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

Anything that affects an owner’s ability to attract quality tenants and earn regular income on the property is a major threat.

One such threat posed is that of out-of-control water. Water damage is easily the most feared issue among owners of rental real estate. Not only can it cost a lot of money to fix, if big enough, it can impair the long-term value of the property.

This is why property owners should be proactive in how they deal with water damage. And the best time to tackle the problem is before it happens.

Defining the rules for how an asset is protected against water damage is critical because water issues are inevitable. There will be the unavoidable leaks and spills as long as water runs through pipes and people live in the property.

The challenge for landlords is how to keep these leaks and spills from damaging the property. The only way to ensure that this does not happen is to detect problems early.

But since landlords are away from the property most of the time, how can they do this? The key is to involve tenants in preventing water damage to the property.

The problem is that since tenants have no stake in the asset they may have no incentive to look out for signs of water damage in an apartment. Unless it is in their best interests, tenants are unlikely to protect an apartment from water.

So, how can landlords change this and get their tenants to become partners in protecting the property from damage by water? The best way to do this is by knowing how to assign responsibility for water damage in such a way that tenants are forced to pay attention to the problem.

Who should be responsible for water damage? Is it the landlord or the tenant? And what is the extent of each party’s responsibility?

The owner’s responsibility

According to the law, the owner of the property has the primary responsibility for ensuring that a rental space is safe and habitable. This means the owner needs to make sure that the essential plumbing in the property is both adequate and functioning properly.

The landlord must provide and maintain such things as the toilet, the tub and shower, hot and cold running water, and other necessities in good working condition. If a landlord fails to do this, the law gives the tenant the right to withhold the rent and to move out of the property.

Furthermore, the owner is expected to check the property to make sure the plumbing and drainage are in good working condition before turning it over to a tenant.

Additionally, the landlord is responsible for the proper care of the plumbing and pipes. If there is a problem, such as a burst pipe resulting from the landlord’s failure to maintain the property, the tenant cannot be held responsible.

If a tenant has detected a problem and reported it to the landlord, it is the owner’s responsibility to fix them.

Does this mean that all repair problems should be the landlord’s responsibility, as long as tenants report them? Not really, it is a little more complicated than that.

The tenant’s responsibility

Anything that belongs to the tenant is the tenant’s responsibility. This means that if a washing machine which belongs to the tenant leaks and causes damage to the property, the landlord is not responsible. The tenant will be charged for repairs to the property and is also responsible for fixing the appliance.

Any water damage that occurs to the property due to the tenant’s actions is the tenant’s responsibility. These include damage which is not rooted in poor maintenance or an underlying issue before the property was turned over to the tenant.

It includes damage that results from the tenant’s neglect of the property or failure to notify the landlord of a water problem when it first occurs. Or burst water pipes due to winter temperature set by the tenant. Or blockage of sewage pipes because the tenant flushed things down the toilet.

Furthermore, if a water problem, such as a leak, is detected by the tenant and reported to the landlord, the tenant is responsible for removing their personal belongings from water’s way.

If they fail to do this and the items are damaged, the landlord is only responsible for repairing damage to the property and not their personal belongings.

Also, if water damage has been detected by a tenant but they are not proactive enough to inform the landlord on time, they may be held responsible. Additionally, if the tenant does not take measures to minimize the damage, such as shutting off valves to stop a leak, they may also be held responsible.

Obtaining the tenant’s cooperation

The first step to making sure that the tenants cooperate with an owner’s efforts in defending the property against water damage is a watertight lease agreement that sufficiently covers the grey areas.

Following that landlords need to educate tenants on the meaning of the terms in the lease and how to care for the property. Finally, owners should take a security deposit as a safeguard.

Water damage is easily the most feared issue among owners of rental real estate. Not only can it cost a lot of money to fix, if big enough, it can impair the long-term value of the property.