From the Forum – Pipe burst, flooded apt. What can I demand as a tenant?

Photo by PoPville flickr user wolfpackWX

Pipe burst, flooded apt. What can I demand as a tenant?:

“Please help if you have any experience or legal knowledge with issues like severe flood damage to your apartment (as a tenant.) Landlords: feel free to chime in, too.

Really stressed out here and seeking advice! 🙁

Question: What can I expect for compensation for the trouble of being displaced out of my home?
Backstory: Pipe burst Saturday 2/21 late at night. I came home to discover 3 inches of standing water in my bedroom, and also in 2nd bedroom (roommate was out of town). Water came from a pipe somewhere behind the walls of the 2nd floor. It was not my fault or negligence. Landlord came as soon as he knew, and he did call contractors, (but did not admit the issue or apologize). Contractors came the following morning. The pipe that had burst was one that went to an external spigot and they had questioned why there was no valve for that pipe to prevent exactly this kind of situation. (In other words, implying he is to blame for not ensuring that precaution.) Damage: mostly structural– all carpeting, walls, and ceiling, insulation, and some piping needs to be re-done. Personal Damage: clothes, shoes, documents/books, furniture.

Total time for repairs: Minimum 14 days. It is an absolute mess right now. Carpet has been ripped up but the place is not dry yet which means they haven’t put up the new drywall.

Landlord found us temporary housing but is not offering any more. He frequently resists our requests. As a result, both my roommate and I had to scramble to find accommodation, and he is not even sure when the repairs will be done.

Some may argue that pipes freeze as a result of Mother Nature — or God?– and so it unfortunately is something unexpected and should be treated like an accident.

My concern: Many people have differing views and advice on this. After calling DC Tenant Rights Office, they said if he accommodated us, then I am still required to pay rent. Now he is not accommodating us.
Do we simply pay a pro-rated event (calculated per diem), or can I also add on costs of inconvenience such as getting cabs to transport my belongings, a day off work for the trouble of moving belongings and finding alternative housing? What about utilities?

At this point I am rambling but just have so much burden on my brain.
Please put in your thoughts, ESPECIALLY if you have been through this or KNOW your rights.

Many thanks!”

You can see all forum topics and add your own here. If you are having trouble uploading your question  please email me at princeofpetworth(at)gmail

19 Comment

  • I suggest you google to determine DC’s laws on constructive eviction.

    I do not see how your landlord could claim act of god here. Weather may be an act of god, but this is not an unavoidable circumstance like a tornado or earthquake.

    Most likely you would have to put the rent you owe in escrow, but at least that would get the attention of your landlord if you choose not to pay it. As a tenant you have a right to the enjoyment of your premises unimpeded by this kind of situation. The landlord has legally evicted you when he refuses to take steps to ensure that quiet enjoyment. You can usually stop paying rent when that happens, but some jurisdictions will require that you vacate the premises and/or put rent into escrow. Each jurisdiction differs and I don’t pretend to know DC law, but most states have constructive eviction laws so you should google that and see how that works in DC.

  • I had this happen to me last winter. The contractors said 3-4 weeks, and it ended up being 9 weeks all told – everything needed to be ripped out and all drywall/flooring replaced. I’m not sure what the landlord was legally responsible to do in terms of alternate accommodations, but he did not find me alternate housing. I did not pay rent for the time I was not in the apartment.

    • The landlord likely can make an insurance claim for the lost rent during the period that the apartment is unoccupied for reconstruction, this should allow you to recoup rent savings in that time. Your responsibility is to get rentor’s insurance that would typically cover you in this kind of situation. If you have damaged property from the water leak, you may possibly be able to file that as part of your landlord’s claim, but that’s a stretch usually… Looking for a payout is a bad idea, and it’s likely only going to make living there uncomfortable unless you’re renting form a large company rather than an individual landlord or small company. I am not a lawyer though, I’ve just been through a similar situation.

  • I hope you have renter’s insurance, because that’s where any of the damages will be taken care from.

  • Tsar of Truxton

    Do you have renter’s insurance? This is exactly the type of situation that it is intended to cover.

  • If the Office of Tenant Advocate says that you have to pay, then it sounds like you have to pay. If the situation has changed since the last time you contacted them, I would suggest contacting them again. They are going to probably give you more sound advice that anything you get in the comments section.

  • You should do two things: continue to talk to DCRA and continue to pay your rent. I’m not sure what you’ll be able to claim compensation for and if your landlord is fighting you, you might have to sort it out in court. If you haven’t paid rent, you lose standing. DCRA can be very helpful if you ask specific questions -try reviewing DC’s tenant survival guide and use DCRA to fill in the gaps when you have questions about how to proceed.

    I had a similar situation earlier this year and what I ended up doing was asking the landlord for a set amount to compensate me for having to move out of the apartment temporarily for repairs. It worked well – I got exactly what I thought it was worth for me to go through the trouble of repairs caused by their negligence.

  • Was this on Columbia Rd?

