“The leak spread to my apartment through the walls and floors, and the wood flooring in my unit now needs to be replaced”

Photo by PoPville flickr user JEO Photography

“Dear PoPville,

I have a question about landlord responsibilities that I would love the community’s response to. I live in an older building and a few weeks ago, my next door neighbor’s apartment flooded, due to a leak in the heating and cooling unit. The leak spread to my apartment through the walls and floors, and the wood flooring in my unit now needs to be replaced. It’s cracked and bubbling- in some places the floor has popped up as high as 6 inches. The walls also show signs of water damage.

We’ve been trying to get them to replace the floors for several weeks – they’ve made appointments and missed them on several occasions, which is relevant in that I need to have my dog out of the apartment and in day care, which gets expensive. This week, they finally came to inspect the floors and decided that they needed to replace the floors entirely, and we’ll need to move out of the apartment for 48 hours (furniture and all!).

What is their responsibility in handling this situation? I’ve asked to be moved to another unit in the building while they do the work, but that may not happen for a while and I’m concerned about mold. And should I expect a rent abatement as a result of this damage / having to move out of the apartment temporarily?”

11 Comment

  • DC, having some of the most tenant friendly laws in the country, requires that your landlord place you in “similar amenities” (of similar price). If they can’t find a unit in the building at this time to do the work, then, if mold is a potential issue, tell them you will need a hotel. Alternatively, this is what renter’s insurance covers — or should cover if you have the right policy — so you should check in with your insurance agent to determine if they will pay for your hotel or other “transient lodging” stay.

  • We were flooded when a unit above us had a water filter installed. The handyman drilled the main pipe and ruined our entire flooring. Fortunately, the company that employed him was bonded and insured so they paid for everything including a hotel (~$20K).

    You might want to contact the company you contracted for your renter’s insurance, the company that does maintenance for the AC units, and your landlord’s insurance company. Hopefully, at least one of them can cover this. Otherwise, you might need to contact a lawyer.

  • Contact the Office of the Tenant Advocate ASAP for real advice. Don’t count on the commenters on a blog to tell you what your rights are.

  • I don’t know what kind of place you’re in or if you like it there to start with, but, this could be a good time to at least spend a half hour on craigslist and see if you are getting a great price where you are, an okay price, or a really not competitive price. Something similar happened to a friend of mine years back where there was a fire in her building on an upper floor and some of the firemen’s water from the hose ran into her unit. The landlord there was wonderful and offered to pay for her moving company to move out and move back, to repair the damage, even repaint in whatever colors she liked. However, when she looked around, she found a much nicer new building a few blocks away with all the fancy stuff in it (rooftop pool, concierge, etc) for $15 more a month than what she was paying with some of those new-building lease specials. Rather than deal with the hassle of moving twice, she just asked to be released from her lease and moved to the swanky new building and paid the extra fifteen bucks each month.
    Might not apply to you here, but anytime you are asking a landlord to take an action, always consider that one of the actions *you* can ask them to take is to simply release you from your lease obligations if you’ve found somewhere better / cheaper / nicer / whatever that fits your needs more. It’s always a good idea to know what your own options are, even if you don’t plan to take them.

  • A similar situation happened to us earlier this year. We were living in a basement apartment in a rowhouse, and a pipe in the upstairs unit of the house burst and caused water damage to our unit. In addition to the mold remediation and drywall replacement, the landlord decided to take the opportunity to do a renovation of our apartment, which forced us to move out all of our belongings and find someplace to live for a couple weeks. The landlord said they were not able to pay for a hotel stay for that length of time. We had renters insurance, so we decided to file a claim with them. Our policy paid for a company to move all of out stuff out, store it, and move it back in. Our renters insurance also paid for our hotel stay. At the time we felt very lucky to have renters insurance and a policy that covered all of these expenses. Otherwise, we dont know what we would have done, because we have a cat and the friends we have in DC either are allergic to cats, have dogs that our cat might not get along with, or dont have the extra space for guests.

    In hindsight though, we wish we had asked the landlord to cover these expenses. As the first commenter noted, it is the landlord’s responsibility in this type of situation. While renter’s insurance is a good thing to have, and every renter should have it, you shouldn’t file a claim unless you really have to, and certainly not when it should be your landlord’s responsibility to cover the cost of something. We have purchased a house since our incident happened, and because we filed a renter’s insurance claim and it paid out, our premium for our homeowners policy is significantly more expensive than if we had not had the claim. We looked into going with a different insurance company, but when you a file claim it stays with you for underwriting purposes, even if you go to another insurance company.

    Sorry for the long post, but my advice is to know what the DC law says, and to ask your landlord to cover the expenses.

  • I don’t know what kind of apartment you live in, in terms of size, but our apartment flooded a few years ago when a heating pipe burst. Management was slow to react at first, but at the mere hint of legal action, they put us up in a nearby hotel and literally wrote us checks for our inconvenience.

  • Thanks for the comments everyone. I always forget that OTA exists – I gave them a call and was totally impressed. What they said was if we had a statement in writing that we needed to vacate, the building was legally obligated to pay for a hotel/another apartment. If the building refused, he advised to stay in a hotel and take them to court afterwards – it would be an open and shut case.

    I called the building and nicely asked to be put up in a hotel and have movers take care of the furniture, and they’ve rearranged to have the work done in a day and will move the furniture for us. They’re also coming by to test for mold this afternoon. I think they know what their responsibility is, but were hoping we’d take care of it on our own. I’m just glad to not have to deal with moving in/out and staying somewhere else

    I do have renter’s insurance, but don’t want to use it because of the potential for higher premiums in the future – especially in a situation where the landlord does have a responsibility to deal with the problem.

  • Is this 215 C St. SE? Seriously, I have lost track of the number of flooded floors we’ve had at this building. They don’t take care of the PTAC units, leaving them far more likely to flood. It used to be that they would replace the floor. Now, apparently, they give the tenant a dehumidifier for a few weeks and do nothing else. Total disregard for the tenants’ health to save a buck. They also bring in (possibly illegal) “contractors” to do shoddy work. Only licensed PTAC guys can properly maintain heating/cooling units, but they have the guy who does drywall, etc. performing his “inspection.” OP, you have my sympathy. A friend had her floor flood weeks ago, and a dehumidifier is still in place. You should contact the OTA as some have suggested. Good luck to you.

  • You can file a claim with your renters insurance if needed to ensure that you are away from the apartment during the repairs or ask them to schedule the repairs during a time period that you already plan on being away. I highly doubt your landlord is going to put you up in a hotel. You could also just move, the prices for apartments in DC have recently drecreased, so you may find a better deal than what you are currently getting. As for mold, there isn’t any housing codes against mold but there are plenty against water damage however it’s never considered an emergency so if you call DCRA in they will just sight your landlord for the damage and give them 30 days to fix and if they don’t then they just get fined. Also if you suspect tier is mold ask your landlord if you can get a mold rest done to ensure that you are living in a healthy environment most landlords are afraid of going to court so they should be willing to fork over the $500-$800 for the testing. Good luck!

Comments are closed.