Having a clogged drain can be super annoying and pretty gross, especially if the murky water is left standing in your sink or tub.
So if you are faced with this situation, it’s natural to ask whether your landlord is responsible for fixing the clog.
In this article, I am going to answer this question. I will provide an overview of the laws that may apply to clogged drains and also offer you some tips on how to deal with this situation when it arises.
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 must fix a clogged drain if the clog is due to a plumbing issue that is not the tenant’s fault. However, if the tenant caused the clog, then they will likely be responsible for the cost of repair.
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.
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.
Is My Landlord Responsible for Clogged Drains?
Check Your Lease First
As with most landlord-tenant questions, you should examine your lease to see if it addresses this situation.
In many cases, the lease will talk about repairing clogs or other plumbing issues. My lease places the responsibility for clearing drains on the tenant, in accordance with the laws in my states.
However, your lease and state laws may differ from mine, so it’s definitely a smart move to review your lease carefully to find out who is responsible for making these types of repairs.
If your lease is silent on the matter, then you will need to look at applicable laws. On that note…
The Implied Warranty of Habitability
As a general matter, landlords are subject to the implied warranty of habitability, which means that they must provide a tenant with a home that is livable and safe.
A key factor in determining habitability is whether the rental meets local housing codes. Source.
Many states that adopted this legal principle, but oftentimes, they have interpreted it differently. However, in most cases, working plumbing systems are considered part of habitability and thus, landlords are required to maintain them.
This includes making repairs to clogged drains when needed.
However, there is a critical exception to this general rule, which is that the landlord will not be responsible for the repair if the tenant caused the clog.
So in many cases, the responsibility for unclogging will hinge on this factor. So we’ll need to examine what causes clogs in the first place.
What Causes Clogged Drains?
Clogged drains can be caused by many things, but here are some of the most common reasons for them.
We all know that putting large amounts of food scraps and grease down our drain can cause clogs.
These substances can collect inside pipes and cause a blockage. Obviously, if a tenant has been doing this, instead of throwing away food properly, this type of clog will be attributed to the tenant.
It’s no surprise that hair is another common culprit for clogged drains. It can quickly accumulate in the shower and bathroom sink. Hair in the drain will usually be deemed to be caused by the tenant.
An easy and cheap solution to prevent hair in the drain is to use a drain cover. If hair still makes it through, you can use Drano to clear the clog or a plumbing snake to pull out accumulated hair and other gunk in the drain.
This filmy residue can build up in pipes and cause clogs. It occurs when the fatty components of bar soap combine with minerals in the water. If you don’t want to be accused of causing this type of clog, make sure to use a drain strainer (with small holes).
This should catch a lot of the soap scum from entering your drain, but you will probably also need to clean your pipes from time to time with a chemical drain cleaner.
Flushing Inappropriate Items
Flushing wipes, feminine products, and even dental floss can lead to severe clogs in your plumbing system. So, never flush them down the toilet, or you may be blamed for the clog.
Aging or Faulty Pipes
Pipes can deteriorate over time and they can malfunction. In some cases, old pipes may need to be replaced to prevent further issues. Obviously, this type of defect can’t be placed at the feet of tenants. The landlord needs to step in a fix this type of issue.
If you’re experiencing slow draining or frequent clogs and you know you are properly using your plumbing systems, it may be time to ask to get the pipes inspected.
What Should I Do if I Have a Clogged Drain?
See if You Can Fix It Yourself
The reality is that most clogged drains can be fixed with ease and very little expense.
As a landlord for many years, I’ve seen my fair share of clogged drains. Here are some of the methods I’ve successfully used.
Drano is obviously effective on kitchen and bathroom sinks, showers, and bathtubs, but it should not be used on clogged toilets. I would recommend using the maximum strength version and allowing enough time for the product to work.
For more stubborn clogs, use a plunger, which can be used on both toilets and sinks. It is especially effective for toilets, but it must be done correctly. The key is to force all of the water out of the toilet. The force of the water should dislodge whatever is causing the blockage.
For more stubborn clogs, a plumber’s snake, which is essentially a long hose-like device that you send down the drain, can be used. It applies pressure to (or breaks up) the obstruction in the drain and frees it, even if it is quite deep. Remember to use a long one so you can actually reach the blocked area.
If none of these options seem to be working, you should probably call a professional plumber to fix the problem.
Contact Your Landlord
If your efforts are not yielding results or you are confident that your landlord is responsible for fixing the clog, then it’s time to contact them.
You will want to put the request for repair in writing and comply with any contractual or legal requirements around delivering proper notice. Make sure you identify the issue clearly and request the repair. Also make sure you state your availability, etc.
Keep a record of your communication and any evidence of the problem and efforts to fix it.
Pursue Additional Remedies If Your Landlord is Not Responsive
Property owners ought to be prompt in their response to a tenant’s report.
This simple act displays consideration of the tenant’s comfort and safety. However, not all landlords are responsible or considerate. If your landlord is not doing what they are supposed to, then you may want to consider escalating matters.
A good first step is contacting your local tenants rights organization. They will often have heard similar complaints from other tenants and will be well versed on how to prompt your landlord to action.
If the clog rises to the level of a violation of housing code or similar breach of law, then you may want to report the violation to your local housing authority.
Alternatively, you can research your state and local laws to see if there are legal remedies, such as paying for the repair and deducting the cost from your rent or or withholding rent until the landlord fixes the clog.
Note that some states prohibit these remedies and you could be facing an eviction for non-payment of rent if you use them when they are not allowed. So make sure you are confident in your jurisdiction’s rules before using these remedies.
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.
So there you have it – a detailed look at whether landlords are required to fix your clogged drain and some tips on how to address this situation. Hope this has been helpful and happy renting!