From the Forum – Plumbing charges from landlord

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Plumbing charges from landlord:

“I live in a small apartment building in the district. I recently got a bill from the company that manages our building for over $150 — for cleaning a drain, somewhere in the building. According to the letter, there was a hair clog in the drain and all tenants are being charged, because “hair is actually not meant to go down drains,” according to a note I got from the management company. So the charge to unclog it is being divided among us, the tenants.

The lease says the landlord is responsible for routine maintenance. They insist that hair is not routine. I don’t think we should have to pay this. They are sending repeat notices, demanding payment. I would appreciate any guidance.”

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30 Comment

  • Wow, I would consider drain clogs from hair pretty routine. Maybe contact DC’s Office of the Tenant Advocate to see if there is anything specific out there on the subject?

    • I wouldn’t consider them routine, given that they’re so easily preventable with a little effort from tenant and/or landlord. (I rented out my condo with a drain-cover thingy for the shower and told the tenants that it works best when cleaned off daily.)
      However, I’m not sure I think it’s reasonable for the landlord to split the charge between all tenants on account of it not being clear who created the clog. If I were the landlord, I’d probably resign myself to eating the cost… but I’d give all the tenants drain-cover thingies and tell them that if there were any future hair clogs, they’d be responsible for the repair cost.

      • SouthwestDC

        I have a drain cover for the shower, but my bathroom sink still gets clogged with hair from time to time, even though I don’t brush my hair at all and stand far away from the sink when styling it. It’s always fascinating to me that any hair ends up there at all, let alone enough to clog the drain.

        • Ditto. Hair ends up everywhere despite anyone’s best attempts. Sticking with my vote that it’s routine 🙂

          • Yeah, after reading all of these responses I’m reconsidering my stance. Fortunately so far my tenants haven’t had any clog issues, so as yet it’s been a hypothetical for me. 🙂

  • I am a landlord and I think this is crap. Even if I could figure out which tenant was responsible I would chalk this up to wear-and-tear maintenance costs. Things will go wrong and sometimes they may be the fault of a tenant but I pay for them anyway. In this scenario I would also talk to the tenant(s) and make them aware of the problem and ask that they use a drain guard in the tub and keep it clean. I would probably buy them myself and give them to the tenants. In this case what the landlord did goes way further since he doesn’t even know who was responsible. This makes it doubly bad to make the charge. Others will weigh in with legal arguments (I can’t imagine this will be upheld if challenged) but legal issues usually are moot if you follow ethical guidelines and, if you are a landlord, figure that occassionally eating a bill for an issue that may be dubious is just part of the cost of doing business and something you should expect to eat every once in a while.

  • How many units are in the building? First of all, cleaning a drain shouldn’t cost $150 x number of units. I can see that it could cost $150 Total, but that’s it. The landlord can make you pay extra for capital improvements; not for routine maintenance. Cleaning a drain, regarless of what was in it, is routine maintenance. However, if they had to upgrade plubing, say from 2″ to 4″, that may be a capitol improvement. See page 19 of the DC Tenant Survival Guide:

  • I’d be really annoyed that they’re just doing an arbitrary equal assessment to all the tenants, especially if there are mixed-size units. Sure, everyone contributes some hair, but how do you know someone’s not running a dog grooming business on the side? Mostly, I’d be concerned that they’re covering up a needed major repair to the building’s plumbing and passing the cost on to the tenants. Definitely contact the OTA.

  • I Dont Get It

    What about tje bald guys in the buidling?

  • jeffb is right on — this is crap. Even if clearing drain clogs isn’t routine (which in my opinion it is) a DC landlord can’t just apportion damage to common areas/equipment among tenants. A tenant can be held responsible for damage; but only for damage that the landlord can prove, by a preponderance of evidence, was caused by that particular tenant or his or her guest or household member. The management company should know this, even if the landlord doesn’t. And to MJ’s point, capital improvement increases above and beyond the normal yearly increases (provided that the landlord owns more than 4 units citywide) have to be petitioned for and approved by the Rental Accommodations Divison. The landlord can’t just install new pipes and then pass on the cost, dollar for dollar, automatically.

  • Can’t be legal – don’t pay. Contact your council representative. Talk to your neighbors. Get it removed for the whole building, so you don’t look like the outlier.

    In my experience, information you get from the DC Tenant Advocate’s Office, and from the Landlord/Tenant Help Office at the courthouse will both be: 1) Landlord friendly, and 2) incorrect. I learned the hard way. Your milage may vary. But don’t take what they say as truth. Really sad that the people paid to provide accurate information to tenants in this city are so landlord-friendly that they tell tenants to suck it up – when tenants are in the right and landlords in the wrong.

    • I think your experience is vastly different than anyone else in DC. Typically most of the in person services are reserved solely for tenants…landlords can’t get an atty provided, for example. DC is by far one of the most tenant friendly places in America.

  • Balderdash! Ask the landlord to provide DNA info on every strand of hair recovered, then pro-rate the cost among the tenants according to the percentage of their hair in the clog.

  • Utter BS. Do not pay.

