From the Forum – No water! Landlord’s responsibilites?


No water! Landlord’s responsibilities?

“Presumably like many other unfortunate DC residents our pipes froze and our entire house has been without water since Wednesday. The management company is sticking to the line that there is nothing they can do until the weather warms up – which it ain’t looking like it will for the next few days. I’ve seen similar posts related to frozen pipe issue but, different from those, our landlord has made minimal, if any, attempt to resolve the situation. They have not sent over a plumber despite our numerous requests. A rep from the management company came over to check things out -but he’s not a plumber. Below are excerpts from the notice they sent to tenants. What, if anything, is the landlord liable for considering the lack of concrete action on their part? Is it reasonable to ask for pro-rated rent for the days the house is uninhabitable? Appreciate any advice. Thanks.

From the landlord:

“As you know, DC is experiencing one of the coldest winters on record. Unfortunately, our Washington, DC housing stock was built for milder weather and isn’t always able to accommodate sustained extreme temperatures. This can challenge some heating and plumbing systems and we can’t always anticipate where the problems will emerge.

“Freezing pipes are something a number of us are experiencing (including many of the folks on our team). Unfortunately, there isn’t anything that can be done to unfreeze pipes until the weather warms up. We know this isn’t news people want to hear, but patience is the only tool we have.

We’re eager to know if this is something that has happened in your unit so we can offer guidance to prevent damages from a burst pipe once they begin to thaw. Keeping faucets at least partially open and heat on in the house is important as they begin to warm up. Keep cabinet doors under sinks open as well.

We always work hard to anticipate what a house will need to get through unusual circumstances. Since the temperatures have not been this low for any extended time in many years, there was no way to know if or when pipes would freeze. Now that we have this information, we can work with owners to see if it is preventable.”

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59 Comment

  • It’s above freezing now and will be for the next 5 days. Your pipes will unfreeze, even if a plumber doesn’t come out.

    In the meantime, you can send this to your landlord and ask if they tried these things:

  • The law says apartments have to have running water. It also says that emergency repairs must be completed within 24 hours of the time the tenants tell the landlord (or manager or whatever).

    Try calling the Office of the Tenant Advocate:

    • 24 hours? Where did you hear that?

    • gimme a break…. what is the landlord supposed to do, install a new plumbing system ?! please…. the tenants should have left the faucets dripping and then the pipes wouldn’t have froze. a plumber will tell them the same thing – nothing they can do. they should be grateful that the pipes didn’t burst. and the landlord will be lucky that he doesn’t have to repair broken pipes because his/her moronic tenants didn’t take proper precaution..

      • The landlord owns the building. The landlord is responsible for maintaining the building. That includes taking action to make sure the pipes don’t freeze. If the landlord neglected their responsibility to keep the pipes from freezing then they should have to pay for hotel rooms for each of their tenants so that tenants have access to running water.

        • should the landlord come into the units and set everybody’s faucets to drip?

          • Yes. They should see that it is freezing outside, send a notice to their residents that apartments will be entered for building maintenance and then they should set the lowest faucets (closest to basement) for each stack of apartments to drip.

          • No, they should have properly insulated the pipes so they wouldn’t be in danger of freezing.

          • should the landlord also stop by monthly to see that the tenants are keeping the place clean, flushing their toilets properly, turning their lights off when they leave…

          • No, that is not required by law.

          • [email protected]; good point.

        • Anyone saying “they should have properly insulated the pipes” has no concept of what it’s like to own and maintain an old building/home. Not only that, it hasn’t been this cold in DC for 20 years so there really wasn’t much need to heavily insulate pipes. Chances are next year it’ll go back to normal and we’ll all forget about this for another 20 years.

          • It hasn’t even been that cold out! Properly insulating the pipes to accommodate these temperatures is not difficult! It’s not like we’re getting the 20 below zero that they’re getting in the upper midwest. Remove a bit of drywall, apply spray insulation, replace drywall. A competent crew could do a whole unit in a few hours for a reasonable fee.

