The novel issue raised by defendants in this summary dispossess action is whether repeated loud noise can constitute a breach of the implied warranty of habitability in a residential tenancy.
Defendants, residents in a garden-type apartment complex, complained to the landlord on a number of occasions that their upstairs neighbors were making extremely loud noises. The level of the noise was so loud that on one occasion, defendant was unable to study. The landlord testified that on two or three occasions it had requested the upstairs residents to cease the loud noises.
Defendants contend that these efforts by the landlord were unsuccessful and therefore they began in February 1977 to escrow their rent in an effort to compel the landlord to bring a summary dispossess action against the disorderly neighbors.*fn1 Rather than pursuing that course of action, plaintiff commenced this action against defendants to obtain possession of the premises.
The court has concluded that under certain circumstances and conditions, repeated loud noise suffered by a
residential tenant, which could have been cured by a landlord, can be a defense to a dispossess action under the rubric of the warranty of habitability.
There have been numerous statements made by the courts of this State regarding the concept of habitability. However diverse, these declarations all arise from a common source, i.e., the doctrine of constructive eviction. Constructive eviction was an early common law remedy for tenants who, because of breach of a substantial leasehold condition, were deemed "evicted" and hence no longer under an obligation to pay rent.*fn2 The concept of habitability, an implied covenant in every residential lease, was conceived to mitigate the harshness of the constructive eviction doctrine which required the tenant to vacate the premises in order to present this defense.
Returning to the source of the doctrine, constructive eviction is defined in Reste Realty Corp. v. Cooper , 53 N.J. 444 (1969) as follows:
Under this rule any act or omission of the landlord or of anyone who acts under authority or legal right from the landlord * * * which renders the premises substantially unsuitable for the purpose for which they are leased, or which seriously interferes with the beneficial enjoyment of the premises * * * constitutes a constructive eviction of the tenant. [at 457; emphasis supplied; citations omitted]
Residential tenants expect to live within reasonable boundaries of quiet. Continual noise of a loud nature infringes upon those expectations and makes one's premises "substantially unsuitable for the purpose for which they are leased," i.e. , ordinary residential living. Accordingly, this court holds that noise may constitute a constructive eviction and legally justify a tenants vacating.
It follows, a fortiori , that if a condition is substantial enough to constitute a constructive ...