Dear PoP – Is This a Leasebreaker?

Photo by PoPville flickr user fromcaliw/love

“Dear PoP,

Last week, during the brief but heavy thunderstorm, a solid 3/4 of my room was swamped with rain water. Nothing of value was ruined but, after the landlord’s inspection, it seems the issue is being blamed on me. Why? My window, which holds an air conditioning unit, had a half-inch gap on the left and ride panels of the window frame which hold the air conditioning unit. This window, the same window that has been open that very same half-inch between the AC unit and window panel throughout the entire spring / summer, has yet to allow even a drop of rain water into my room (I should know, I sleep right next to it). Yet, somehow, these 2 tiny gaps now have the power to allow nearly all of my 14×16 bedroom to become drenched with rain water. What makes this accusation even more shocking is that there is another row house, standing tall, no more than 6 feet directly in front of my window that extends around and is also 10 feet to my window’s right…which pretty much means the only way any water would have slammed through those small cracks was if someone literally stood there and dumped gallons upon gallons into my room.

My point is, I believe it is something structurally wrong house itself that caused this flooding, which the landlord is choosing to ignore for now (I was told to wait a week and let everything dry). So, assuming I were to sit back and do nothing (which I do not plan to do), I would be stuck with soggy floors, a smelly room, and the potential for mold.

My main question for you – is this a leasebreaker? There is nothing specific mentioned in my lease terms regarding any sort of structural damage not caused by the tenant. Are there laws against a landlord refusing to fix a flooded apartment / bedroom / basement / any form of rental property that is inhabited by a person?”

Anyone dealt with a similar situation? Who needs to take the responsibility here?

16 Comment

  • I believe that implied in every lease is a general warranty of habitability. If the landlord does anything (or fails to repair anything) that makes the premises uninhabitable, the tenant is not obliged to honor the lease.

  • Take the landlord to the new housing violations calendar in DC Superior Court. The calendar is meant to address problems with the unit in its present state. The cases get heard in two weeks. You can call the housing inspectors also This is not necessarily a lease breaker since this was an extreme event. Thinks happen and landlords are allowed a reasonable time ti fix them.

  • Having said that, there are probably notification procedures that have to be followed. Don’t just stop paying rent or plan to move out; bring this issue to the landlord’s attention and make it clear that the premises are not habitable and he or she has an obligation to remedy the problem.

  • Ok, you disagree with the landlord, but then where do you think the water came from? It doesn’t just “appear”. You also make a pretty compelling argument for your landlord by admitting that it happened during the “heavy thunderstorm”.

    Water doesn’t just appear, the source of it should be pretty easy to find. Are their water marks on the ceiling, or walls where it ran?

    If it was a chronic structural problem (roof leak) you would have had this problem before, especially earlier this spring where we had the rainiest spring in decades.

    Same if it was a broken pipe…

    • Also, did you put the A/C unit in the window or did the landlord?

    • It hasn’t rained like it rained last week for a long time, so maybe this has happened before but before you lived there. Do you live on the ground floor? If so, it sounds to me like the water came up through the foundation. It flooded this time but not other times because of the cumulative rain last week raising the water table.

  • Track down where the water really came in from. Look for wet ceilings, walls, crawl into the attic, etc. Shouldn’t be your job, but if you can pinpoint it yourself and show the landlord you have a better chance of getting this fixed quickly.

    For that much water it should be pretty obvious. Also, rain blowing in through a 1/2″ gap isn’t the only way for water to get in, it could have rolled down the side of the building or perhaps ran over the gutter and the ac unit channelled it on.

  • It all depends. Let’s not accuse the landlord just because, you know, it is DC.
    First, how do you think the rain water made it to your room?
    1. Is this a basement apartment or an above ground structure?
    2. Is this a top floor room, just below the roof?
    With the amount of water you claim you have in your room, it shouldn’t be difficult to trace it back to the original entry point. If roof, then your ceiling will be wet, stains will form. If basement apartment, then the door area will be wet more than other parts, if it is near the windows, then yes, water came through the window. Perhaps the window was open that day?

