Dear PoP – Rights for Renters in a Condo Building

Garbage Men, originally uploaded by Sean Hages.


“Dear PoP,

I’m living downtown in a condo building on the first floor. My apartment is one of the only ones that is rented, so I feel like I’m a “less important” tenant when it comes to the condo board. I have contacted them about this problem already, and they weren’t able to / didn’t want to do anything, but I just wanted to get some reader’s opinions on this.

Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday morning at 7:15 am, the trash guys come and haul up our trash from the basement. This entails them *BANGING* it up the marble stairs, through the lobby, and *BANGING* it down the front door stairs. They take it outside, then they come back in to bang it back down the stairs. This wakes me up 3 times a week, for almost a year now, and I can’t handle it anymore. We have a quiet hour policy that runs 11pm-8am, and I stated that in my e-mails to the condo board, but the only thing they did was tell me to wear earplugs. Fine, I wear earplugs. Doesn’t help since my entire apartment shakes while they are banging garbage cans around. Tenants up to the third floor are also disturbed.

Anyone have any advice on how to approach this? I don’t care if they bang garbage cans around, but do it outside of quiet hours! I respect other tenant’s right to quiet, why can’t our contractors do the same?!”

Wow, I feel the frustration here. Personally I’m most interested to learn about how folks who rent in condo buildings are treated. In this example, I think the condo board’s advice to wear earplugs is preposterous. A buddy of mine rents in a condo building and hasn’t had any problems. Have others who rent in condo buildings felt that their complaints are not heard or respected?

Again, in this instance, it seems you should talk with the other units that are affected by the noise and if they own perhaps they can have a bit more clout resolving the problem. Ear plugs is most definitely not the answer. What do you guys think? Anyone face a similar situation?

31 Comment

  • Stupid frigging proletariat waking me from my 500k downtown, luxury condo slumber. Poor baby.

  • Welcome to living in the city. 7:15 am on a weekday doesn’t strike me as all that early, either.

  • In DC, contractors and service people can make noise anytime after 7 AM. That is the only legal position you have, and they are not in violation. Condo rules apply to condo residents, not to service people, especially trash. The trash has to be collected – the condo probably doesn’t have a lot of control over when it happens.

    I don’t think your status as a renter has a lot to do with this, though in reality, you don’t have any status. Your recourse is really only through the owner of your condo.

    The board’s advice was a little obnoxious. I don’t know why they couldn’t just tell you sorry – it’s just the way it is, there’s nothing to be done. But 7 AM trash pickup is not at all unusual. I lived behind safeway on Columbia Road for 3 years and they had a goddamn trash compactor that went off at ungodly hours. You just deal.

    If it were me, I’d either adjust your schedule 45 minutes (since it sounds like you’d be ok with 8 AM) or move out. Be glad you don’t own the damn thing!! Hmm… maybe that’s why the owners are renting it out…

  • My condo does a 7am Saturday pick up. The building accross the alley from us does a Saturday at 7:30am pickup. I’m not on the first floor, but my bedroom is on the alley. Just gotta suck it up though and look on the positive side. Or move.

  • They should just cutback on the trash pickup to, say, once a month. The advantage being that you can now commute to your place of business via rat.

  • The “second-class tenant” position is a little weird in the context of an owners’ association. The writer rents, which means, in the long-haul, her needs aren’t really the most important to the condo association. And she is easily differentiated from the owners in that, well, they own not only their units but also a share in the condo association. Why would the condo board make decisions for the association based on someone who can leave with a month’s notice? That would skew the process pretty badly. Moreover, her contractual rights are not with the condo association, but with her landlord. Her landlord probably could be a better advocate for his tenant to enforce the existing noise rules — he’s going continually to have this same problem as long as he rents and, in his own interest, shouldn’t want constantly to deal with tenants always complaining about M/W/F noise — but in the overall scheme of the building, it’s probably much more important to the majority of the building to have timely, regular trash removal than it is for the complainant to have an extra 45 min. of sleep.

    That said, if it’s really a problem: move. If you are still under lease and not month-to-month, there’s probably a quiet enjoyment clause in there: argue to the landlord that you view it as a material lease term that foreseeably incorporates the condo rules on quiet hours, and he is failing to deliver. That might light a fire under his ass. Short of that, PoP’s advice is spot on — build a coalition of other units who are really annoyed by the trash pickup and get the association to square its trash service with its quiet hours.

  • Just be thankful you aren’t working for the department of sanitation and having to wake up far earlier than 7:15 to haul around the fancy trash of condo dwellers who can lounge around in bed all morning.

  • Completely agree with what has been said. As a renter you are indeed a “second class citizen” at least within the context of that building. Have you contacted your landlord? What was his response?

    As for trash pickup, it is a part of life in the city. Also, for what it’s worth, ground floor apartments/condos are often less expensive than units located higher up. This is because they are simply less desirable, not only because of trash pickups but also for privacy and security reasons.

