Nasty neighbor ruins the covenant of quiet
Here’s a dubious new case about two quarreling tenants in a mobile home park. The principle of law applies in any landlord-tenant situation with multiple tenants. Quarreling neighbors The Andrews leased a space in Mobile Aire Estates mobile home park. William Molyneux leased the adjacent space. According to the Andrews, Molyneux was far from neighborly. According to the Andrews, their neighbor repeatedly splashed mud on their newly-washed cars, aimed a video camera into their living room, subjected them to a racial epithet and other verbal abuse, tried to run them down in his car, instigated an altercation over fencing and constantly hassled them. Between the Andrews and Molyneux, more than 50 calls were made to the Covina Police Department.The Mobile Aire park management adopted a policy of staying out of tenant disputes, encouraging tenants to call the police if they had a problem with a fellow resident. Mobile home park suedThe Andrews finally had enough. They sued Molyneux for battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress. They sued Mobile Aire and its managers for “negligence in failing to exercise reasonable care in managing the park” and for breach of contract for a violation of the covenant of quiet enjoyment. The what?Covenant of quiet enjoymentMany leases have a paragraph called a covenant of quiet enjoyment, usually in the so-called boilerplate toward the end of the lease. In any event, a covenant of quiet enjoyment is implied in every lease.An express or implied covenant of quiet enjoyment guarantees the tenant’s right to use and enjoy the leased property. It protects the tenant from the landlord and his or her agents as well as from other tenants. The interference must be substantial. Minor inconveniences and annoyances are not breach of the covenant of quiet enjoyment.If there is a breach of quiet enjoyment, the tenant has the right to stay in possession and sue for damages or may vacate and sue for damages.The question in this case was whether it could be said that the park owner’s failure to take action against Molyneux breached the Andrews’ right to be left alone and unbothered in their mobile home space.Knowing how difficult it is to evict a mobile home tenant – there are very specific, enumerated causes to evict mobile home tenants – I sympathize with the landlord who faces a Hobson’s choice.Evict and get sued or don’t evict and get sued. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.RulingThe court of appeal overturned the trial court and found that because of the covenant of quiet enjoyment a mobile home park owner cannot disregard conduct by a tenant upon the park premises that constitutes a substantial annoyance to other homeowners or residents. The park owner must conduct an investigation, issue warnings, seek an injunctive relief, evict the tenant or take some appropriate action to stop the substantial annoyance of another tenant.The lesson for the landlord is to take some affirmative action – don’t just ignore substantial tenant misbehavior against another tenant. Jim Porter is an attorney with Porter • Simon, with offices in Truckee, South Lake Tahoe and Reno. He is a mediator and was the governor’s appointee to the Bipartisan McPherson Commission and the California Fair Political Practices Commission. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at the firm’s Web site http://www.portersimon.com.
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