Home maintenance is a 2-way street

Tenant faces damages for unreported leak, flood

By Inman News Feed
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Jan. 28, 2011

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Tenant faces damages for unreported leak, flood

Robert Griswold
Inman News™

Q: I had a tenant that called me to let me know that I had water dripping from the ceiling and that my wood floors had "something wrong with them." I sent over my brother-in-law, who is a contractor, and it turns out that there was no roof leak but my tenant had been using the faucet in the kitchen and it had become loose.

Then the pipe underneath the sink got a split in it and leaked under the cabinet and was flooding the kitchen and adjacent dining area. The water has severely warped the wood floors.

My tenant says that she was sick all week and never saw the leak. My brother-in-law tells me that the wood floors are so damaged that clearly the water had been leaking for months. It is his opinion that she should have not been using the kitchen faucet, as the source of water was obvious to anyone using the faucet. Plus, the split pipe was visible by just opening the cabinet and looking underneath the sink. Please let me know who is liable.

A: Generally, the landlord is responsible for the maintenance and repair of the rental unit. In this case, if your tenant had contacted you in a timely manner, then you would have sent a qualified repairperson or plumber to tighten the faucet and replace the split pipe.

If the faucet had become loose and the pipe split through normal use and wear and tear, then you would be fully responsible for the costs incurred in making the repairs.

If the tenant had damaged the faucet or the pipe intentionally or through her negligence, then she would be responsible for the cost of the repairs, which you could have charged back to her.

However, the real question here is: Who is responsible for the subsequent damage to the wood floors?

Because your tenant failed to give you any notice of the leaking faucet and the split pipe, you have a very good argument that the tenant is responsible for not only the damage to the wood flooring but also any other damage caused by persistent flooding over a long period of time.

If the wood floor is severely warping, it is likely you will have to replace some or all of the wood flooring. Whether you have natural wood floors or some of the simulated product, this expense will be much higher than a new faucet and a new drain pipe under the sink.

I would suggest that you immediately fix the faucet and pipes and then get an estimate for repairing or replacing the warped and water-damaged wood flooring. You also need to carefully inspect the walls and behind the cabinets and appliances. Prolonged water exposure could create much more damage than just warped wood flooring.

You want to make sure that you address all of the damage and bring the unit back to a safe and habitable condition regardless of who may have caused the damage.

Also be sure to determine if there is insurance coverage for this water loss claim. If your tenant has renters insurance, she can submit a claim to her insurance carrier. If she doesn't have renters insurance or refuses to make the claim, then you should file a claim with your insurance carrier.

The insurance company may ultimately subrogate or seek reimbursement from the tenant directly or from the tenant's renters insurance policy, if she has one.

Another option could be just to make a demand for your tenant to reimburse you for this expense if she doesn't want to file an insurance claim. She may be willing to pay it or at least work out a payment plan over a reasonable period of time.

Q: I got a letter from my landlord stating that I will have to get renters insurance and show proof of coverage to him. Is it legal for my landlord to require me to get insurance if it was not stated in my lease?

A: Having renters insurance is always a very good and prudent idea. You never know when something can happen and you will be held responsible. Renters insurance does not just cover water leaks but also fires and more common losses, like theft of your possessions. A renters policy will also cover you in the event that there is a personal injury to a visitor or contractor that you invite or allow into your rental unit.

However, despite my enthusiasm for renters insurance, your landlord cannot require you to get such a policy and provide proof to him unless it is in your lease. The landlord must honor the lease until it expires, but he can modify the lease to include a requirement that you have renters insurance if you want to renew your lease.

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