  • Hi! SO SORRY to hear this happened to you-the almost exact same thing happened to me just over a year ago. My situation was that my upstairs neighbors were out of town and supposedly a connection to their washing machine broke-cue tons and tons of water in my apartment, coming through my lights, etc etc.

    I rent a condo so it was down to my landlord-who lives abroad-and her management company, rather than the building itself, to sort it out. I had major electrical issues, my kitchen had to be ripped out, etc, so hopefully because your water didn’t come from above, yours wouldn’t be quite as major-still really devastating though, I am sure.

    Because my unit was uninhabitable, I was not obligated to pay rent while displaced. However, my landlord did not offer to put me up or cover any incidentals-their take was that that’s why they require I carry renter’s insurance.

    I was lucky enough to be able to crash with friends for most of the time I was displaced (14 weeks thanks to the holiday season, incorrect construction estimates, insurance red tape). But if I had chosen to take up alternate housing, I am certain I would have had to go through my insurance and I would guess that most landlords would also be inclined to pass on responsibility in that manner. Do you have renter’s insurance?

    Regardless, if you can’t live in your place, and an alternative isn’t being presented to you, I don’t believe you should be required to pay. They can’t be charging for something that doesn’t exist.

    I’m aware me just sharing my experience may not actually provide you any concrete advice-but hopefully it helps you know this happens frequently and you shouldn’t be left hanging! I’m happy to answer any specific q’s you have about how I handled my situation-it was quite the ordeal and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. Best of luck!

  • I am sorry this happened to you. I am pretty sure you won’t have to pay rent while displaced but that any other damages or inconveniences will be your responsibility to handle – this is exactly why EVERYONE who rents should have a rental insurance policy. The owner’s insurance should cover (minus a deductible) repairs and lost rent. Situations like this do happen and sometimes its not anyone’s “fault.” Hopefully it gets fixed relatively quickly and you are back at home.

  • Start by looking at your lease. What, if anything, does it say about who is responsible for what in the event of damage/casualty? Hard as it may be, put your emotions to the side. Focus on getting your life back to normal as quickly and cheaply as possible within the framework of what is possible versus what is fair.

  • While I agree renter’s insurance is a must for these very situations in case your landlord does not offer to pay for the damages, if the landlord was negligent in maintaining the pipe the burst, the tenant can still seek to recoup damages (by filing a lawsuit if necessary). It might be heard to prove a landlord was negligent in this situation, the OP does mention: “The pipe that had burst was one that went to an external spigot and they had questioned why there was no valve for that pipe to prevent exactly this kind of situation.” This implies it the landlord was not acting reasonably based on common practice, and so that may offer you the ability to recoup damages if you did not have renter’s insurance. There’s no reason your insurance should cover this if the landlord should have done something they didn’t to prevent this from happening.

    • HaileUnlikely

      Renters insurance would likely just pay the claim first, and then sue the owner of the property to attempt to recoup their loss if they thought they could succeed.


  • Like many others have said, hopefully you have renter’s insurance, with an added flood insurance policy. Many basic renter’s insurance plans do not cover flood damage (ditto homeowners).

    • I am pretty sure flood damage coverage is for actual flood damage, not water damage cause by a broken pipe, which renters insurance (standard) should cover.

      • That’s correct. Flood insurance is for water from outside the house that enters at the ground level. Renter’s insurance is for water from pipes, leaking roof, etc. People who live on lower levels should also think about a sewage backup rider, which isn’t typically included in most policies.

  • Ditto to renters insurance. It’s really inexpensive to have and you can go through your car insurance company like Geico or Travelers Insurance (my homeowners and renters was with those). Mine when I rented was about $15 a month and it protects you from things like this, replacements, some alternative housing, theft, etc. So if you don’t have it, please please please get it for the future.

    Is your current rent by any chance paid for by your parents and are you in college? I don’t recall, but I think if you were a college student and renting, their homeowners insurance might take care of some of this. I might be confusing this with another insurance like car or health, but at least check.

    And finally, document everything from your landlord and I suggest moving all communications to email so you have records. You might event put in writing the request to him to “pro-rate your rent for the loss of livability of the space” or ask him to provide compensation for the value of your lost items, list those items, and see what he says back in email – not verbally. Document it.

    His insurance policy as the owner of the home/apt/condo will most likely pay for ALL of this – from getting the place fixed to loss of property. My homeowners insurance policy has flood insurance also and I would be reimbursed for relocation and also for lost items. Everyone’s policy is different, but because my condo is a ground floor I wanted this. I think he could file for loss of use and loss of personal items under his policy for his renters and reimburse you. But ask an insurance professional or company if this is true and legal.

    Hope you rectify!

  • I am a owner and two weeks ago the pipes in my house burst causing extreme damage. The tenant (who is a lawyer ) was not home so the leak was not discovered for days. My insurance will cover the lost rent and repairs to the home. The insurance company will not pay for anything related to the tenant. They stated that their rental insurance should cover it. We’ll the tenant canceled her rental insurance thinking she would never need it. I am not responsible for any of her losses. She understood this because she understands the law. Renters insurance was in the lease.

Comments are closed.