From the Forum – Five Days Without Water… What’s my recourse?

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Five Days Without Water… What’s my recourse?:

“I live in a larger apartment complex where last week we did not have hot water for nearly 5 days. The hot water was off from Tuesday afternoon through Sunday morning. The management company provided the tenants with limited updates (3 in 5 days) about the status of the repairs. Needless to say, this was completely unacceptable for several reasons. From the length of time the water wasn’t working to the limited contact with tenants, I was and still am very upset. I want to request that a portion of my “all utilities included” rent be pro-rated for February since I went 5 days without water this month. Do I have any recourse for this?

When I read DCRA’s website I saw that all rentals are required to provide hot water (which I didn’t have for 5 days) so I would be more than justified in receiving a credit for my rent.

I any one has been through this (or something similar) I’d love to hear how you went about this.


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41 Comment

  • You read the DCRA website, it’s also worth referencing DC’s tenant surivival guide:

    So what’s that mean? yes the landlord is responsible for providing hot water, along with safe and reasonable living conditions. could you argue a prorated portion of the rent shouldn’t be paid? yes you could theoretically… but i wouldn’t think 5 days of no rent is justified. perhaps you could find a lawyer who would agree with you, but that’s a quite an expensive fight.

    Best to have the conversation with your landlord and try to find a reasonable mutual agreement rather than going in guns blazing. I’ve found that the best tenant/landlord relationships I’ve had included good communication and mutual respect.

    • I think that the OP just wanted to not have to pay for a portion of their rent (i.e. the water portion) the days they didn’t have hot water. They didn’t say they wanted 5 days of free rent….

  • Wait- you have water, but not hot water? So… you have water. This seems like a FWP to me. Although they should have been better communicators.

  • I’ve gotten rent back from a large management company for something very similar – and probably less severe than this. I agree with Tim, go in with a good attitude and just state your case – you haven’t had water, this is a problem for you because of X, Y and Z. See if they offer anything, and if not, just ask for what you want – 5 days of rent returned.

    Also, if you have questions, call DCRA – their office will have a case manager tell you what your recourse is and what’s typical in terms of landlords’ response to this type of situation.

    • This is the perfect response – rational and level-headed. I can see one afternoon or one night without hot water, but it’s a huge inconvenience to take cold showers (especially in the winter) for 5 days straight. FWP? Then the landlord shouldn’t charge FW rent.

  • Blithe

    I’m wondering if you’ve ever been a home owner. Stuff happens. It really does. And, as annoying as it might be, it often takes time to figure out and fix the problem. At least according to the text of your post, you weren’t “without water” — which is pretty awful, but without Hot water, which is uncomfortable. The management notified you and provided updates. if 3 updates in five days did not provide you with ample information, did you contact your management office for additional information? Or to suggest what types of updates would have been acceptable to you?

    You can probably tell by the tone of my post that if the management of your building has been satisfactory overall, I would just chalk this up to : life. Sometimes boilers break and it takes time to fix them. And clamoring for a rent credit for a problem that could not have been anticipated, that management successfully fixed strikes me as being kind of churlish. My guess is that DCRA standards are intended to avoid what used to be called “cold water walk up flats” — rather than brief emergencies that are repaired, but I’ll read the other responses to this with interest, since I could be way wrong about that.

    • Accountering

      Yes, he is not a homeowner. He is a renter, which means the owner is responsible to provide a habitable dwelling to him, in exchange for rent. That includes hot water for this.
      I think you are in the right to ask for some sort of credit – not 5 days of rent, but surely some amount. 5 days is too long. The hot water in my rental went out and I fixed it same day.

      • Blithe

        I get that the OP is currently renting an apartment. My “wondering” question was to attempt to get a sense of whether the OP has ever personally experienced the unexpected emergencies of ownership –and the complications that might be involved in fixing them, vs only having the experience of calling the super when things go wrong.
        — While you may have been able to fix the hot water in your unit the same day, I’m guessing that there are problems that can’t be addressed as quickly even with good faith efforts.

        • Landlords are required to provide hot water by law – period. Failure to provide water reaching temps of at least 120 degrees in the kitchen and bathroom is a violation of DC housing codes – and a basic warrant of habitability issue. The landlord should refund your rent for the days that you were without water. They charge enough in rent that this is not going to be a hardship for them – and any landlord, particularly a large management company – has the operating contingencies to be able to provide this refund. Be polite about the request – but firm. If they give you issues, report them to the Office of the Tenant Advocate and RAD (who can also put you in touch with legal aid on this). Yes, repairs take time, but that does not mean that you need to pay rent for a space that is not legally habitable. By contract and by law, they should refund you for those days.

          • HaileUnlikely

            A serious question, though somewhat off topic, since you appear to know this stuff better than most: what would the landlord’s obligation in a case when power is out due to a Pepco outage or water is out due to a water main break? It seems to me that this would be a fundamentally different situation for the landlord but an identical situation for the tenant.