          • Housing construction in DC is uniquely shoddy, perhaps because most of the units are rented either by low-income people who don’t have the resources to fight back, or by young transplants who have no idea what to look for in a unit. It hasn’t been that cold in DC, and the fact that so many people have had pipes burst is a sign that landlords failed to properly insulate plumbing. That is the landlord’s responsibility, full stop, and all those who are whining that it is not fair are just too used to getting away with charging obscene rents for poorly-built housing.

          • “It hasn’t been that cold in DC, and the fact that so many people have had pipes burst is a sign that landlords failed to properly insulate plumbing.”
            It’s also a sign that landlords have not been properly communicating with tenants. Tenants should have been told ahead of the freezing temperatures what to do. Many tenants come from warm weather climates and had no idea that they need to leave the faucets dripping. At the very least, landlords should have sent messages via email or phone call. It’s such a minimal effort required to avoid costly damage!

          • Anyone who says that the landlord shouldn’t be responsible hasn’t tried to live in a house without the ability to cook, shower, or use the toilet.

            They VERY LEAST that could be done would be to PRORATE the rent. Landlords are ridiculously selfish, all warm and comfy in their own houses with water.

            If a landlord is unable to provide a habitable place to live, why on earth should he be paid?

          • Interestingly, I as the landlord had frozen pipes upstairs, but my downstairs tenant was completely fine. Being a very nice person, she offered to let us use her water if we needed to. Not all landlords are “warm and comfy in their own houses with water.”
            Furthermore, if the situation had been reversed, I would have knocked money off her rent until it was fixed and also offered to let her use the water upstairs. So yeah, not all landlords are “ridiculously selfish.”

          • JoeyDC – it’s extreme weather, not a conspiracy. as the person above stated, all people are affected by the weather – not just renters..

            Carlosthedwarf – any time it’s consistently in the teens, it’s cold in my book.

    • I didn’t think occupancy was allowed if there was no running water. I would have thought that if they can’t be fixed in a timely manner other arrangements have to made but that may not be something set in legal stone.

  • Oh for goodness sake. This again? Yes, pipes everywhere in the city are freezing. Heck, ours froze three separate times. We have been very lucky in that there was no damage- yet. There are some precautions you can take in the future to help prevent the pipes from freezing- easiest being leave the water tap on at a slow drip (both hot and cold).
    That said, there really is very little you can do other than wait. If the pipe is accessible, you could attempt to thaw it with a hair dryer. The landlord might want to look into getting spray insulation to prevent it from happening next cold snap. Beyond that, the landlord is correct that really nothing can be done. A plumber won’t be able to do anything till it’s thawed.

    • Agreed. Homeowner here, and I too was without water for a few days because my pipes froze. Then, we had a water main break on the street and were without water for a while again after that. Them’s the breaks

      • The lack of sufficiently insulated pipes is the landlord’s responsibility. If he didn’t want to miss out on rent, he should have a properly habitable house.

    • You can prorate the rent.

  • Tell your landlord that you and your co-tenants have discussed the issue, have reviewed DC’s regulations regarding a landlord’s obligation to maintain a livable dwelling, have discussed those regulations with a lawyer, and have decided that you will be happy if the problem is fixed and everyone gets paid $1,000 each. $2,000 each if the problem persists for longer than a week total. Your landlord is a cheapskate.

    • don’t be a fool. there is no way a court would order a landlord to pay money on the freezing of a functional plumbing system. DC is full of old houses and when temps go below 20, then pipes freeze. get over it and let the faucets drip next time. it’s not the landlord’s fault if his tenant’s brains freeze in cold weather. get a clue.

      • The pipes belong to the landlord. It is the landlord’s fault that they froze. People often enter into rental agreements because they do not have the knowledge or time to maintain their homes. They agree to pay rent in exchange for the building to be maintained. End of story.

