Noisy Neighbors: Dealing with Lease Problems Next Door

by Lisa Brennan

“Good fences make good neighbors” or so said Robert Frost. But we cannot all live in the bucolic setting imagined by Robert Frost. In shared commercial spaces, navigating relationships with your neighbors can go a few different ways especially when a fence is not an option. Ideally, all parties are friendly, supportive, and considerate as they mutually operate their respective businesses. Or at the very least, co-exist peacefully.

This is not always the case and disruptive businesses and their customers can suddenly impact yours. So, what is the business owner to do?  And what duty does a landlord have to its tenants for the actions of its neighbors? To the dismay of many commercial tenants, a commercial landlord does not owe any duty to its tenants for the actions of neighbors or any other third parties. This often arises in shared spaces like shopping centers. Typical complaints include noise issues or loitering by another businesses’ customers.

Landlord Duties to Manage Their Tenants

A commercial landlord owes very few duties to their tenants, but they do owe a duty of “quiet enjoyment” to their tenants. It is easy to take this statement quite literally. Afterall, it is right in the name – why wouldn’t quiet enjoyment protect me from noisy neighbors? Or from a neighbor otherwise interfering with my right to use my property? But “quiet” enjoyment does not promise actual quiet. It simply means that your landlord will not interfere with your use and enjoyment of the premises. And if a lively nightclub moves in next to your business, you may not actually have much recourse against your landlord.

This lack of duty can cause problems for commercial tenants, especially if a neighbor causes disturbances to your business operations. So, what steps can a business owner take to best protect themselves?

Protecting Your Business Before Signing a Lease

The best time to find out about potential problems with your neighbors is before you move into the neighborhood. If you are getting ready to sign your lease agreement, ask some questions: Who are your neighbors? How long have they been in business? Are there any changes or developments planned to the neighborhood? Where you do business and invite your customers to do business with you is one of the most important decisions you will make when starting a business. To the extent that you can thoroughly investigate not just your space, but the character of the overall neighborhood before signing on to a long-term lease agreement will be to your benefit.

Even if you have undertaken all due diligence prior to signing a lease, things can always change. Therefore, it is important to negotiate as many lease protections as possible at the beginning. For example, does your lease agreement specifically addressed noise or actions of your neighbors? What are your rights?

Neighborly relationships are something that many tenants do not think about when they are initially signing and negotiating their lease. However, the best time to bring it up is at the time the lease is negotiated, adding protective language about what to do about disruptive neighbors or restrictions regarding the type of neighbors that are allowed to sign a lease agreement in the same shopping center as you in the first place. Ideally, the landlord will agree to additional responsibilities at the outset to ensure a peaceful tenancy for all tenants.

Options If You Already Have a Lease

Communication With Your Neighbor

If there is nothing in the lease agreement itself, the best option in the short-term is typically to try to work it out before pursuing any other remedies. Approach your neighbor with the issue(s) that are bothering you and impacting you as a business owner. Maybe there are mitigation efforts that the neighbor could easily make to peacefully co-exist.  For example, while a bar probably knows that it is loud, maybe they can turn the music down, add some soundproofing materials or move a speaker from a shared wall.

Communication with your Landlord

If talks with your neighbor do not yield any positive results, it is helpful to bring your landlord into the conversation and appeal to their business sense. While no affirmative duty may exist, most landlords want their tenants (and the tenant’s customers) to enjoy the space productively and profitably. A bothersome tenant in the shopping center may impact this ability to maintain profitability.

Local Laws and Ordinances

Most jurisdictions have zoning laws and noise ordinances and measures that can be taken to address issues that are a nuisance to the community as a whole and not just you as a neighbor. While this doesn’t address the Irish step dance studio that has classes at the same time as your gentle yoga studio class, it is an avenue to address more grievous concerns that are in violation of the law.

If you need further guidance on your rights and duties as a tenant under your commercial lease or help negotiating a fair lease agreement in the first place, contact Way Law today!