Co-tenants in British Columbia recently won a rent abatement — plus damages for their trouble — in a dispute over a construction project at their apartment building.
Four or five weeks into a year-long tenancy, the tenants’ patio and bedroom windows were blocked by scaffolding. The tenants said they had no prior notice of the project, which is expected to continue for seven months or more.
The tenants claimed that, had they been made aware of the scheduled exterior remodel, they would not have rented the apartment. After negotiations with the property owner failed, the tenants brought the case seeking compensation for their distress and inconvenience.
The case highlights the need for rental property owners to understand the rules when it comes to protecting tenants’ quiet enjoyment and privacy, especially over summer months when many remodeling projects are completed.
One significant aspect of this case is the way it reveals the nexus between a landlord’s duty concerning habitability of the rental property, and that of quiet enjoyment. Rather than being completely distinct obligations, these duties interrelate. Landlords not only must provide safe and habitable premises, but also rentals free from unreasonable disturbances. For instance, deterioration of the building easily can erode a tenant’s quiet enjoyment and comfort, giving rise to a claim for rent abatement.
At the same time, landlords must balance the need to maintain the property against an individual tenant’s right to enjoy the property undisturbed. Even if the landlord has made every effort to minimize disruptions, the tenant may still be entitled to compensation for loss of quiet enjoyment.
Carefully planning those maintenance tasks and forewarning tenants may reduce the likelihood of a legal dispute.
In this case, the tenants lost the ability to open bedroom windows in a unit with no air conditioning, had to keep the curtains closed all day to maintain privacy, couldn’t access the patio, and had difficulty talking on the telephone during the day.
When calculating damages for such cases, arbitrators take into account the length of time of the disturbance, and the seriousness of the interference. In addition to a 20 per cent rent abatement for each month of construction, the tenants in this case were awarded aggravated damages in the amount of $2,000 after it was determined that the landlord had intentionally withheld notice in order to secure a full-price lease agreement.
As a result, the tenants will not be paying rent this summer, and the landlord has lost profits.
There are any number of circumstances that can infringe on a tenant’s right to quiet enjoyment. In addition to construction, common complaints include noisy neighbours, secondhand cigarette smoke exposure, and unannounced or unnecessary landlord visits. Taking steps to avoid these claims will minimize income loss for landlords.
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Disclaimer: The information provided in this post in not intended to be construed as legal advice, nor should it be considered a substitute for obtaining individual legal counsel or consulting your local, state, federal or provincial tenancy laws.