    • Why is it the tenant’s responsibility to chalk it up to life, rather than the landlord’s? Being a landlord is running a business, and sometimes your business is going to have unexpected expenses and events that reduce your revenue. If you own a restaurant and your hot water goes out, you can’t sell food until you get it fixed. The loss of that revenue is your problem, not your customer’s.

      • HaileUnlikely

        Nobody said it was the tenant’s responsibility or that it is not the landlord’s responsibility, it was merely a suggestion to not get all worked up about trivial wrongs that you suffer when there is clearly no malice involved on the part of the wrongdoer.

      • Blithe

        I think it’s both. I think that the landlord — justly — is assuming the headaches of getting the problem fixed and paying for it. That’s the landlord’s responsibility. While I wouldn’t use the word “responsibility” re: the tenant, I personally, have a distaste for the inclination to sue someone or to make someone PAY for the types of inconveniences that do, indeed, come up in life — when there’s no sense of any negligence, and a genuine good faith effort to fix the problem. That’s my personal philosophy. Clearly there are others.

        • HaileUnlikely

          They will beat you in court, but you will outlive them, because they will all die prematurely of strokes and heart attacks.

        • But at the same time the landlord is being paid to deliver something — an apartment that satisfies the warranty of habitability — that he or she isn’t delivering. So why should the landlord get to keep that money?

        • Well, I’m not saying the tenant should file a lawsuit, but he’s certainly well within his rights to ask for a partial rent credit, and I think he deserves one.
          More importantly, you are asking the tenant to pay for the types of inconveniences that come up in life. You think he should pay for something he didn’t receive. In exchange for his rent, he’s supposed to get a habitable apartment, which includes hot water. He didn’t get that. Why should he pay for it? If your cable was down for 5 days, wouldn’t you expect Comcast to give you a credit?

          • HaileUnlikely

            If we go with the Comcast analogy, the rent should be reduced in an amount equal to the cost of the hot water not received. This would be about $10 max if the OP takes extraordinarily long hot showers multiple times a day.

          • That would only make sense if they landlord were selling water. He’s not, he’s renting an apartment. And the difference in rental value between an apartment with hot water and one without is much more than $2 per day.

          • HaileUnlikely

            I said “to go with the Comcast analogy.” The Comcast analogy just wasn’t gonna work. Hot water is not a feature such that you can find otherwise-comparable apartments that do not have it and compare their prices. I think it is reasonable for the tenant to request a credit, and I don’t think it is unreasonable for the tenant to hope for the credit to be larger than the value of hot water that he didn’t get, but I don’t think there exists any mechanism by which the tenant can rightfully demand a specific larger amount.

          • HaileUnlikely

            I’ll also note that back when I rented, I was able to get all sorts of concessions from my landlords, 100% of the time by presenting myself as a reasonable guy who had a little problem and just wanted them to work with me to fix it. I suspect outcomes would have been less good if I had presented myself as an entitled little sh!t instead.

        • If you have a distaste for the inclination to make someone pay for inconveniences that come up in life, then why are you okay with the landlord making a tenant pay for hot water that they had no access to?

          • HaileUnlikely

            Because of the tenant’s tone, and yours as well, honestly. You’re both approaching this from the perspective of desiring to wield your mighty power over the landlord. I would be positively astonished if the landlord would not give you a credit in the amount of the estimated value of the hot water that you would have used if it had been working if you simply ask for it (I’d ballpark this at $5, $10 if the tenant takes multiple hot showers daily. Oh heck, double that and ask for $20. No way would you have used more than $20 worth of hot water in 5 days.) I do not believe there is any reasonable basis for you to expect or demand more. You can hope for more, though, and if you just ask for the $10 or $20, I wouldn’t be surprised if the landlord would volunteer a larger credit, but the mechanism by which you are entitled to more does not exist.

    • Maybe there’s a problem that takes 5 days to fix, but there’s no reason that the tenants got so few updates. An update a day is reasonable – basically a summary of what was looked at that day and why it didn’t fix the problem. Frex: “Today we discovered that the fuel line is blocked. The part is on order, should be here tomorrow afternoon. We’ll keep you updated whether it arrives on time.”

      Also, the management could have provided some solutions for the lack, such as access to a nearby gym for hot showers, paying for clean-and-fold services at a laundromat, or remitting 5 days of utility costs to compensate for having to heat water on the stove.

  • you can withhold whatever you want.
    they can sue you if they want.

    a judge (or a jury, if you request) will decide whether the amount you withheld was reasonable. Different judges or juries might find different amounts in different cases–how sympathetic are you? how good is your landlord’s lawyer? If you’re found to have withheld too much, you’ll either have to pay back whatever you withheld that was unreasonable (plus some other expenses like late fees on your rent if the lease allows it), or be evicted…if you’re evicted they may still be able to ask you for money in small claims court.

    maybe just withhold an amount that feels reasonable (something less than 5 days’ rent) and send them a letter explaining what you did. try to pick an amount so small that they don’t feel it’s worthwhile to sue you. and if you do get sued, either pay up or visit the landlord-tenant resource center and get real advice.

