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

Posted on: Wednesday March 31, 2021 at 2:55 PM

Note from Idaho Fire & Flood: This educational article is courtesy of our local business partners at Five Star Property mangement of Pocatello. Visit their website to learn more about their Five Stars to Success!

Are you wondering who is responsible for water damage in a rental unit?

You are not alone in asking these questions. Landlords and tenants often dispute over the responsibilities related to water damage. It's expected as water damage could result in major expenses.

Freely flowing water can damage carpets, wallpaper, furniture, and personal belongings. Depending on the circumstances, water damage may cause expenses up to thousands of dollars.

The best way to avoid time-consuming disputes is by learning the ground rules of water damage responsibilities. Both tenants and landlords benefit from knowing who is responsible for what after flooding or piping leaks, says Five Star Property Management.

Use the following guide to prevent or resolve conflicts related to water damage in a rental property:

When is water damage a tenant's responsibility?

Any careless behaviour, negligence, or misuse from a tenant leads to direct accountability. There is nothing that would justify holding the landlord responsible for such scenarios. The renter has to pay the full expense of fixing the damage.

Here is a straightforward example. When a tenant forgets to turn off the bathtub faucet, extensive flooding could consume the property in the following hours. This situation falls under the category of careless behavior.

The same domain of responsibility applies in cases where a certain behaviour over a longer time period has caused water damage. For instance, a tenant could regularly flush items that block the drains. Sooner or later, this could result in flooding and damage.

When is water damage a landlord's responsibility?

Landlords need to ensure that their rental property is habitable. There are many ways a property can stop being habitable for its dwellers. Water damage is one of the possible causes.

When this damage occurs due to landlord's neglect of basic repair and maintenance needs, the tenant is definitely not responsible for the outcome. In fact, a renter could demand legal consequences for landlord's negligence.

Let's look at a real-life example. Burst pipes in a rental property could mean that it's the landlord who is going to be held responsible for the repair and replacement costs. That's because the landlord had the opportunity to repair the pipes before the trouble escalated into a full-blown emergency.

How to solve water damage conflicts?

Real-life situations won't have straight lines of responsibility as previously outlined. For example, even if the landlord is mainly responsible for the water damage, tenants should actively mitigate the damages during an ongoing emergency.

Renters should notify their landlord immediately in case of leaking or flooding. Also, they should remove personal property and take other steps to ensure that the total damage is reduced to a minimum.

The reimbursement for personal property damage may be limited when it appears that the tenant didn't take adequate measures during the emergency. This is a standard policy of many insurers.

Here are the top ideas for resolving water damage disputes:

  • Your rental agreement should cover the questions related to water damages. Outline the responsibilities of tenants and landlords in a detailed manner.
  • The most important aspect of these situations is the cause of the water emergency. Try not to get carried away by focusing too much on the type of water emergency. This isn't where the answer to accountability lies.
  • Landlords can obligate their tenants to obtain renter's insurance. However, this isn't a legally valid option in all states. Check your state and local regulations before placing this term in your lease agreement.

Final note: How to spot water damage in a rental property?

The question of responsibility isn't the only challenge when it comes to water damage. Sometimes the damage accumulates slowly and both landlords and tenants have to keep a close eye on things to spot these issues.

These are the questions to ask when you suspect water damage in your rental:

  • Have the surface textures changed? The first signs may be bubbles, warps, and cracks that don't have an easy explanation.
  • Can you spot any discoloration? Water damage turns the affected surfaces brown or gray. The brown color results from the chemical interplay between water and paint surfactants.
  • Do you smell any strange odors? Water leaks can create favorable conditions for mold growth. When you notice a damp smell, the water damage could be accompanied by mold spores taking hold of the rental unit's living spaces.
  • Has the temperature dropped recently? Damp walls remove heat from indoors. As a result, the heating units will start working harder and consuming more electricity to maintain a comfortable temperature.