Turn that music down!

The guy in the next apartment plays electric bass. We're about to lose our minds -- and our security deposit.

By Cary Tennis

Published September 1, 2004 7:00PM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

My wife and I moved into a great apartment three months ago. It was quiet at a good price, in a great city, great neighborhood, on the fifth floor of a building with an elevator. We signed a one-year lease. When we moved in, the apartment next to ours was empty -- and here appeareth The Catch. Our new neighbors moved in two months ago and are horrendous. They blast their music at all hours, every day. The guy plays electric bass at high volume for hours on end. The girl keeps her high heels on and clacks around the apartment all weekend while my wife and I sit in our apartment with hot faces, plotting their murders.

We've tried everything: Talking with them, note writing, banging on the walls, raising our own music -- but to no effect. In fact our complaining seems to have only provoked them, and now they're even louder than before.

The landlord has been unresponsive -- saying, in so many words, that there's nothing he can do about it. I can't imagine another nine months in this place, but if we break the lease not only will we lose the security deposit but also the landlord recommendation -- neither of which we can afford. What would you do in this situation? And what thoughts can I think to keep myself from hating my neighbors? I feel like they're not even worth hating and yet I seethe every time their bass starts shaking our walls.

Had It

Dear Had It,

The first thing I would do is look carefully at your lease. It should have a provision that prohibits disruptive behavior. In California, for instance, it would read something like this (from the Nolo Press "Landlord's Law Book"): "Tenants shall be entitled to quiet enjoyment of the premises ... Tenants and their guests or invitees shall not use the premises or adjacent areas in such a way as to: ... (3) annoy, disturb, inconvenience or interfere with the quiet enjoyment and peace and quiet of any other tenant or nearby resident."

If your lease has such a provision, then presumably your neighbor's does as well. So if your landlord says he can't do anything, he's just lying. Of course he can do something. He can enforce the lease. So I suggest you complain again, in writing; quote the relevant part of the lease and ask your landlord to enforce it. Keep a copy of your letter.

It's possible that he just doesn't want to do anything. Some landlords are like that. You could point out to him that it's in his best interest to enforce the lease, lest his failure to enforce some provisions of it weaken his case to enforce other provisions. You could argue with him till you're blue in the face (do this with a mirror handy, so you know when to quit). But if he doesn't want to enforce the lease, you're going to have a hard time persuading him to.

The point is, though, to build a logically consistent case that your next landlord, if he is honest and reasonable, ought to understand: You broke the lease because, in spite of your repeated requests, your landlord refused to hold up his part of the bargain -- which was to provide a place of "quiet enjoyment."

I don't think a good landlord would hold it against you if you chose to break the lease under these circumstances. If I were you, I would sit down and write out a description of your situation. Then go look for a new place. When you find one you like, include your written description of your current situation on the application, along with, if possible, a positive recommendation from a prior landlord.

You may end up having to move and losing some or all of your deposit, but I don't think that your experience with this landlord should unduly affect your ability to present yourself as a worthy tenant to your new landlord. Landlords try to make smart decisions about the people they rent to. If you give them a coherent, reasonable story, it should be clear that you're not a potential problem tenant but a person who was victimized by an irresponsible landlord.

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