Water damage is easily the most common, most insidious, and most expensive problem in rental properties. And due to the difficulty of preventing, detecting, and solving water problems, landlords and tenants are keen to avoid responsibility for the issue.
Each side wants the burden of managing water damage to rest with the other. Landlords hinge their argument that water damage often results from the way tenants use a property. Conversely, tenants say landlords own the home and should be responsible for the problem.
But as with all such controversies, there is a middle that takes each side’s arguments into account. This article examines the guidelines for how you should approach water damage in a rental property.
Landlord’s responsibility for water damage
Based on the principle of the Implied Warranty of Habitability, the law places most of the responsibility for water damage on the property owner. This law takes this position because:
- The property belongs to the landlord, and if a tenant was not living in the home, the owner would still protect their investment.
- The tenant pays the landlord for the right to live in the house and has earned the right to quiet enjoyment of the property.
Based on these, the property owner has a responsibility to do the following:
- The landlord must ensure that the home is livable when handing it over to the tenant. Everything that makes a property habitable should be present at tenant move-in, including proper sanitation.
- Secondly, the owner must retain the home in a state of habitability throughout the tenant’s stay in the property. If the landlord fails to do this, the tenant can withhold the rent and move out of the property.
In order to keep the home habitable, here are the things the landlords should do:
Routine maintenance: regular inspection of the home’s plumbing systems to detect potential problems and fix them. Routine maintenance ensures that the plumbing systems are functioning at optimal levels.
Necessary repairs and upgrades: Deal with issues that you discover during routine maintenance to a satisfactory level. Additionally, the landlord should update the plumbing when it becomes necessary.
Prompt attendance to plumbing emergencies: Plumbing emergencies are unexpected plumbing events that threaten the home’s habitability. Not all repair issues are emergencies. Examples of plumbing emergencies are overflowing toilets, burst pipes, or water heater malfunctions.
These are the sum of a landlord’s responsibilities as it relates to water damage in their rental. However, although the bulk of responsibility belongs to the owner, all of the responsibility for water damage does not rest on the landlord’s shoulders. There are situations where tenants become responsible for bearing the cost of repairing damage caused by water.
Tenant responsibilities for water damage
Tenants’ responsibilities mostly revolve around the way they manage the home. Having received the house from the landlord in a livable condition, it is the tenant’s job to retain it in that state. If the tenant makes the home uninhabitable by taking actions that result in water damage, the tenant will be responsible. The summary of the tenants responsibilities are as follows:
Where water damage results from a tenant’s intentional or unintentional actions, the tenant will pay for the cost of fixing the damage. For instance, if a tenant leaves a faucet on with the sink closed, the resulting flood damage is the tenant’s responsibility. Also, if a tenant flushes things down toilets or drains, which results in blockage, the tenant is responsible.
Tenants, being the ones closest to the property and the party most likely to detect water damage, are responsible for minimizing the extent of the damage. For instance, if a tenant sees a burst pipe, it is their responsibility to prevent further damage by stopping the water supply from the mains. If the tenant doesn’t do this, they are partly responsible for the damage.
It is the tenants’ responsibility to bring all water problems to the notice of the owner promptly. Where the tenant detects a problem and fails to notify the landlord, allowing the problem to get worse, they will be partly responsible for fixing the damage.
In the event of a plumbing emergency, the tenant’s belongings are the tenant’s responsibility. For instance, tenants have the responsibility to remove their clothes and furniture from the water path when there is a burst pipe. If they fail to do this, the landlord will not be responsible for any damage that occurs to their belongings.
Finally, on a note of caution, when a plumbing emergency happens, landlords are expected to give priority to fixing the problem first. Afterward, they may determine who is responsible for the problem. Where landlords fail to do this, they may create issues of personal liability for themselves.