If your rental has experienced significant water damage, you may be left wondering how long your landlord has to fix that damage.
It’s a legitimate question, especially if the damage is so extensive that you are basically living in a flooded home or your landlord is not responding promptly to the issue.
In this article, I am going to answer the question and discuss the legal landscape around the issue. I will also provide some tips you can use to address the situation if your landlord is not responding quickly enough.
If you don’t have the time to read through it all, here’s a short answer to the question:
A landlord is generally required to fix water damage promptly, particularly if it affects habitability. A good rule of thumb is 30 days, but the exact timeframe will depend on a variety of factors, including your lease and state law requirements. From a practical perspective, the extent of the damage, the availability of qualified contractors, insurance proceedings, and legal disputes can all factor into how long the repairs will take.
Ok, let’s get started!
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.
We may earn commissions from products and services that are purchased or recommended through our website as part of our affiliate partnerships. As an Amazon affiliate, we may earn from qualifying purchases.
Implied Warranty of Habitability
At the heart of every house rental maintenance issue is the implied warranty of habitability. It basically states that tenants are entitled to a livable home.
Now water damage can run the gamut in terms of how serious it is.
For example, if there has been massive flooding of your home and your entire place is standing in two feet of water, the home is pretty much instantly uninhabitable. In that case, your landlord may want to declare it as such and have you move out.
Depending on your jurisdiction, your landlord may be required to find you a suitable alternative place while the rental is being restored to a livable condition.
But if you have a small, intermittent drip under your sink that has discolored the bottom of the cabinet floor, that is not serious and does not affect habitability in the slightest. In that case, the landlord will have a lot more time to repair that damage (if they need to do so at all).
So, the question turns on how serious the water damage is. Let’s discuss some common categories of water damage and how they should be treated.
Presence of Serious Mold
If water damage includes large and serious patches of mold, then it could very well make a place uninhabitable. In cases involving habitability, the landlord is usually required to remediate it quickly.
How quickly they have to fix habitability issues will depend on what your lease says as well as what state and local laws require, but many states have indicated that 30 days is a reasonable timeframe for making required repairs, although 14 days is also a commonly accepted timeframe.
Again, these are general observations, so you will need to review your specific jurisdiction’s rules on the matter. I have seen timeframes ranging from as little as a few hours in true emergency situations. Source.
If you want to learn more, check out my detailed article on the topic here. You can of course, do your own research or have a lawyer help you navigate these issues (which I recommend, if you have complicated questions)
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.
If you prefer to have a lawyer assist you, I would try JustAnswer. They boast access to thousands of highly-rated, verified real estate lawyers whom you can connect with via their unlimited chat service.
By clicking the banner below, you can get a one week trial membership for only $5, which you can cancel at any time.
We covered this already, so I won’t go into this in detail again. In this situation, you have a real habitability issue and that is likely going to require a rapid response from your landlord.
Consult your lease and applicable laws to find out exact repair requirements and remedies you can use when faced with this serious situation.
Isolated and Modest Flooding
In cases where the flooding is modest and relatively contained (like a centimeter of water in the bathroom for example), then the habitability issue is less clear.
If the landlord is able to respond relatively quickly and stop the leak and dry the area, then repairing any damaged flooring, trim or drywall from the minor flooding will likely not need to happen on an emergency timeframe.
But again, if the flooding is not handled quickly, then mold can set in and that could impact habitability. In that case, you would look to the timeframes governing habitability repairs, which we already discussed.
Another common cause of water damage is rook leaks. In many states, this type of damage is specifically included within the definition of habitability, so a landlord will likely need to repair damages quickly.
Again, this relates to actually fixing the roof and the leak, not necessarily cosmetic issues like repainting discolored areas of the drywall where water seeped through. Again, remediating mold behind or on the walls is a different story – that might very well jeopardize habitability depending on its severity.
What Should I Do When There Is a Leak or Flooding?
Obviously, the first thing to do is to see if you can stop it. If you can easily turn off the water supply, that should be your first step.
Call your landlord immediately so they know there is a serious water issue and have them send over professional help.
In the meantime, if you have controlled the source of the water, then you should try to dry the area as best you can. If it’s too extensive, a professional water remediation company will need to be called in.
Once the area has been dried, then the work of repairing the water damage begins. As long as you did not cause the issue, in most cases, this will be the landlord’s job and he will need to cover the cost.
Again, that’s not always the case, so you should check your lease and applicable laws to make sure you know who’s responsible for what.
What Can I Do If My Landlord Refuses To Fix Water Damage or Unlawfully Delays It?
If the damage is posing a safety or health hazard, then the tenant usually has some powerful remedies, including repairing the damage themselves and deducting from the rent, withholding rent, or even abandoning the property.
But not every state offers all three of these options (or even one). It is important to check first before you exercise any of these remedies.
Repair and Deduct
In some states, tenants may use a “repair and deduct” remedy when the landlord is not being responsive. Under this solution, a tenant may pay for the repair himself and deduct the cost from the rental payment.
To do this, you must often meet a variety of requirements, including that the repair cannot exceed a certain amount (e.g., more than one month’s rent), the tenant is not at fault for the needed repair, and the landlord was notified of the issue and had a reasonable opportunity to fix it, but did not do so.
Certain states will allow you to vacate the property permanently (i.e., end the tenancy) if needed repairs aren’t performed.
As a general matter, you have similar requirements to the repair and deduct remedy if you want to exercise this right. For example, the condition must be affecting safety or health, you are not at fault, and the landlord had notice and opportunity to repair, but did not.
It is a drastic measure, though, so you should carefully consider alternatives before pulling the trigger on this.
Finally, some jurisdictions allow a tenant to withhold rent until a needed repair is made.
I want to warn you that if your state does not allow this, withholding rent can trigger an eviction proceeding against you. You definitely need to do your research before trying to do this.
As with the prior remedies, this remedy usually has similar requirements around severity, fault, and notice and opportunity.
So there you have it – a comprehensive look at how long landlords have to fix water damage. Hope this has been helpful and happy renting!