Outline of Tenant Rights During Construction
When a rental property begins to undergo a construction process, this is typically treated as a special circumstance by the leasing agreement. Landlords have a right and often a duty to repair the property so that it is safe and secure to inhabit. Unless the work is being completed within the interior of the rental unit, there may be very few remedies available to the situation from a tenant's rights perspective. If, however, the construction interferes with the quiet enjoyment of the property outside of the confines of health and security, then this may entitle a tenant to break the lease and seek out financial assistance from the landlord because of it.
What Can a Tenant Request if Breaking a Lease?
If construction allows a tenant to break their lease, then there are numerous ways a landlord may be required to compensate the tenant for their trouble.
Relocation Assistance. Landlords may be required to pay for moving costs and other fees associated with a tenant moving to a new residence. If the relocation is temporary, a landlord may be required to pay for hotel fees or the costs of moving to a new rental unit until the primary unit has been repaired.
Rent Reduction. Some jurisdictions allow a tenant dealing with ongoing construction to be entitled to a reduction in the amount of rent that is owed.
Actual Damages. If a landlord has permitted a tenant to operate a business out of the rental property and the construction impacts that business, then a tenant may be entitled to claim actual damages and losses that they have experienced.
The quiet enjoyment of a rental property is a rather vague term, which means each circumstance is evaluated on its own. For someone who is single, working full-time, and rarely home except for the weekends, then no accommodations may be required for construction that happens on weekdays while the tenant is at work. On the other hand, if a tenant has four children that are all under the age of 5, works full-time at home with an approved business, and has limited access to their rental unit because of the construction, the tenant may be able to make several claims. This is especially true if the tenant can provide evidence that the landlord was aware of their living situation. If the quiet enjoyment stipulation is violated, a tenant may have the right to sue for the nuisance that has been caused by the construction. Some jurisdictions allow for a breach of contract lawsuit. The construction company, each contractor, and even the laborers may also be allowed.
How Are These Two Rights Balanced?
There must be some give and take from both parties when there is construction involved with a rental unit. Some jurisdictions do have specific policies and procedures to follow, but in general, the need to repair a property becomes a negotiating point in combination with the quiet enjoyment of the rental. Normally a conversation or two regarding the situation can balance out each right so that everyone feels like they come out ahead. If a landlord serves a notice on a tenant to temporarily vacate the premises without compensation, however, many landlord/tenant laws allow this notice to be ignored. It is considered a breach of the contract to force a tenant to move when they have a valid right to be there. If a landlord attempts to force a tenant out, even temporarily, then the only allowable method is typically to pay for all expenses during the construction period, including food and incidental expenses, while giving the tenant a time to return. A 60 day notice for this type of temporary move is usually required as well. Tenants may also have the right to call out building inspectors to determine if the building is remaining up to code during the construction process. If the housing is deemed to be uninhabitable, then the landlord may have 24 hours to rectify the situation or risk the lease being broken with cause, meaning a tenant may be able to gain their full deposit back unless there are provable tenant-caused repairs that must be made.
For the most part, landlords should generally work on rental properties when there are no tenants in a unit to prevent this situation from ever occurring. When emergency repairs are required or a unit needs to be updated, however, it pays to give tenants as much notice as possible and make it worth their while to put up with the noise if the problem isn't their fault. Otherwise that construction cost might not be the only charge that has to be paid.
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