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What does ‘quiet enjoyment’ mean in commercial real estate?

In the movie “The Princess Bride,” a character repeatedly declares events “inconceivable” that are really, “unbelievable.” It takes awhile, but eventually another character states the obvious, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

Legal parlance has a way of eliciting the same kind of reaction. Unless you are steeped in the language of Massachusetts law, it is very easy to come up against words and phrases that mean something completely different in everyday conversation. Each area of legal practice has unique terms. Avoiding mistakes and overcoming issues depends on knowing the right glossary. That comes with experience.

Many likely would agree that one such term from the commercial real estate lexicon is the phrase “quiet enjoyment.” Those words don’t mean what most people probably expect.

In a conversational context, quiet enjoyment might elicit images of someone sitting out on their patio on a pleasant evening, sipping on a martini. In law, however, quiet enjoyment defines something relational. Specifically, it seeks to define the boundaries of when a landlord may and may not encroach on a tenant’s use of leased property.

If a landlord’s action infringes on a tenant’s expectations about how he or she can use the property and it causes harm to the tenant, a cause for redress under the covenant of quiet enjoyment may exist. It’s also important to note that regardless of whether or not a lease contains a specific “covenant of quiet enjoyment,” the standard may be implied by virtue of common law.

What can further complicate matters is that quiet enjoyment can mean different things depending on the legal issue to which it is applied and the jurisdiction in which it is being considered.

To know whether a word means what you think it means, especially in any given legal context, it’s important to turn to an experienced interpreter.