The Noise From Downstairs Is Terrible. Should I Sue the Landlord?
Q: Last August, a dog day care opened in the retail space below my Williamsburg, Brooklyn rental apartment. Since then, I have endured intolerable noise from barking dogs from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m., while I work from home. I took videos and immediately complained to management. An attempt to soundproof the day care ceiling made things worse. For months, they promised to move me to another apartment, but that never materialized. With my lease ending next month, I asked for compensation for the mental toll this has taken on my well-being. They refused. What I can do?
A: As a tenant, you have a right to the quiet enjoyment of your apartment. That doesn’t mean complete silence, but you are entitled to a reasonable measure of peace. Constant barking certainly makes it difficult to achieve that.
If you still had months left on your lease, your options would be more straightforward. You could negotiate a lease break, or withhold a portion of the rent until you reached an agreement about a rent reduction. But those windows have closed.
At this point, you could cut your losses and move out. If, however, you want to fight this battle simply because the past six months of your life have been disrupted, you do have options.
You could sue the landlord for breaching your right to quiet enjoyment. And you could sue both the landlord and the dog-school owner for creating a private nuisance. If you won, you could collect damages from both parties. But lawsuits are not without headaches. “I’ve heard it said before that litigation is the sport of kings,” said Maxwell Breed, a real estate litigator at the Manhattan law firm Warshaw Burstein. “Are you going to hire an attorney and pay hourly rates to chase after the owner?”
Your damages would be limited — you’re not going to get your entire rent back for those months. And while you’d probably be able to collect legal fees from your landlord if you won, the same would not be true if you sued the tenants.
You might try to negotiate with your landlord one last time. “You have a situation where the owner has acknowledged that there is a problem by trying to fix it,” Mr. Breed said. “Just because you have claims doesn’t mean you should sue them. Having claims means that you negotiate with them.”
Approach the landlord and try to elicit some empathy. Ask to have your moving expenses covered, or to receive a month’s free rent. You could write a bad review of the landlord on social media, although in a tight rental market it may not matter much. So try to persuade the landlord that you’ve been a patient tenant through a miserable experience and you deserve some sort of restitution.
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