Housing Woes and Resolutions

An unexpected letter from our landlords ended up teaching me a lot about landlord-tenant rights.

Two Fridays ago, I opened up our mailbox and saw a letter from our landlord, which is probably never a good thing. I opened the letter (with trepidation) and read the following:

“…you are hereby notified that you are in default of your lease…in regard to the following: 

Point #11. USE: Tenant shall not disturb, annoy, endanger or interfere with other Tenants of the building…

Remedy: Family noises, such as crying, jumping, stomping, must cease, as these actions are disturbing Tenants.”

I don’t cry very often, but this letter released the waterworks. It had already been such an awful week, and now it sounded like we could get kicked out of our apartment! Just in time for the holidays!

Our downstairs neighbor had approached us a few days before saying he was unable to sleep due to Joss’s crying at night and loud playing. This was at noon on a Saturday. Let me tell you: Yes, Joss does occasionally cry at night, but it is a rare occurrence. He goes to bed around 8:30 and wakes up anywhere from 5:30 (bleh!) to 6:30. If he cries when he wakes up, it’s because sometimes I am just too groggy to leap out of bed at 5:30, but now that I know this annoys our neighbor, I can try to do better. As long as there’s the promise of coffee and those soothing Netflix shows I mentioned a couple posts ago, I can handle these early mornings. (*snore*)

As far as playing, our new rule is “Jumping is for outside.” I don’t feel like Joss jumps excessively–and he is in daycare all day, M-F–but I can readily admit, since we too have had noisy upstairs neighbors, that our apartments are poorly insulated, and you can hear EVERYthing that happens above you. Which reminds me of this hilarious and painfully familiar YouTube video:

The point is, there are ways to help with the noise levels that aren’t kicking us out of the apartment. We wish our neighbor had approached us before complaining to the landlords because there ARE solutions, even if imperfect ones. I can make sure I leap out of bed at 5:30. We can try to be sensitive to times at which our neighbor is sleeping. We can (my grandma’s suggestion) buy thick rugs for Joss’s room and the living room, where we spend most of our time. On his end, our neighbor could invest in a white noise machine. If you have noise problems with a neighbor, try talking to them respectfully and be willing to make compromises.

But the other point is that the letter we received from our landlord was most likely a violation of the Fair Housing Act. My husband did some research on the Act, my friend asked a neighbor who manages properties, and I spoke with a friend who is a real estate lawyer, albeit not in Oklahoma. All of this research led us to conclude that our landlord should not have used the language they did in the letter and that we could not be legally evicted based on the complaint issued. And this is why I wanted to write this post, because I didn’t know, on receiving that letter, what our family’s legal rights were. My gut instinct was that it has to be unfair to kick a family out of their apartment because they have a child who cries occasionally and may get a little rambunctious during the day, but I didn’t know. Did our landlords have the right to terminate our lease over this?

The Fair Housing Act protects families against discrimination. Landlords can’t refuse to rent to people with children or who plan on having children (unless the housing complex is specifically designated as being for older persons like a retirement community), nor can they refuse to rent second- or third-floor apartments to families. They can’t charge higher rents to families with children. And they can’t kick families out if a neighbor complains about their children making a reasonable amount of noise.

According to housing.org,

“Generally, children must be allowed to make a reasonable amount of noise for their age, the activity and time of day. Babies cry, and kids run and scream when playing outside, and in most cases, they shouldn’t be punished for doing so. Lease violations should only be issued when the noise is unreasonable, and if an adult tenant would be evicted if [they] were making a similar amount of noise.”

And according to an article on realtor.com,

“The Fair Housing Act generally prohibits discrimination on the basis of familial status by housing providers,” says David Reiss, research director at the Center for Urban Business Entrepreneurship at Brooklyn Law School. This is also true for common interest communities such as those under the mandates of HOAs [Home Owner Associations]. “So, if a CIC discriminated against a family with children by unreasonably requiring that infants only cry softly or not at all, it could run afoul of the FHA.”

Maybe our neighbor would argue that Joss makes an unreasonable amount of noise, but again: he generally sleeps through the night without crying, and he is usually gone during the day. Yes, I’m biased, but in my opinion, he makes a completely reasonable amount of noise.

A service that was recommended to us by multiple people while we were trying to resolve this situation is Legal Aid, which has an office in downtown Tulsa. Legal Aid provides legal help to people who cannot afford to hire a lawyer, and there is also a lot of good information on their website, www.oklaw.org. If you find yourself in a situation in which you think your landlord has violated your rights as a tenant, go to www.legalaidok.org to apply for help.

We didn’t end up needing legal help. This is what we did: 1) I kept a sleep/cry log for Joss. This showed that he most often goes to sleep without crying and does not wake up with excessive crying. 2) After gathering information, Daniel went to have a respectful conversation with our landlords. He explained the situation, showed them the sleep log and informed them that he felt the letter they sent violated the Fair Housing Act. He also reminded them that we have only had one written complaint in our 3.5 years living at this apartment and have always paid our rent on time (or, more often, in advance). They were very understanding and my husband left the meeting feeling as though we could happily continue renting our apartment for at least the time being.

Other advice we received was: 1) Get any promises from the landlord in writing. 2) Send a letter via certified mail to the landlord explaining that we have longevity as  tenants and have never received any other complaints.

I’m not going to lie: Living in an apartment with a kid isn’t ideal. But we’re not ready to take on the responsibility of owning a house. Life’s busy and has enough stresses already. Our rent is reasonable, we’re in a great location, and until this point we hadn’t had any troubles with the landlord. While we don’t have a fenced-in yard, there are multiple parks within walking distance. It’s just nice to know that we shouldn’t have to worry about being kicked out because Joss is a kid who acts like a kid.

Have any of you rented apartments with children? Did you ever have noise complaints? If so, how did you handle the situation?

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Categories: Spaghetti on the Wall