Renter faces expensive plumbing lesson

Odd discovery identifies source of 'accident'

By Inman News Feed
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Sep. 9, 2010

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Odd discovery identifies source of 'accident'

Robert Griswold
Inman News

Q: Recently the toilet in my apartment overflowed. The water poured out all over the bathroom and even into a couple of adjacent rooms. I contacted the manager and he sent out a plumber and a flood control company. The plumber cleared the blockage and reported that he found a large nail clipper and some small batteries in the line from the toilet. The flood control company extracted the water and I had to put up with large noisy air blowers to dry everything out for three days.

Now the manager is telling me that the toilet backup is my fault and he expects me to pay $650 for the plumber and flood control company. I admit that the items were mine, but I don't know how they got into the toilet. I am sure it was an accident.

Can the manager make me pay for this? I can't afford to pay for this. I feel that I should be compensated for the inconvenience.

A: If the blockage was caused by items that found their way into the toilet from your unit in the professional opinion of the plumber, then you are responsible. The fact that you believe the items got there accidentally does not matter unless the manager and owner want to make an exception. However, a $650 expense is not something that most landlords are willing to absorb for carelessness by a tenant.

Certainly you were inconvenienced by the water extraction efforts. But again, this was all caused by a situation that the landlord didn't create.

This is an expensive lesson but I expect you will be extra careful to make sure that nothing falls into the toilet accidentally in the future. You might want to approach the manager and see if the owner will allow you to pay the $650 over a couple of months.

Q: A few weeks after my daughter and her children moved into a rental house, my daughter awoke one morning around 5 a.m. to a noise and saw the curtains moving in the master bathroom. She didn't see anyone and went back to bed.

Later that morning, she discovered the windows had been broken in the master bathroom. She knew her children were not responsible because it happened while they were asleep. The house is located on a corner lot with no fence around the property, so she believes it was an attempted break-in or vandalism.

She contacted the property management company and (an employee) told her to file a police report, which she did. The property management company then sent someone out to replace the glass. There were no other incidents or problems during the next 18 months.

However, my daughter recently gave the property management company notice to move out and management informed her verbally that the owner of the dwelling wanted her to pay for the repairs to the window. They sent her an invoice for $175 and gave her one week to send payment or else they will just take the amount owed from her security deposit.

This was the first time anything had been said about it being her fault. If she has a copy of the police report, how can the landlord legally deduct it from her deposit? Should she question this or is she responsible?

A: In my opinion, your daughter should not send payment but a copy of the police report and a letter outlining what happened 18 months ago. This letter should indicate who was called at the property management company office and state that there was never any discussion about a charge for the window replacement. The more details the better.

I would suggest that she also object to any attempt by the property management company or the owner deducting the cost of the window replacement from her security deposit and indicate that intention in this letter as well.

Your daughter's situation is a good reminder that in circumstances like these -- where there is damage to the property and the property manager makes the repairs without charging the tenant -- the actions should be documented with a quick note or letter sent with the next month's rent.

Of course, you need to keep a copy for your records. This is not only a good idea in case the property manager (or in this case the owner) attempted to suddenly charge for a prior repair, but also because the property manager or ownership could change and there may not be any records that would support the tenant's position.

This column on issues confronting tenants and landlords is written by property manager Robert Griswold, author of "Property Management for Dummies" and "Property Management Kit for Dummies" and co-author of "Real Estate Investing for Dummies."

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