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Noisy Neighbors and Massachusetts law

I moved into a house that was made into two apartments, and I am on the bottom floor. I hear every single footstep on the floor above me. It doesn't help that 4 people live up there on different schedules so the noise is never ending-late at night past 1:00 and earlier then 5:00am. I hear conversations, thudding, and it's driving me crazy. Is there a Massachusetts law related to adequate noise insulation in rental units? -- (Posted my Coleen on the Forum Chat Room.)


My wife and I moved into a fourth floor apartment with hardwood floors. We were unpacking until around midnight on a Saturday night when someone began pounding on the door and demanding we keep quiet. Since then we've made a real effort to be quiet, but recently I got a letter from him complaining that he could hear us walking around after 11pm one night (my wife was preparing her clothes for a business trip). Are there any laws in Massachusetts that regulate what time you have to stop walking around your house? (Posted on the Forum Chat Room by Gatorfan.)


Editor's response re quiet enjoyment:


Generally, in situations where other tenants are making unreasonable amounts of noise (late parties, loud television, etc.), to the point that it interferes with your quite enjoyment of your unit, the landlord has an obligation to act, either by convincing the other tenants to behave or by evicting them. If the landlord does nothing, even after you have notified her of the problem (in writing, with dates), then you have options.

For example, you may sue your landlord in small claims court for damages caused by her failure to protect your quiet enjoyment.  The landlord's failure to act may violate MA general laws Chapter 186, Section 14.  You might also ask the district or housing court to issue a temporary restraining order requiring your landlord to address the noise problem. Or you could seek an order requiring the offending tenants to cease their loud behavior.  (Section 14 says, in relevant part: any lessor or landlord who directly or indirectly interferes with the quiet enjoyment of any residential premises by the occupant, or who attempts to regain possession of such premises by force without benefit of judicial process, shall be punished by a fine of not less than twenty-five dollars nor more than three hundred dollars, or by imprisonment for not more than six months. Any person who commits any act in violation of this section shall also be liable for actual and consequential damages or three month’s rent, whichever is greater, and the costs of the action, including a reasonable attorney’s fee, all of which may be applied in setoff to or in recoupment against any claim for rent owed or owing.  Because of the provision re attorney's fees, it may be cost effective to get an attorney involved)

Finally, you can seek to end your tenancy. With a tenancy at will, you would give thirty day’s notice to the landlord. With a lease, the safest way to end your obligation is to get permission from the court (based on the landlord’s failure to protect your quiet enjoyment) or from the landlord (by getting her to sign an "Acceptance of Surrender," a signed statement in which she says: "I, [landlord's name], by signing below, accept the surrender of [your name] effective on a given date).

However, the key term in this answer is “unreasonable.” The sound of feet coming from an upper level apartment is a normal and expected consequence of living in multi-unit building. Is Gatorfan’s neighbor suggesting that he MUST be in bed by 10:00 p.m.? For both of you, I would start by talking to the landlord and seeing if he/she is willing to talk to the other tenant or to consider padded carpet or some other means of deadening the noise. Coleen, you need to make sure the landlord understands that if the problem is not resolved you will attempt to terminate your tenancy. And Gatorfan, you should give your landlord the option of doing something about the floor or telling the downstairs neighbor to back off.

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