Ok, you’re faced with this nasty clogged drain and can’t seem to fix it.
But you’re worried that your landlord may stick with you a big bill if you tell him about it and he sends a plumber to fix it.
It’s a completely legitimate concern.
In this article, I am going to discuss whether a landlord can charge for a clogged drain and discuss what you need to look at and consider in answering this question. Unfortunately, it’s not always a simple yes or no answer, so you will need to factor in some things, which we’ll cover.
Finally, I’ll also cover some ways you can easily unclog your drain without having to call your landlord if you are worried that they might charge you.
If you don’t have the time to read through it all, here’s a short answer to the question:
As a general matter, a landlord is responsible for maintaining the habitability of your rental home and making repairs as needed to do that, so they will likely be responsible for clearing your drain. However, if you caused the clog, there is an exception that kicks in which will obligate you to foot the bill.
Ok let’s get into it.
The information contained in this post is for informational purposes only. It is not legal advice. You should seek the advice of a qualified legal professional before making any decisions relating to the topics covered by this article.
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What is the Implied Warranty of Habitability?
The implied warranty of habitability is a widely adopted legal doctrine that basically states that a landlord must provide and maintain a livable dwelling to their tenant, even if the lease does not specifically spell that out. This includes making repairs that are needed to keep the dwelling habitable.
While different states have different interpretations of habitability, it usually includes making sure the building is up to code and that plumbing systems are working.
For example, in California, the landlord is responsible for providing plumbing facilities that conformed to code at the time of installation and maintaining them in good working order.
However, California law also states that a landlord is not responsible for repairs if the tenant did not properly use and operate all plumbing fixtures and keep them as clean and sanitary as their condition permits. Source.
Many states seem to adopt this framework of imposing initial responsibility for maintaining plumbing systems on the landlord, but then shifting that responsibility to tenants if they misuse or incorrectly operate plumbing fixtures (like flushing down the toilet things that are not supposed to be flushed).
But not all of them do, so it is worth checking your laws if you want a definitive answer.
For your convenience, here’s our 50 state reference table (including D.C.) that will link you to the official landlord tenant laws of your state.
What If My Lease States That I am Responsible For Clogged Drains?
Many leases may state that the tenant is always responsible for repairing clogged drains. But don’t give up yet.
A lot of states do not allow a lease to waive the implied warranty of habitability or conflict with it. So you should check your state and local laws to see if they provide protection for you, even when your lease seems to place the burden of repair squarely on your shoulders.
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How Can I Dispute My Landlord’s Bill?
The first thing you need to do is read your lease and see what it says. If it requires the landlord to repair clogs, then all you need to do is contact your landlord as prescribed by your lease (I like to send an email, so it’s in writing) and ask them to repair the clog.
Point out the provision in the lease that says they are supposed to make repairs if they try to bill you for the repair.
If the lease is silent on this issue or states that the tenant is responsible, then I would look to your applicable laws to see if there is something in there that may help. If there is, you can politely inform the landlord of the law and ask that the bill be withdrawn.
If there’s nothing in the lease or the law that seems to support your position, then you can still ask your landlord to repair the clogged drain and hope he doesn’t charge you or try to fix the clog yourself. On that note…
What Are Self-Help Remedies to Fix the Clog?
I have been a landlord for many years, so I have fixed my fair share of clogged drains. Here are some of the methods I have used successfully.
Obviously, a product like Drano can be effective on kitchen and bathroom sinks, showers or bathtubs, but you should not use them for clogged toilets. I would go with the maximum strength version and make sure you let it sit for enough time for the product to do its work.
For more stubborn clogs, you can try using a plunger, which can work both on toilets and sinks. It is especially effective for toilets but you have to do it right. The key is to force down the water all the way out of the toilet. This water being forced down should dislodge whatever is causing the blockage.
For even more stubborn clogs, you can use a plumber’s snake, which is basically a long hose looking device that you send down the drain. It puts pressure on (or breaks up) the thing that is blocking the drain and frees it up, even if its lodged pretty deep. Remember to use one that is pretty long, so you can actually reach the blocked area.
Now if none of these options seems to be working, you probably need to call a professional plumber to resolve the issues.
So there you have it – a clear answer to the question of whether a landlord can charge for a clogged drain and some tips on how to handle the situation. Hope this has been helpful and happy renting.