Is a landlord liable for breach of the covenant of quiet enjoyment if one tenant harasses another and the landlord does not intervene in some way, either by trying to resolve the dispute or by evicting the harassing tenant? To answer this question we must distinguish two types of legal claims. In the first type of claim, the victim of the harassment claims “constructive eviction” and asks to be relieved of her rental obligations by moving out before the end of the term. In the second type of claim, the tenant sues the landlord for monetary damages for failing to protect her from the other tenant’s actions when the landlord had the legal power to evict the harassing tenant for causing a nuisance or otherwise violating the lease terms by disturbing the quiet enjoyment of the neighbor.
Traditionally, the landlord has been held not to be responsible for actions of her tenants. However, the Second Restatement, and some recent cases, provide that the landlord is responsible for tenant harassment when the landlord had the power to evict the harassing tenant and does nothing to protect the victim tenant. Arbern Realty Co. v. Clay Craft Planters Co., Inc., 727 N.Y.S.2d 236, 237 (Sup. Ct. 2001) (landlord’s failure to protect tenant’s access for loading and unloading of trucks and parking from another tenant’s interference was a partial constructive eviction); Restatement (Second) of Property (Landlord and Tenant) §6.1 (1977) (landlord may be liable for constructive eviction for failing to prevent a tenant from interfering with the quiet enjoyment of another tenant).
Some courts, however adhere to the traditional rule and relegate the victim tenant to an independent lawsuit against the harassing tenant either by making a nuisance claim or taking advantage of a state procedural statute that confers remedies to protect people from harassing conduct of others.
A trial court in Massachusetts recently addressed the second type of claim because Massachusetts statutes confer a right of action for damages when a landlord violates the quiet enjoyment of the tenant. In Saucier v. Wald, 2018 Mass. App. Div. 4 (Mass. Dist. Ct. App. Div. 2018), the court held that a landlord is not liable for damages to a tenant when that tenant is the victim of harassing conduct by another tenant. Because direct monetary liability is a greater vulnerability than simply being obligated to let the tenant out of the lease, there may be a reason to treat these two types of cases differently. On the other hand, the fact that a harassing tenant is almost certainly violating express or implied terms in a lease may be viewed as justifiably placing an obligation on the landlord to exercise her right to evict. Her lease with the victim tenant may, in other words, have an implied duty to exercise the right to evict that is based on the lease with the harassing tenant.