        • let the faucets drip when you are in a polar vortex. inquire about the insulation of water pipes before you move in.

          • It is the landlord’s responsibility. This is what rent is for. The landlord doesn’t get absolved of responsibility to provide a habitable house, all while still demanding to be paid.

        • How is it the landlord’s fault that the pipes froze — was the landlord supposed to stop by every night to make sure that the tenants had left a faucet dripping to prevent the pipes from freezing?

        • You seriously misunderstand the legal concept of fault.

          • ?? hahaha. please do explain that concept. there is no requirement by the code for insulated pipes. if pipes freeze, you have to wait for them to thaw.

          • It is the landlord’s responsibility to ensure a habitable apartment, and that includes hot and cold running water. If the landlord is unwilling to take on the small advance expense necessary to properly insulate the pipes, then they choose to take on the risk that the pipes will freeze during a cold snap.

          • there is no duty to foresee and prevent. there is a duty to fix if it breaks. it froze and there is nothing to do until it unfreezes other than pray the pipes don’t burst when they unfreeze. (of course they should turn the main water off in the meantime so that if there are breaks the water isn’t running). if the complaint was that a pipe broke and the LL refused to fix, that’s another issue. there is nothing to do when a pipe freezes other than opening cabinets and directing heat toward the pipes.

          • If the landlord can’t provide a habitable apartment, they don’t get to just throw up their hands, they have to accommodate their tenants with a reduction in rent or other compensation.

          • There is no duty for a tenant to pay if they do not have a habitable residence.

      • I can personally attest that, yes, the courts can order you to pay for immediate repairs to provide working water to tenants. The DC courts can, and have.

        • Yes, if a unit doesn’t have functional water. Good luck getting a court date before the pipes freeze though..

  • laduvet

    I have been without a kitchen for most of the month due to frozen pipes. Last week the pipes bursted and flooded the basement. We are now on the second repair job on the same freezing pipes within a month period. Now they are waiting to rerun the pipes and re-insulate the back of the house. I called the city – they came by and ignored the issue – as long as the landlord/property management acknowledges the problems and sets a timeline for repairs, the city won’t do anything.

  • Double check your lease to see if the landlord shifted responsibility for frozen pipes onto you. If not, this is a breach of the warranty of habitability and you can ask for a rent abatement for the amount of time you’ve been without water. Alternatively, you can ask them to cover the cost of a hotel room while you are out of water. Getting anything above and beyond that is unlikely.

    • You can’t contract around the warranty of habitability in DC. Certain maintenance items can be delegated to tenants, provided that it’s a single-family dwelling (mowing, pest control, making sure the outside faucets are protected in winter, etc), but in a multi-unit building it’s the landlord’s responsibility.

    • there is no code requirement that pipes be freeze-proof. I doubt a landlord tenant judge would view frozen pipes as such a breach.

      • The breach is the failure to provide hot and cold running water–a landlord-tenant judge shouldn’t care how or why that came to be. That’s implicit in the rental contract, and a refusal by the landlord to compensate the tenant for any long-term outage is legally actionable.

        • meh.. I think most any judge would consider extreme temps in his review. we don’t live in an area where all houses have insulated pipes. probably not worth the trouble to find out either as long as the water is back on. likewise, as has been stated, there is no action to take when pipes are frozen, so there is no duty to do anything until they unfreeze. imho as an attorney, not a winner..

          • The law requires hot and cold running water. There’s nothing in the law that suspends it if the weather gets unusually cold.

          • depends how a judge would interpret ‘habitable’ – is a house that has temporarily frozen pipes uninhabitable ? inconvenient for sure. uninhabitable – not certain. I own a home now and I have reserves of large water containers for such situations. did the same when I rented. not going to take the time to look through case law, but wouldn’t bank on a ruling in favor of a tenant. I would argue that a reasonable read of the requirement to provide running water applies on normal circumstances. not sure that would apply in extreme weather events.