  • Just thought of some other issues: How old is the building? When was the last time the pipes were snaked out? How do they know that the current tenants are responsible for what could be years of buildup? Again, this is completely out of line and the management company should know better. What’s its name?

  • This reminds me of a time when my the drains in a house I was renting backed up and caused feces to come up through the showers. It happened to be an old maxi pad (and probably other contents) that backed up the drain. My landlord tried to accuse the two female housemates (myself and my roommate) of flushing maxi pads down the drain and threatened to have us pay if it happened again. He’d been renting out the property for over 10 years and couldn’t prove that it was a current tenant that caused this to happen. Had he tried to make the female tenants pay, I would have refused and contacted the landlord/tenant office to find out my rights.

    So no, don’t pay and I agree with getting the other residents on board with you.

  • Landlord here as well. I’ve had to hire someone to clear/snake a tenant’s tub drain recently and it didn’t cross my mind to charge the tenant for the service. I consider drain maintenance a routine service that I am responsible for, barring some extreme negligence or malicious actions by a tenant. I also paid $150 for the service most recently, and I would think that $150 charged to each tenant is a) not legally supportable because it’s essentially a unilateral fee imposed by the landlord (check your leases!) and b) way too expensive unless there are only a few units in the building and the work involved was a lot more intensive than just snaking a drain for hair/buildup.

    Somewhat relatedly, I also think some proactive landlording by providing tenants an easy way to be good tenants goes a long way in these types of maintenance situations. I.e. give a tenant drain covers for the tubs, give them a supply of HVAC filters for the full term of their lease and let them know when they should change them. Relatively cheap stuff that can save you on maintenance charges down the road, and makes a tenant feel like you care about them.

  • Pres of a condo board here… we recently had to have the drains snaked because of a back-up the plumber said was due to hair. Cost $200 total and the Association covered it because we considered it maintenance.

  • Section 11 of the DC Standard Lease document seems to cover the Landlord, quite well. Seems like the OP may be SOL.

    11. OBLIGATIONS AND DUTIES OF Lessee: Lessee shall: (a) Keep that part of the premises that he occupies and uses as clean and as safe as the condition of the premises permits; (b) Dispose from his dwelling unit all ashes, rubbish, garbage and other waste in a clean and safe manner in compliance with community standards; (c) Keep all plumbing fixtures in the dwelling unit used by the Roommate as clean as their condition permits; This includes making sure a drain cover is properly placed over each shower drain to prevent clogging of the main line. In the event the shower becomes backed up and it is discovered no drain cover was in place, Roommate assumes responsibility of costs to unclog and repair the drain as determined by a professional Plumber; (d) Use in a reasonable manner all electrical, plumbing, sanitary, heating, ventilating, air conditioning and other facilities and appliances in the premises; (e) Not deliberately or negligently destroy, deface, damage, impair or remove any part of the premises or knowingly permit any other person to do so; (f) Conduct himself and require other persons on the premises with his consent to conduct themselves in a manner that will not disturb his neighbors’ peaceful enjoyment of their premises; (g) Inform the Owner of any condition of which he has actual knowledge which may cause damage to the premises; (h) To the extent of his legal obligation, maintain the dwelling unit in substantially the same condition, reasonable wear and tear excepted, and comply with the requirements of applicable building and housing codes materially affecting health and safety; (i) Not engage in any illegal activity upon the premises as documented by a law enforcement agency; (j) Not smoke or permit others to smoke in the premises;(k) Not utilize any portable heating/cooling mechanism upon the premises without the Owner’s permission. (l) Not engage in any activity creating excessive noise disturbances upon the premises; (m) Replace all light bulbs and fuses when necessary; (n) Test all smoke detectors monthly and report any malfunctions to Owner immediately; (o) Promptly remove any snow and ice as necessary in front of the entrance to the roommate entry and the path to it; (p) Ensure the home is professionally cleaned at move-out or allow Owner to schedule cleaning and deduct from Security Deposit. If the home is not returned in the same condition it was received minus normal wear and tear, fines will be assessed from the Security Deposit on file.

    • You’re ignoring one very important thing: the common drain pipes are NOT part of the leased premises and there’s no way to trace this particular clog to any particular leased unit. So the OP is not, in fact, SOL.

      • Anon you make a great point, additionaly @John posted a simple boilerplate lease which may or may not bear any similarity with the OP’s actual lease.
        I’d also advise the OP to go buy some drain catches for all drains ASAP 🙂 “I’ve had these in the whole time, can’t be my hair….”

  • Ally

    Ditto. Also a landlord and I would never charge a tenant for this. However, I did once allow my tenant to pay for a clogging because, when the toilet cleaner brush head fell off and landed in the bowl, he opted to try to flush it as opposed taking it out — resulting in a massive clog. And, then, I only let him pay because he’s my friend and he admitted the stupid mistake he’d made.

    • Good lord. That’s one of the stupidest things I’ve heard! He must not be the brightest…

    • This just speaks to the issue of being a good landlord. Ally actually TALKED to the tenant and came to a resolution that both parties consider reasonable. Much different than a landlord unilaterally imposing a fine without any discussion first.

  • figby

    Thanks so much for the great feedback!! I really appreciate it and will discuss with my neighbors.

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