Renters who discover water damage in their apartments can find themselves in difficult situations. Since they do not own the premises, questions about who is responsible for it is a major concern. The answer will depend on what caused the water damage, how extensive it is, and the lease and insurance policies.
Water damage can occur from forgetting to turn off a faucet, using appliances the wrong way, faulty components, flooded toilets, and broken pipes. It can be the fault of the tenant, another tenant, or the landlord. Water damage can destroy property by staining ceilings, warping wood floors, ruining televisions, artwork, and more.
Natural disasters like floods can also cause significant water damage. A lower level apartment that is hit by a hurricane can be impacted if the water rises, floods, and gets inside. People who live in flood zones may want to purchase separate flood policies in addition to their renters insurance.
Is My Property Owner Responsible?
When renters and property owners sign apartment lease agreements, both take on certain responsibilities. Property owners must ensure that rented apartments are safe and habitable. Property owners should also check over the apartments before new renters move in to make sure that everything is working correctly. Therefore, the plumbing has to be sufficient and needs to be functioning properly. This includes ensuring that the bathtub, shower, kitchen sink, and toilet are all working. Failing to make sure the apartment is habitable may give the renter the right to withhold their rent and move out, but state laws will affect how this works.
If a tenant notices that a pipe is leaking and contacts the owner, the landlord is responsible for the repairs. Should the landlord ignore the request and the pipe bursts, they could be held responsible for failing to maintain the plumbing. Landlords and property managers might also be liable when natural disasters cause the water damage.
When am I Responsible for the Water Damage?
If the water damage in the apartment is due to the renter’s actions, it will be their responsibility to cover the damages. For example, if a tenant owns a washing machine and it starts to leak and damages the floors, the tenant will be charged for the cost of the repairs. Also, if a tenant left the kitchen faucet on with the drain plug in and went to the store, the tenant would most likely have to pay to replace the waterlogged floors.
Renters can also be held responsible for not being proactive about reporting leaks or shutting off valves to stop leaks. Actions like flushing inappropriate items down toilets can block sewage pipes, and tenants can be held liable for that as well. It is always important to remember that the property belongs to someone else, so every part of it should be respected and used as intended. Landlords may also keep part of or entire security deposits when renters damage their apartments.
Renters insurance can cover the cost to replace personal belongings that suffer water damage but most likely not to the actual apartment. This should hold true even if the damage was caused by negligent actions of the owner. It is important to read the policy as well as the lease thoroughly before signing them. Landlords are usually only responsible for property damage, they are not usually accountable for ruined personal belongings.
What if My Landlord Disputes the Damage?
Not all landlords are cooperative after water damage occurs because they may want to avoid paying for it or believe that the renter really caused the problem. If there is significant water damage, the landlord must abide by the implied warranty of habitability because the apartment has to be in livable condition. If the apartment is not to fit to live in because of the damage, the landlord is required to make necessary repairs.
If the renter is responsible, open communication between the two parties will help to resolve the problem. The renter needs to alert the landlord about the problem as soon as possible to prevent it from getting worse. A large plumbing problem that breaches the warranty and is not resolved quickly could be grounds for a lawsuit. Many property owners will realize that it is better to make the repairs right away, while others ignore the complaints.
Do I Still Have to Pay Rent?
The implied warranty of habitability also applies to the following:
- Structural defects.
- Rodent infestations in more than one unit.
- Lack of heat, electricity, or light unless the renter is not paying their bills.
- Lead-based paint hazards.
- Lack of sewage disposal, fire hazards, and certain health hazards.
Not paying rent is grounds for eviction, but renters in these situations have some recourse available to them. In Maryland, when landlords fail to repair dangerous or serious defects in rental units, tenants have the right to pay their rent into an escrow account that is established by a local district court.
To quality for escrow, the conditions in the apartment have to constitute a threat to safety, health, or the renter’s life. The landlord must also receive adequate notice and time to perform the repairs before a renter can try to set up an escrow account. Before it is set up, there will be a court hearing. The judge may decide to return money to the landlord or renter for compensation. For help with real estate litigation, it is advisable to hire a lawyer as soon as possible.
Towson Real Estate Lawyers at Huesman, Jones & Miles, LLC Help Settle Tenant-Landlord Disputes
Serious water damage can completely ruin the structure of a building and cause significant property damage. If you are in the midst of a property dispute for any type of issue, speak to a Towson real estate lawyer at Huesman, Jones & Miles, LLC today. Call us at 443-589-0150 or contact us online for a free consultation. We have offices in Hunt Valley and Towson, Maryland, and we serve clients throughout Baltimore, Baltimore County, Bel Air, Bentley Springs, Columbia, Freeland, Hereford, Hampton, Westminster, Essex, Monkton, Sparks Glencoe, Parkton, Phoenix, Pikesville, White Hall, Carroll County, Harford County, and Howard County.