Dave’s here to answer your questions every Wednesday, so send them to him at tenant@sfappeal.com, here’s what to make sure to include in your letter.

table-saw.jpgFor 16 years my wife and I have lived in the lower unit of a rent-controlled two-unit Victorian flat, built around 1875 in Hayes Valley.

My landlord has a woodworking shop in the basement. Several days a week he is there from around 1:00 PM to about 5:00 PM, using a table saw, sander, and other power tools which are very loud.

I work from home and my office is directly above his table saw.

Because our rent is so reasonable, and we have always been on very good terms with him, I am hesitant to complain about the noise.

Furthermore, he is a retired lawyer.

I feel that it is time to confront him and want to know where I stand legally before I do this.

Also, my wife suffers from MS and often requires a nap during the day to relieve her constant fatigue.

How should I approach this issue?

In San Francisco various city departments enforce specific areas of the San Francisco Noise Control Ordinance, Article 29, San Francisco Police Code. The Department of Public Health provides a list of the departments and noise enforcement for which they are responsible.

For example, the Department of Building Inspection looks into construction noise and the Police Department is responsible for stereo, television, music, party, and animal noise.
Your landlord isn’t really making construction noise nor is he blasting his stereo. I think his noise is more related to “personal” noise that interferes with quiet enjoyment related to enforcement by the Police Department.

In my experience, the cops are going to be reticent about investigating the noise as you describe it. Don’t call the cops yet.

Let’s step back for a moment. You say, “Because our rent is so reasonable, and we have always been on very good terms with him, I am hesitant to complain about the noise.”

Here’s a learning moment for us all. Let’s take your statement apart.

First, your rent is reasonable because it is regulated by the San Francisco Rent Ordinance. That has nothing to do with your landlord. He may not like it, but he may not care if he has owned the building for a long time and he’s making a reasonable return on his investment. He certainly cannot evict you because you complain about the noise.

Second, you’re on good terms with the landlord. Is the only reason you’re on good terms because your rent is low? If that is true, it suggests that your civility is predicated upon fear. I guess one could make the argument that all human civility is based upon fear of punishment, but we have been out of the caves for awhile now. I have a feeling that you are just treating the landlord as would treat others–with consideration. Guess what? Your landlord doesn’t know why you’re civil to him, he just knows that you are civil.

One of the biggest problems for landlord and tenant relationships is that both landlords and tenants often have ulterior motives to be civil, rather than just respecting the relationship for what it is–a business relationship. If you have an ulterior motive for acting civilly, but you’re really just seething with anger and hate, you’re likely practicing a passive-aggressive approach that is destined to thwart any rational discussion with the landlord. That’s a waste of human energy more properly reserved for lawyers.

You have an opportunity to be powerful here. I’m not talking about the power of. “I’m going to sue your ass, if you don’t stop building you stupid little toy trains or whatever the hell you’re sawing.” I’m talking about the power of genuine human interaction.

Retired lawyers can be good communicators and maybe, just maybe, they are sick and tired of the adversarial process. I often would rather deal with older, more experienced lawyers because they don’t need to posture and they understand the value of settling an issue rather than duking it out.

I suggest that you simply talk to the landlord. Tell him that you didn’t have any problem with his work in the garage before (if that’s true.) Tell him that you work more from home now and that your wife is sick and needs to sleep during the day.

Listen to him. Try to work out a schedule that will accommodate both your needs.

If the landlord acts like an asshole, walk away. Then look into writing him a request for a reasonable accommodation based on your wife’s disability. Request that he limit his noise during certain hours of the day.

Go to the San Francisco Tenants Union to discuss other options including filing a complaint with the California Department of Fair Housing and Employment.

Dave Crow is an attorney who specializes in San Francisco landlord tenant law. However, the opinions expressed in these articles are those of the author, do not constitute legal advice, and the information is general in nature. Consult the advice of an attorney for any specific problem. You understand that no attorney-client relationship will exist with Dave Crow or his firm, Crow & Rose unless they have agreed to represent you. You should not respond to this site with any information that you believe is highly confidential.

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the author

Dave Crow is an attorney who specializes in San Francisco landlord tenant law. However, the opinions expressed in these articles are those of the author, do not constitute legal advice, and the information is general in nature. Consult the advice of an attorney for any specific problem. You understand that no attorney-client relationship will exist with Dave Crow or his firm, Crow & Rose unless they have agreed to represent you. You should not respond to this site with any information that you believe is highly confidential.

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  • gg

    1-5pm is pretty limited and ideal hours for noise. It’s not early in the morning or late at night, sounds like the landlord is already being considerate. Why can’t he work in a quieter room in the flat away from the noise?

    Just out of curiousity, what if it was another tenant who paid rent to use the basement for woodworking and it was their livelihood? Would they not be allowed to make noise during the day while essentially working at home because the other tenant found that it interfered with their working from home?

  • gg

    1-5pm is pretty limited and ideal hours for noise. It’s not early in the morning or late at night, sounds like the landlord is already being considerate. Why can’t he work in a quieter room in the flat away from the noise?

    Just out of curiousity, what if it was another tenant who paid rent to use the basement for woodworking and it was their livelihood? Would they not be allowed to make noise during the day while essentially working at home because the other tenant found that it interfered with their working from home?

  • Tom Hundt

    +1 on talking to the landlord. Sixteen years is a long time to go without saying something, so I suspect the landlord is going to be surprised to hear about this. But it still needs to be done.

    There could be technical fixes: adding sound insulation to the garage ceiling, putting down carpet with padding, caulking cracks, double-pane windows, etc. all might help.

    The assumption that the writer’s rent is reasonable thanks to the SF Rent Ordinance is not necessarily true. It could also be the landlord set a reasonable rent in the first place and/or doesn’t raise it.

  • Tom Hundt

    +1 on talking to the landlord. Sixteen years is a long time to go without saying something, so I suspect the landlord is going to be surprised to hear about this. But it still needs to be done.

    There could be technical fixes: adding sound insulation to the garage ceiling, putting down carpet with padding, caulking cracks, double-pane windows, etc. all might help.

    The assumption that the writer’s rent is reasonable thanks to the SF Rent Ordinance is not necessarily true. It could also be the landlord set a reasonable rent in the first place and/or doesn’t raise it.

  • DT

    If you don’t like where you are renting, you can always move.

    How many thousands have you saved in the years you have been in this rent-controlled unit?

  • DT

    If you don’t like where you are renting, you can always move.

    How many thousands have you saved in the years you have been in this rent-controlled unit?