Plumbing issues can be a real problem for a tenant. They can range from the annoying (a clogged drain), to the serious (a burst pipe or sewage back-up).
And because tenants usually use their plumbing daily, these problems can pop with some regularity. If there are serious plumbing defects, they can even cause health issues or even make your place unlivable.
So, this begs the question: who is responsible for plumbing repairs in a rental?
In this article, I am going to answer that question. I will also cover applicable laws around the issue, and discuss timeframes for fixing plumbing defects. Finally, I will provide some tips on how to address this situation if it arises.
If you don’t have the time to read through it all, here’s a short answer to the question:
If the plumbing issue isn’t caused by tenant negligence, landlords are typically responsible for fixing it. Smaller issues like slow or clogged drains may fall on the tenant, while more serious issues like burst pipes and sewage backups will almost always be the responsibility of the landlord.
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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Who Is Responsible for Plumbing Repairs in a Rental?
See What Your Lease Says on the Matter
As a preliminary matter, you always want to check your lease to see if it answers the question.
Many leases will state clearly that the landlord is responsible for repairing plumbing issues. In some cases, there may be carve-outs for things like clearing drains and the like.
It’s always a smart practice to know what you and your landlord have signed up for contractually. But the contract isn’t always the end of the analysis. Sometimes it will be vague or be silent on this issue.
In that case, we need to turn to applicable laws on the matter. On that note…
The Implied Warranty of Habitability
According to the implied warranty of habitability, landlords are required by law to provide a safe and livable environment for the tenants. This includes abiding by local housing codes. In many cases, this will cover working plumbing systems.
So, even if your lease agreement doesn’t include a specific clause on plumbing repairs, it is quite possible that your state has adopted the implied warranty of habitability and declared that the landlord is responsible for fixing plumbing issues.
That being said, most state and local laws put the burden back on the tenant if they are the cause of the plumbing defect.
For example if you have flushed items down the toilet or thrown away food or other items in the sink that are not intended to be disposed of in that manner, you may be on the hook for repairing any plumbing issues caused by your actions.
Additionally, if you neglect to inform your landlord of a minor issue that led to further damage, you may be responsible for the larger repairs caused by your failure to report a smaller issue.
Now I want to clarify that different states have different rules around plumbing repairs, so it makes sense to check your state and local laws to determine who’s responsible for handling them.
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 to Notify Your Landlord of Plumbing Issues
Now, it’s easy to understand why you should notify your landlord or property manager of any plumbing issues right away. Still, there’s a correct way of doing so that’ll ensure you’re not liable for any damages.
Even if your landlord is a phone call away, you should always put your maintenance request in writing. You can write a letter, an email, or just text your landlord. But if you want to be on rock solid footing, find out what the proper means of notifying your landlord is under the lease and applicable laws and follow those guidelines.
The reason for providing a written request is that your landlord is probably juggling maintenance requests, property management, and other tenants. So, giving them a written notice will ensure they don’t forget about your plumbing issue.
Furthermore, your landlord might ignore your request or claim you didn’t inform them of the damage. In this case, you’ll have documented evidence of the maintenance request.
The written maintenance notice should include all the plumbing details, including if the damage is tenant-caused. You should also add your contact details, so your landlord can inform you when the plumber is coming.
How Long Should Your Landlord Take to Fix Plumbing?
Once you’ve notified your landlord of the required plumbing repairs, they should handle critical repairs very quickly (this will again depend on your applicable laws, but I have seen as soon as a few hours to around 7 days for urgent issues)
For example, if pipes have burst and your apartment is actually actively flooding, then you should turn off the water supply and contact your landlord immediately. They should send over plumbers and water remediation folks as soon as possible.
However, if your issue is less serious, there is more leeway. In those cases, landlords are usually given much more time to address the plumbing defect (30 days is common).
What to Do If Your Landlord Doesn’t Repair the Plumbing
Most landlords will want to fix any broken plumbing quickly, because water issues can quickly escalate and ruin the property.
However, if they are not responding or acting very slowly to address the problem (and they are in fact responsible for fixing it), you have some options (assuming you’ve already notified them properly of the issue and have tried following up).
Repair and Deduct
The first and simplest thing you can do is hire a plumber and pay him out of your pocket. Then, you may deduct the cost of the repairs from the following month’s rent.
To do this, you need to keep a detailed invoice from the plumber. You’ll also want to hire a reputable plumber, ideally one that your landlord or property manager recommends. Now you want to be careful when using this remedy because not all states allow you to do this.
Make sure you consult with a lawyer before you exercise this remedy or you could be facing eviction for nonpayment of rent
Another remedy that may be available is withholding rent until your landlord fixes the plumbing condition.
Again, your state and local laws may not permit this and you could be in breach of the lease agreement for failure to pay rent if you do this illegally.
If you are uncertain around any of this, you can always contact your local tenants right organization to see if they can help you navigate these waters (pun intended).
So there you have it – a comprehensive look at who is responsible for plumbing repairs and some tips on what you can do when faced with this situation. Hope this has been helpful and happy renting!