    • +1, if you’re in DC. I don’t know enough about other jurisdictions to say.
      Talk to the folks at the Landlord Tenant Resource Center ( or the Office of the Tenant Advocate (

    • this is terrible advice. if you withhold rent you are violating your end of the lease (contract). this is not something you want to do. when i first moved to dc someone who had lived here longer than I had been alive described this as “the only rule a tenant can get in trouble for breaking.”

    • This won’t work, exactly, unless OP withholds more than they put down for security. (Which a court would likely find unreasonable.) If OP withholds five-days rent, and security is more than that, the landlord will just pull it out of security at the end of the rental term. Meaning OP will have to do the suing.

  • HaileUnlikely

    If the property manager isn’t a total bozo they will give you a small break on your rent if you request one. Not five full days worth (it’s not like you had to temporarily move out), but something. Just try that and see where it goes. If you don’t find the result satisfactory (and definitely if they don’t offer anything), contact the office of the tenant advocate. Arbitrarily withholding part of your rent per the advice of an anonymous poster on a message board would be a bad plan.

  • Hi Everyone,

    I’m the OP. Thanks for all the suggestions. I understand that “things happen” so if we had been without hot water for less than 48 hours, I would have chalked that up to “things happen”. According to DCRA, each tenant has the right to HOT water (120 degrees and above). I constantly contacted the management office, but kept getting responses such as “they’re working on it” and the timeline kept getting longer and longer. Earlier today, I wrote an email to the management company highlighting this and discussing the pro-rated rent.

    • HaileUnlikely

      That tenants have a right to hot water is true, but the thrust of this right is to highlight that it in violation of the housing code for a landlord to maintain a facility that is categorically incapable of supplying hot water. There are apartments in which 120 degree hot water is pure fantasy – this is what they’re getting at – not the case of equipment breaking down and the landlord promptly taking action to fix it but the fix is just taking longer than you wish it did. Note that the very next section of the tenants survival guide outlines steps for tenants to take to demand repairs if the items in the section that includes the thing about hot water are not provided. Read it. See what of it is applicable to your situation. I get that the fix took a long time and that it was inconvenient, but it does not appear to be the case that the landlord was out to deprive you of your rights (some actually are).

      • HaileUnlikely – the tenant is owed a refund because the apartment was not habitable during that period. The refund compensates them for the cost of securing alternate housing during the time that their unit failed to meet code. This is an issue that is well-regulated and has been thoroughly adjudicated. It’s a Page 1 issue in any standard real estate law 101 class.

        • HaileUnlikely

          Even if true (I’m not a lawyer, I’ll defer on that one), calling an apartment whose hot water is out of service while the landlord is making a good-faith effort to fix it uninhabitable is an insult to the many residents of DC who live in apartments that seriously are uninhabitable in meaningful ways.

        • HaileUnlikely

          And I note again that I’ve always found it very easy to gain more than reasonable concessions from my landlords by presenting myself as a reasonable person, stating the facts of my grievance, and asking nicely for a reasonable solution, without getting in the landlord’s face, using phrases like “completely unacceptable,” etc.

        • I once looked into this when I was in a similar situation and was contemplating whether or not to take my landlord to small claims court over water leaking into my bedroom for a period of several days due to damage to the roof that it took several days to get repaired. My understanding of the applicable laws is that the existence of a violation of the housing code (eg water not hot enough) does not constitute prima facie evidence that the whole place is completely 100% uninhabitable. The law is clear that the amount of rent owed *may* be reduced when housing code violations are present, but it is not at all clear on the amount of the rent reduction and gives no guidance regarding how that is to be determined. I don’t think it says anywhere that zero rent is owed on an entire dwelling for the entire amount of time that any aspect of the housing fails to meet code.

          • I had a very similar incident with a landlord a couple years back. We had surging power for almost 2 months with no lights some days and other days where anything plugged into the wall would surge and break. We literally had a dvd player catch on fire.

            We had a horrible experience with our landlord. They just wouldn’t acknowledge that there was anything wrong. Twice they sent their “electrician” (guy they know) to our place and he told us the power was fine. One such time he literally told me the power was perfect, and then I plugged a lamp into the socket he had just tested and it didn’t work. He was NOT surprised.

            So screw them, but anyways, back to my original point… I talked to a lanlord-tenant lawyer about how much money we should ask for and his response was that the standard is that you guess what a reasonable person would pay for your exact same apartment without hot water and subtract that amount from your rent. The difference is how much they owe you.

            The amount you are owed is definitely, definitely, WAY MORE than the cost of the water.

            That being said, there aren’t many numbers on how much rent is for places with no hot water. I’d say your best bet is to politely ask for much more than you think you are entitled and let your landlord find the right number below that.

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