Who should bear the burden for fixing water damage in a rental property?
This is a question that features prominently in the landlord-tenant relationship. And it is a significant source of friction between renters and their landlords. Quite naturally, renters want the landlord to assume all responsibility for repairs since the property belongs to them.
Conversely, property owners expect that tenants should be responsible for water damage because they are the ones who use the home’s facilities. But who really ought to be accountable when water causes harm to a rental property?
The correct answer is that both landlords and tenants have varying degrees of responsibility, explains Income Realty, depending on the cause of the damage. As a rule, all damage that results from natural wear and tear or the proper use of a home’s plumbing, are the property owner’s responsibility.
But all damage that results from a tenant’s neglectful or malicious behavior is the tenant’s responsibility. Apart from damage due to misuse, most of the blame for water damage lies with the owner. Below are the details of how this works.
Tenant’s rights and landlord’s responsibilities
Given that the tenant has paid the landlord for the privilege of living in the landlord’s property, the tenants have a right to live in a property that is habitable, safe and in good state of repair or proper working order.
And the landlord has the responsibility to respond to the tenant’s rights by providing a habitable home. In other words, the landlord must ensure that at the time of tenant move-in, the home’s plumbing systems are adequate and functioning.
This is a universal principle that guides the landlord-tenant relationship. The reason tenants pay landlords is that the landlord has assured tenants of the habitability of their property. The moment a home becomes uninhabitable, the tenant has the right to withhold the rent.
This means that property owners must not only provide a habitable home, but they must also retain the house in that habitable state. With regards to a home’s plumbing systems, this means that landlords have to do the following:
- They must provide adequate and functioning plumbing in their rental property. And they must also maintain the plumbing in good order throughout the duration of the tenant’s stay. To do this, the property owner must;
- Undertake regular maintenance of the home’s plumbing to detect and repair all problems. It is the landlord’s role to deal with all issues of natural wear and tear to the home’s plumbing.
- They must resolve all unexpected problems that threaten the home’s habitability. Basically, it is the owner’s responsibility to solve all plumbing emergencies.
These rules apply only as long as the plumbing problem and the damage which results are not caused by any action or inaction of the tenant. Where a tenant has done something to harm the landlord’s property, the law also gives the landlord the power to claim certain rights.
Landlord’s rights and tenant’s responsibilities
Having met their obligation to provide a habitable home and maintain it in that state, landlords also expect something in return from their tenants. They expect the tenant to do nothing that has the potential to impair the habitability of the home.
This is how tenants fulfill their obligation not to harm a landlord’s property:
- The tenant has the responsibility to keep the home in a sanitary condition and use the home’s plumbing in a responsible manner. As long as the tenant uses the plumbing in the recommended way, all damage is the landlord’s responsibility. But if damage occurs due to the tenant’s behavior, the tenants must pay for the repairs.
- Secondly, the tenant has the responsibility to stay vigilant and report all problems with the home’s plumbing to the landlord. The information which the tenant gives to the owner must be timely and accurate. If the tenant detects a problem with the home’s plumbing and fails to report it to the owner, the tenant will be partially responsible for the repairs.
- Thirdly, it is the tenant’s responsibility to lessen damage to the home’s systems, structures and contents, in the event of a water emergency. This means that if the tenant discovers a problem, he or she must remove their belongings, as well as the landlord’s property, from harm’s way. The tenant must shut-off the water supply to stop the home from getting flooded.
If a tenant fails in any of the above responsibilities, they have violated the landlord’s rights by exposing the owner’s property to damage. Consequently, the owner has the right to demand that the tenant pays for the damage they caused.
In conclusion, landlords’ and tenants’ responsibility for water damage in a rental property is a delicate balance between each party’s rights and responsibilities. Conflicts can easily be avoided at the beginning of the lease if the party’s roles are clearly explained in the lease agreement.