    Most significantly though, I don’t know the last time I slept until 7:15 on a weekday, and if I did, I think I’d welcome the wake up call because I’d be on my way to being late for work. I’m sorry, but I have a hard time feeling bad in this instance.

  • i chalk garbage removal up to city living, i suppose. however, since i am not in your exact position, i can not speak for what you are experiencing. though, yes, i’m already up and going to work at 715 during the week.

    on another note:
    the biggest issue i am struggling with right now is living next to a shelter. the shelter is a good thing and i have no problems with it specifically. i do have a problem with the vacant, half-fenced lot that is directly behind it. i believe that the shelter owns the lot, and they rarely clean up the trash. more importantly, it has become a huge spot that people loiter all day and night…
    constant public urination/defecation, drug use, noise, fights – almost to death even. i heard a cop say on one visit “why are you guys fighting here AGAIN?”

    who would i contact about this sort of thing? it is illegal activity that i witness on a daily basis, after all.

  • As a tangent, someone stole my trashcan over the weekend. And I had my house number spray painted on it. I think a lot of them got jacked – we used to have large numbers of extra trash cans in my alley, and I had to walk at least 6 houses down before I found one I could steal to replace mine.

  • I was on the board for 4 years in a co-op building that allowed up to 10% of our units to be rented. While there were some decisions that non-owners didn’t have a say in such as whether or not to renovate the roof deck, these were mostly long-term financial decisions. A quality of life issue like this is something else that I think anyone in the building has a say in.

    First of all, all buildings over a certain size do NOT get city trash pickup; they have to hire their own trash service. So the board definitely has a say in how and when that is done. If the building has a quiet policy that lasts until 8am they can ask this company to respect that.

    Also, what’s the deal with hauling trash cans up marble stairs and through the lobby?? Your building doesn’t have a dumpster in the alley? I think the people making all the noise might not be the trash service but building custodians who are emptying trash cans into the dumpster; then they definitely shouldn’t start until 8am if that’s your building’s policy. My building had terrazzo floors in the hall that echo a lot and we made a rule that the squeaky-wheeled garbage cans couldn’t be used in the halls before a certain time.

    In my building everyone could attend a board meeting renter or not. Find someone sympathetic on the board to advocate for your concerns.

  • you should probably move to arlington.

  • Next thing you know people will be complaining about the sirens that wake them up at night! Welcome to the city.

    In terms of renters rights though, your rights are through the owner of your condo not the condo board.

  • Hey everyone – thanks for your insight. Just a few things… I am NOT a spoiled brat living in a 500k condo downtown, I moved here a year ago and stupid me wanted to be downtown close to the monuments. I had assumed that all of DC was ridiculously priced, so I went with the downtown location (my next move is to petworth or surrounding areas). The reason I can still sleep until 7:15 is because I have flex hours; I can come in up until 9:00 am. I don’t see this being an issue that “oh poor baby, you lose 45 minutes of sleep”. That’s not the point. The point is that the noises (from a private garbage company) are violating the quiet hours. It is the actual garbage company hauling the garbage up the stairs, not a custodian. It’s set up strangely, where there’s a little outdoor area in the basement where our garbage is stored, and the garbagemen aren’t allowed to use the elevator (they’ve previously damaged it), so they have to go through the lobby.

    Yes, I understand I live in a city. I’ve lived in a city for 7 years. I even stated that to the condo board. But when there are rules such as quiet hours that you are given when you move in, you have a reasonable expectation that those hours will be followed. You can’t foresee the 3 days a week that noise will be made. Otherwise, I never would have rented the place. And yes, I’m in a 2 year lease (I hate moving… big big mistake).

    You guys mentioned the month to month thing… How do you do that without paying out the @$$ for monthly rent?

  • I would agree with most that your best recourse is through your landlord, not the condo board. A lot of people mistake condo boards as functioning as a building management company or superintendent. It’s really not their role or responsibility. The one with the responsibility to make you comfortable here is the landlord. Like others said, if he doesn’t satisfy your complaints, you may have an out in the quiet enjoyment aspect of your contract.

    Unlike many that have simply dismissed your desire to make it past 7:15 without being disturbed, I can understand why that would suck. Maybe youre a bartender or waiter working late nights. Maybe you work at a hospital and keep weird hours. Maybe you work at a law firm with weird hours. Maybe you work in one of the thousands of jobs in this city that keep weird hours. If your contractual expectation is quiet until 8am, I don’t see what should hold you back from speaking up.

    That said, like others have mentioned, you might be up the creek when it comes to certain services like trash pick up. Probably not a lot of control over that one.

  • I’m with you Mal. That extra 45 minutes would make all the difference to me, too.

    So, you’ve suggested to the condo board that they require their contractor to respect the quiet hours, and the condo board has refused? I wonder if you have a case for breaking your lease. Tell the landlord that you moved in under the impression that the property had quiet hours, and that the board won’t enforce them. The landlord should either let you out of your lease, or take the matter up with the board him/herself. You are not getting what you contracted for, and you should stand up for yourself if it matters to your quality of life.

