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Do tenants have the right to be free of noise from laundry rooms?

Question: I live in a property with four rental cottages. There is a laundry room next to my cottage; in fact, it is part of the structure. I knew the laundry room was nearby when I signed a one-year lease, but what I didn't expect was that the other tenants would do their laundry at all hours of day and night. When someone uses the washer and dryer at 2 in the morning, I lose several hours of sleep. This happens quite often. I know that laundry privileges are included in every rental agreement for the tenants on the property, but do I have any right to insist that the room be closed at certain hours?

Answer: California law implies a promise that residential tenants will be able to live in their rental property, protected by a covenant of "quiet enjoyment."

This right to quiet enjoyment is not described in detail because it is intended to create a general right to enjoy one's tenancy in reasonable peace and quiet. This right to quiet enjoyment requires a balance between the needs of tenants living at the same property with different lifestyles.

In the circumstances you describe, the question would be whether disturbing you to use the laundry equipment in the middle of the night is an unreasonable infringement on your peace and quiet versus a limitation on laundry hours that would infringe on the right of other tenants to do laundry at a time that works best for them.

If you read this column regularly, you know that we often recommend mediation as an alternative to litigation or other adversarial methods to resolve disputes. Your situation is particularly suited for a mediation type of approach.

Mediation could bring the other tenants together with you to work out reasonable ground rules for use of the laundry room, balancing the needs of everyone. This approach should be appealing to your landlord, who would otherwise be caught in the middle of competing demands from you versus the other tenants.

Contact your local mediation program to see if it can help. If there is no mediation program available, or the other tenants won't cooperate, tell your landlord that your right to quiet enjoyment is being violated, which would be a violation of your lease.

The landlord would need to unilaterally impose new rules for the laundry room or risk a claim from you for the resulting damages or risk a decision by you to consider breaking your lease. But before breaking a lease, you would need to show you took every reasonable step to rectify the violation, because a judge would need to be convinced that this violation of your right to quiet enjoyment was truly unbearable and that no other remedy was available to you.

Van Deursen is director of Dispute Resolution Programs for Project Sentinel, a Bay Area nonprofit. Send questions to info@housing.org.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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