    After you and the landlord agree the entry point, then if roof, he will have to fix it, if basement apartment, the drain outside have to be cleaned out by him to make sure it is working properly and won’t get overwhelmed anymore, he may have to clean or replace your flooring. If your unit is in the 1st floor, then the only way water can enter is through window. If you left the window open, then it is your responsibility, if you are the one who installed the AC unit, then it is your responsibility for leaving a gap, if the landlord provided and installed the window unit, then it is the landlord’s responsibility for leaving the gap allowing water in, get the picture?
    Let’s all be accountable and all will be alright!

  • Check other likely leak sources, namely gutter downspout water not being directed away from building (usually those long black plastic hoses are attached but could have become undone) or drain outside is blocked by dirt or leaves. I don’t think that much water could come in a window even if left wide open. I would ask it to be fixed in writing and if no action taken give 30 days notice to leave. Be polite and try first to get the problem fixed and keep a paper trail. 99% of individual landlords would much rather find a replacement tenant than sue. If you do get a threat of a lawsuit say you will feel compelled to invite DCRA to inspect the unit to prove the living condition situation.

  • I would have to agree, for a large amount of water to come in, there will be a substancial amount of evidence. Look for paint bubbles, discolored paint, heaving drywall. If you are on the ground floor, look for evidence that water came through the wall. From what you have explained, if you are on the ground floor or basement and in the rear of the house, alot of houses in DC have small alley like areas to let let in. If thats the case, the water could have backed up quickly and pooled. Also check to see if the downspout is ok.

  • You don’t make clear what your intentions or desires are.
    Do you want out of the lease?
    If you do, there’s a good chance your landlord will release you, especially if your claim to be blameless is true.

  • Not implying anything here, but I heard from a guy who had a tenant in his basement apartment that did all sort of wired things to sue the landlord. Apparently he once dialed the temperature of the hot water heater down and claimed he was not given hot water, he let his washer/dryer overflow using dish detergent and got the carpet ruined and complained to DC that his place was not livable, etc. There are some horrible tenants just like there are some horrible landlords so let’s keep that in mind.
    The landlord, in both situations, won.

  • My friend lives in a basement apartment and she’s flooded twice.

    The problem? No sump pump was installed under the concrete floor. Since concrete is porous, the water simply being pressed up through the tiny holes in the floor. No “obvious evidence” existed — no cracks, no holes — the ground just became wet and then the water began to rise.

    She’s still trying to figure out what to do about this situation (it flooded again, after a sump pump was installed — the installation made the place uninhabitable for 2 weeks, and one of the workers stole belongings), and a host of other problems with the apartment (leaking bathroom ceiling, mold on the walls — the landlord just keeps painting over it instead of fixing it).

    She was on the way to the DCRA yesterday to try and find help when she got mugged on metro and lost her paperwork.

    ANYWAY. The point is that there doesn’t need to be “obvious evidence” in the form of cracks and holes of where the water came from.

  • As a tenant and occupant you need to take some responsibility yourself for the premises leased to you for your use and in your care as well.

    Rain falls, sometimes hard in the Summer. Prepare for it, and don’t seek blame upon others and circumstances.

    Take some responsibility for yourself and your home whether you rent or own.

    To many wimpy whiners here.

  • Finding your apartment flooded – or being in it while it starts inexplicably filling with water – is no fun. the worst part is that people might think you are crazy if you can’t figure out where the water is coming from. i had a similar experience myself.

    After a few uneventful downpours in my new 1st floor apartment (in a two story building), i woke up one night to water pouring out of the hot air returns, running down the walls, and draining out of the light fixtures. The tenants upstairs were experiencing none of this. (The next morning they did notice that their carpet was damp.)

    What happened? The roof of our building had sprung a leak and water came flooding in, but it ran through the walls of the 2nd floor unit and, upon hitting the ceiling of our unit, spread out and started raining in. For days the Sheetrock walls were swollen, especially along the tape lines.

    If you think the water came in from above but have no watermarks on the ceiling, it’s possible that it drained in through vents, fixtures, or even the walls. look for drip marks or feel for moisture.

  • This post doesn’t make any sense. Water had to come from somewhere. Where’s the evidence of structural issues. Is it a basement apt? If not then water had to come in through some opening in the roof wall or through the windows. There aren’t that many options and it shouldn’t be that hard to figure out. Have a contractor come and inspect. Sounds to me though like tenant did not properly install the a/c unit and may actually be responsible for the damage which he/she is trying to get out of.

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