  • Is this 7 AM law for real? Because I live next door to a public school, and their garbage is picked up between 5:45 and 6 AM most mornings. And they seem to make the pickups as noisy as possible.

  • Frustrating that the garbage guys are inconsiderate, yes.

    But who isn’t up at 7:15 a.m. on a weekday?

  • Mal — any lease typically will go month-to-month status after the initial period of the lease, and many landlords (incl. me) are cool with keeping it that way, particularly if you’ve proven yourself a good tenant by paying rent on time and not tearing up the place. (The smarter LLs probably make you re-up for another year, but I’ve always figured it makes more sense to keep good tenants happy as long as I can rather than to scare them out prematurely and face the dreaded “unoccupied” status any sooner than I have to.) You’re sort of up the creek with a 2-year lease if you really want out. If you want to be confrontational, try the quiet enjoyment route and see what happens. If not, just be upfront and say the problem and that you’d like to break the lease (you always can escalate with the quiet enjoyment if this nicer approach fails). Honestly, this time of year is your best chance to do it, since it’s much easier to line up a new tenant for end-of-July or August than it is in October/November.

  • I don’t have any advice about your rights as a renter in condo building…but I will say that my husband dealt with this in his old apartment in Dupont when we were dating. Except they came at around 6:00 a.m. He was told there was nothing that could be done so he finally invested $20 in a white noise machine and it really helped. Five years later we live in quiet Brookland and we still sleep with the noise machine every night. Just part of city life.

  • saf

    “But who isn

  • Mal — ok really this isn’t very hard.

    DC landlord tenant law LOVES tenants. Tell your landlord you are moving out because of the noise. They have a duty then to find a new tenant for you (or you could do the work yourself.) The only thing you will end up losing is your security deposit.

  • I would ignore the “poor baby”/”you sleep past 7:15 am during the week” commenters. Good for you that you can work flexible hours.
    It seems pretty clear that this trash pickup is violating the condo’s rules. I am certain that when you signed your lease you also signed some document in which you acknowledged that you understood and would be bound by the same condo rules that every owner is bound by. If you are bound by the rules, you are also protected by the rules. However, as a renter, your first recourse is the landlord. You have a right of quiet enjoyment to the apartment you are renting. If the landlord can’t or won’t speak to the coop board on your behalf and/or the board won’t do anything about this, your only real option is to break your lease and move. I think you have every right to do so under the circumstances. It will be hard for the landlord to hold you liable when you are leaving because the building is not enforcing its own rules to your detriment.

  • From your reply, you have been in the unit for more than a year. Complaining about quiet enjoyment to break your lease a year into a two year lease is going to be hard if this isn’t a new occurrence and this is your first time complaining about it to the landlord.

  • PoP asked: Personally I

  • Thanks everyone, I appreciate the *nice* comments! I’m not an idiot, as some have made out to seem, but I wanted to approach this in the nicest manner possible. I know DC has a ridiculous amount of “tenant-friendly” laws, unlike the other cities I have lived in.

    Someone stated that I should have taken this up earlier, but as I have stated before, I contacted the condo board, thinking this was the first line of action since they are the ones who manage the trash pick up. I have those emails saved from a few months ago, so yes I will try to take it up with my landlord.

    Thanks Erin M.G. for the white noise machine idea! I will definitely try that before being a b*tchy tenant, which is why I wrote PoP in the first place. The month-to-month thing is amazing! I pay my rent early every month and I don’t think I’ve been a hassle! That’s great news!

    I’m sure I’ll be back to you guys when my lease is up for help on finding an apartment in a much more fun neighborhood 🙂

    Thanks PoP!!

  • PoP asked how renters are treated. As a member of a coop board I could truly care less how comfortable a renter is. We make it as difficult as possible for owners to rent specifically because we don

  • Just J,

    Those renters you despise are in many cases the one thing keeping the condo from being foreclosed on where the owner wants to move but can’t sell for what they owe on the mortgage.

  • I once served on a condo board of a medium sized building with about a 2:1 ratio of owners to renters. It’s important for condos to cultivate good relationships with renters because it’s hard to enforce quality of life rules to the letter of the law. Aside from condo fees, the rules tend to apply to residents, not owners.

    On the flip side, if you have a building with a deadbeat landlord behind on fees, you can get a responsible tennant to keep current on fees and legally deduct the amount from rent payments to the landlord. Maybe harder with a mortgage if they’re behind with the bank too.

  • (Not stating this in an jerk kinda way) Earplugs are fantastic. I’ve worn them for years- Get the foam orange ones. I have a pair in the car, one in my bag for concerts and metro, and about 293432 pairs scattered about my house. You’ll still hear intruders, etc, but the annoying noise crap gets fluffed right out.

    try it, Mal.

  • DCRA has a trash truck noise complaint process:,A,3,Q,643422.asp

    I haven’t used it myself but I’m about ready to.

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