Over time, pipes in your rental property can get clogged through the accumulation of hair, soap scum, grease, toilet paper and other items. When this happens, wastewater can’t drain properly and may come up through sinks, shower drains, or toilets.
It’s incredibly distressing and gross.
If you’re a tenant currently experiencing this issue, you want this thing fixed now and you might be wondering how long your landlord has to actually repair it.
In this article, I am going to answer that question. I will also cover the general legal landscape that governs this issue and will provide some tips on how you can address delays by your landlord in remedying this issue.
If you don’t have the time to read through it all, here’s a short answer to the question:
Working plumbing systems are considered a key element of habitability, so landlords are generally obligated to fix sewage backups promptly. Most repairs need to happen within 30 days, but that timeframe can be as short as 3 to 7 days, depending on state and local laws, your specific lease terms, and the severity of the issue.
Ok, we’ve got a lot to cover, so let’s get into it.
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Is a Landlord Responsible For Sewage Backups?
Landlords are usually responsible for repairing sewage backups because they are, in most cases, required to maintain a habitable premises for their tenants. This is outlined in the implied warranty of habitability, which we’ll cover in more detail below.
Implied Warranty of Habitability
What is the implied warranty of habitability?
I know it sounds like an over-engineered legal term, but in simple terms, it’s a promise from your landlord that the rental property will be livable and safe, even if the lease agreement does not spell that out.
At a minimum, that means that the property must meet housing codes. Source.
Two key things that are usually covered under the implied warranty of habitability are: (i) working plumbing systems and (ii) functioning bathrooms and toilets. That’s because most housing codes will require a dwelling to have both in good operating order.
In a serious sewage backup, both of these areas may not be impacted, which means a landlord will usually be required to fix it (and do it within a reasonable period of time).
Note: I would highlight that a landlord may not be obligated to fix a sewage backup if the issue was due to a tenant’s improper actions. So if they were improperly flushing or disposing of items which then caused the backup, the tenant will likely be held responsible for the clean up and remediation.
Of course, your lease agreement may cover this specific scenario, so it’s worth checking it out to see what it says. But if it’s silent on this issue or does not seem to deal with the situation in a reasonable way, you should also review your state and local laws.
That’s because these laws can override your lease agreement. And each state tends to interpret the implied warranty of habitability differently (and some may not adopt it at all).
Your state and local laws are perhaps one of the most critical pieces to understanding your landlord’s obligation to repair sewage backups, so you will definitely want to conduct robust and thorough research to know what applies in your situation.
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.
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How Long Does a Landlord Have to Fix Sewage Backup?
Many states impose on landlords a responsibility to make needed repairs within a “reasonable amount of time”. What constitutes a reasonable period may vary depending on your area, but it’s usually around 30 days, with many states highlighting that the reasonable period may depend on specific circumstances.
Additionally, some states and localities apply different timeframes depending on the severity of the issue. For example, New York City has Class A, Class B and Class C violations, each designating a different repair period based on how how hazardous the condition is to human health. Source.
Some states like Texas presume that 7 days is reasonable to fix issues like this (i.e., that affect the health and safety of a tenant), although a landlord can challenge that presumption based on things such as the severity and nature of the condition, and the reasonable availability of materials and labor and of utilities from a utility company. Source.
Cleaning Up After a Sewage Backup Is Essential
It is really important to properly clean and disinfect inside your rental property after a sewage overflow. Whether you’re cleaning up or your landlord is, you should be mindful of the dangers involved in a sewage backup, which could include exposure to harmful germs.
At a minimum, observe the following:
- Don’t eat or drink anything exposed to sewer water.
- Wear rubber boots, gloves and protective goggles during cleanup.
- Throw away any personal items that can’t be thoroughly cleaned, disinfected and dried.
- Keep people and pets out of contaminated areas until cleanup is done.
- Seek professional cleaning help for homes with extensive flood damage.
Depending on the severity of the sewage backup, your flooring, baseboards and certain parts of the drywall may need to be repaired or replaced. I had this happen to me and it was a nightmare. Luckily the apartment’s insurance paid for everything and it was all done right.
Tenants’ Relocation During Maintenance and Repairs
In some areas, such as Los Angeles County, local ordinances require landlords to provide relocation assistance to tenants who are permanently or temporarily displaced. This rule is only applicable if the reason for the displacement doesn’t involve the tenants’ fault.
Necessary repairs, including the fixing of sewage backups and plumbing facilities, are a valid cause for a tenant’s temporary displacement. Thus, you may be able to receive relocation assistance from your landlord if sewage backup repairs force you to move out temporarily.
Forms of Relocation Assistance
Relocation assistance from your landlord may come in the form of money, relocation specialist services, or an accommodation that’s comparable to your previous unit. Depending on your state’s regulations, you can receive monetary assistance on a per-diem basis.
In addition to local ordinances, you can also check your state’s landlord-tenant laws and relocation codes to know more about your landlord’s obligation to provide relocation assistance.
Additionally, your lease agreement might include clauses indicating your landlord’s responsibility to cover accommodation expenses when the unit becomes uninhabitable.
Other Legal Remedies
Repair and Deduct
Repair and deduct is a legal remedy where a tenant can pay for repairs and then subtract the cost from their monthly rent.
However, in most cases, there are legal conditions that need to be met before you can repair and deduct and not every state allows it. So you will need to check your laws to find out if its available and, if so, what’s required to do this.
But there is pretty clear example of this in Texas if you want to check it out. They specifically allow for the repair and deduct remedy for sewage backups. Source
You may also be able to withhold rent if your landlord fails to make necessary repairs. Again, some states will permit this, while others may not. You must first confirm that your state allows you to use any of these remedies, or you may face eviction for nonpayment of rent.
A tenant may abandon a rental unit in extreme cases where the rental property becomes uninhabitable. Typically, renters may choose this remedy if the defects are severe enough and the landlord has not taken any remedial action.
Check your applicable laws to see if this is something you can do. You should consult with a lawyer before taking this drastic step.
So there you have it – a comprehensive look at how long a landlord has to fix sewage backups and some options you can explore if this is happening to you. Hope this has been helpful and happy renting.