Who’s Responsible for Water Damage: Tenants or Landlords?

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Why are so many landlord-tenant relationships filled with tension?- Water Damage Plumbing System

Much of the frictions landlords experience with their tenants stems from a lack of clarity about the terms of the relationship. When a tenant rents an apartment, they have a clear idea of what they want.

Similarly, when landlords rent out their apartments they have a clear idea of what they want too. Unfortunately, landlords and tenants do not always talk to one another to reconcile their different expectations and reach a common ground. It is the difference in each side’s expectations that cause conflicts.

The majority of landlords and tenants are not bad people, they are just human. And in every human relationship, whatever is not explicitly spelled-out is open to misinterpretation. This is why, from the outset, landlords should explain to their tenants how responsibility for repairs is allocated in a property. And one of the areas where this is so important is when dealing with responsibility for water damage.

This is because water is invasive in a modern home. And water damage is common and very costly to fix. If responsibility for water-damage is addressed from the beginning, water damage will be less likely to occur.

How should landlords assign responsibility for water damage in a rental? Should they bear the burden alone, pass it to the tenants or should it be shared?

Landlord’s Responsibilities

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One of the basic principles guiding the landlord-tenant relationship is the implied warranty of habitability. This is an unwritten guarantee which landlords give to their tenants that a property is in a livable condition.

In order to be livable, the home must have adequate electricity, heating, water, and sanitary systems, at the very least. This means it is a landlord’s responsibility to install adequate plumbing in their property prior to the tenant’s arrival. Before the owner’s hands the keys to the tenant, they must confirm that the home’s systems are working to the tenant’s satisfaction.

Secondly, having ensured that the home has adequate plumbing, it is still the landlord’s responsibility to keep the plumbing in good condition. This is because the plumbing systems are part of the property and the property belongs to the landlord.

The tenant pays for the privilege of using the property, but the property belongs to the landlord. Therefore, the property owner must look after their property. And in order to do this, there are two things owners must do in relation to keeping a home’s plumbing – water damage in good working order.

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• First, the landlord must carry out regular maintenance. Regular maintenance means to do those routine tasks that ensure the home remains livable. Basically, the owner must deal with all issues that result from natural wear and tear to the home’s plumbing systems.
• Second, the landlord must resolve all plumbing and water-related emergencies promptly. Emergencies are unexpected situations that threaten the home’s livability. They include situations such as broken pipes, major leaks, overflowing sinks/toilets, or a kitchen without running water.

The above brings us to the following conclusions:

• All water-related problems which are caused by the landlord’s failure to provide adequate plumbing are the owner’s responsibility.
• All water damage that is caused by natural wear and tear to the home’s plumbing is the landlord’s responsibility.
• And, all water-damage which results from the owner’s failure to respond to emergencies is the owner’s responsibility.

Tenant’s responsibilities

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Tenants also have their own responsibilities for maintaining the home’s plumbing systems and preventing water damage. Where the tenant fails to do their part, they can become partly or wholly responsible for water damage to the property.

• First, tenants are responsible for notifying the landlord of any situation in the home that may lead to water damage. If pipes burst or there is a leak anywhere in the home, it is the tenant’s responsibility to bring it to the owner’s attention promptly. Where the tenant fails to inform the owner of a problem and it worsens, the tenant will be partially liable.
• Second, it is the tenant’s responsibility to minimize the extent of water damage once it begins to unfold. For instance, if a pipe bursts and starts to flood parts of the home, it is the tenant’s responsibility to shut-off the supply valve and prevents further damage. If the tenant does not do this, the landlord is responsible for the burst pipe but the tenant is liable for the water-damage. Furthermore, it is also the tenant’s responsibility to prevent their own belongings from being damaged by the water.

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• Third, all water damage that results from the tenant’s negligent or willful behavior is the tenant’s responsibility. For instance, if the tenant leaves a faucet on and the apartment is flooded, the resulting damage will be fixed by the tenant. Also, if an appliance belonging to the tenant causes water damage to the property, the tenant is responsible for the repair of their appliance and the property.

As stated earlier, landlord-tenant conflicts can be avoided if there is clarity around the terms of the lease agreement. If landlords include these clauses in the agreement and explain them to the tenant, it will help prevent any misunderstandings.

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