  • Word-for-word one of the broadcast emails from Nest LLC. From my experience, they are an awful property management company. It has been an awful year with them including multi-day outages of water service due to pipe issues. They are lucky that I didn’t get this property condemned as uninhabitable by requesting an investigation from the District of Columbia.

    • +1 They run our neighbors property very poorly. I would never ever use their services. Doesn’t surprise me a bit to hear these comments come from them. just awful

    • That’s weird. I live in a Nest house and they must have sent 20 emails letting my roommates and I know how to prepare for the cold weather including making sure our faucets were on so the pipes didn’t freeze. Our heat did go out one weekend and while the repairman couldn’t have the parts until Monday, Nest sent someone out with space heaters on a Saturday night. My past landlord took 3 days to get back to me when my AC was out in the middle of August!

    • This is very surprising to read. I’m also a Nest tenant and our pipes have sadly frozen twice this season since we live in an older row home and DC has not seen the likes of this cold weather in years. Nest has been over the top accommodating. They brought over gallons of water and wine as a kind gesture (over the weekend nonetheless), sent over a plumber the first time around, called regularly to check in, and checked with our neighbors to see if they were experiencing frozen pipes too. Above and beyond if you ask me!

      Not to mention, before the cold weather struck, they sent out numerous email blasts (I imagine to all tenants) about how to protect your house during this cold wave and how to prevent freezing if at all possible.

      We got lucky one time that our pipes unfroze for a few days and then the cold weather came back they refroze – It’s a lame reality, but it is just life! Crappy things happen sometimes and often weird things come up at older houses, I guarantee Nest did not build either of our houses so really, so certainly not the ones to blame.

      They are even taking several hundred dollars off of our rent next month because they recognize it was pain in the ass and no one (aside from the weather) was really to blame. My husband’s a lawyer and he claims they have no legal obligation to do anything at all if water is out because of extreme cold weather, yet clearly they care and did everything they could to help!

  • It’s easy to say “the landlord is at fault and must give the tenant money” or “the tenant should have left the faucet dripping”, but I’ve found that the law doesn’t cover all situations, and successful tenant landlord relationship is built on mutual respect. I rent out the basement of my three story Victorian I purchased two years ago. The pipes froze twice this winter, and not knowing how to handle it I called a plumber who did nothing. I offered to my tenant a hotel room, but being the reasonable person he is, turned it down and showered at a friends house. I eventually learned how to fix the situation, but at either point we could have devolved into a dispute. 99% of all issues can be resolved by being reasonable.

    • seems difference is yo hand your tenant are willing to work together i.e. you offered to put him up in a hotel. the op of this post is saying that the mgmt is basically saying “no water? suck it up.”

  • For the record, stores have been all out of pipe insulation. My pipes have some, but apparently not enough. Things happen, why complain, you do what you can and it’s not normal weather for DC.

    • I think it makes people feel smart. We think of idiots as smiling all the time and that smart kid is always frowning because that smiling idiot is giving him a wedgie.

  • It’s so easy to hate on your landlord – especially when rents are obscene around her. But i see things from the other side now. When you buy your own place guess what! leaky roof, frozen pipe, flood, busted heat, mouse infestation, drafty window and a running toilet are all you ALL the time. Sometimes shit happens. If your landlord doesn’t return calls and blows you off and doesn’t do shit to fix it – or even try – then fuck ’em. Call the city. But in this scenario, if you think they can control nature, karma’s gonna bite you in the ass when you go after your very own american dream suckers. Your pipes will be the first the freeze and the last to thaw. You know, metaphorically.

  • I have a house that has problems with one particular pipe freezing that feeds only into the kitchen and basement bathroom. I have tried my best to insulate all that I can, but with the house being over 100 years old and the pipe running through a masonry wall, I would literally have to demolish an external masonry wall to put a new pipe and it’s just not worth it. Both parties need to have patience and understanding the old houses don’t always work the way you want them to- regardless how much money or maintenance you put in them.

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