online Environmental Management Complaint Form located at http://www.ci.minneapolis.mn.us/environment/environmental-complaint. This is a service that will deal with your noise complaint in the city of Minneapolis. Sometimes, landlords will agree to move tenants in your situation to another apartment in the building, but since there are only four apartments in your building, that might not be an option available to you right now. If a unit opens up in your building, make sure your landlord knows you want to move into it for the remainder of your lease. You should tell your landlord that you would like a reduction of rent for the rest of your lease or until you find another apartment or house. Then, make sure to get the agreement for lower rent and early termination of your lease with no penalty in writing and signed by you and your landlord.
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, 650 3rd Av. S., Minneapolis, MN 55488. Information provided by readers is not confidential.