From the Forum – Water bill spike due to busted pipes – Landlord / tenant responsibility?

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Water bill spike due to busted pipes – Landlord / tenant responsibility?

“Long story short, the last water meter reading in the house I’m renting was in October 2014. The water pipes burst sometime after that, and they just finally read our meter again. It looks like there was a huge spike in the bill from there (around 70,000 gallons). A meter reader is going to come back out but assuming the reading is accurate:

Are the tenants responsible for a spike? Should we ask the landlady to cover it since it’s from a problem with the house?

It seems hard to assign clear responsibility for the water usage. Almost none of the current tenants were even living in the house when that happened.”

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16 Comment

  • Unlike electrical bills, water bills are attached to the house and not portable. That means the house owner is ultimately responsible for water bills. Should you move our from the house DC Water will hold the landlord accountable, not the tenant. The landlord cannot forward you the bills (certainly he/she will try).

    • Additionally, was the landlord made known of the burst pipes? He/she may be held liable for negligence unless the pipes burst outside his property (in this case, the city is liable).

    • Exactly. Regardless of what your landowner says or does – straight from the DC Water website – “However, the owner is always responsible for bill payment regardless of any lease agreement.”

      • That doesn’t cancel out the responsibility of the tenant to pay for their utilities if that is in their lease. It just means DC Water is going to go after the landlord for an unpaid bill. So yeah, the tenant could move, but the landlord could also just keep their security deposit for an unpaid bill the lease says they’re responsible for.

        I still don’t think the tenants should be held accountable. Did they have to pay for the water damage or plumber to fix the pipes? Probably not. The high bill is a result of that same repair/maintenance issue that typically the responsibility of the property owner.. But, that’s just my sense of justice speaking, I’m not a real estate lawyer.

    • This is true, but that just means it is the landlord’s responsibility to get the money from you. You are not responsible to DC WASA, but if you are responsible for the water in the lease the landlord could simply pay it from your security deposit.

  • Seems to me if the lease says you are responsible for the water bill you are responsible for the water bill. DC wasa may not go after you but the landlord can.
    YOu could ask for help if the burst pipe is clearly the ll’s fault, but they don’t have to give it.

  • DC Water totally confuses me. Supposedly all water meters should have radio transmitters on them so you’ll get an alert if something like this happens (and you won’t go 6 months without an actual meter reading) but our bill is an estimate (not an actual reading from an AMR) more frequently than not. I don’t know if the radio transmitter doesn’t work or what?

    Anyway my advice for you would be to call DC Water.

  • More likely than not if you name is on the bill you will have to pay and then seek reimbursement from the landlady. If she’s reasonable she’ll pay since it’s a maintenance issue that led to the huge bill. If she’s a jerk, then you’ll probably have to go to mediation/court.

  • This is a tough situation because it just sets everybody up to point fingers at each other (owner, previous renters, current renters). The post above is correct, water usage is tied to the property and DCWater can actually put a lien on your house for non-payment. Did nobody notice the leak? Was is underground? 70,000 gallons is a LOT of water to just disappear without noticing. If you are the current tenant and this did not happen on your watch you should be able to get DCWater to take the usage off of your current bill if you can prove the leak happened before it was transferred to your name. Then it will just be a fight for the owner. If the same person is still on the bill while all of this happened (sounds like a group house with people coming and going?) then that won’t work. Good luck!!

    • I’m kind of skeptical this is from a burst pipe. It’s more 10x what I use for a house of four in an average month. An average hot tub is like 500 gallons. If there were 140 hot tubs worth of water from a burst pipe I’d have trouble seeing how the home wouldn’t be completely ruined. It’s more likely either a misread meter or a running toilet. My step brother worked at a water utility and once had a customer who ran up a $700 water bill in one month from a constantly flowing toilet.

      • A burst pipe can expel a LOT of water. Heck, I had a running toilet last year and it ran for two days in the basement before I caught it. Added 2800 gallons to my water bill that month.

  • This happened to me in the past. (albiet, not in DC) We explained to the water company what happened and they just averaged our bill out compared to the previous few months and that’s what we paid. We weren’t responsible for the 70,000 gallons. It was seriously just as much as yours. The initial phone conversation was quite hilarious:

    “Yes, I’m calling about my water bill. It seems a little high. It says we used 70,000 gallons.”
    “Okay sir, and what’s the problem with that?”
    “Well… we’re not running a water park.”
    “Oh, 70 THOUSAND? Oh lawd hold on…”

    Maybe don’t mention a broken pipe???

  • Call the DC Office of Tenant Advocate — they might be able to advise you about both what you are responsible for and how to handle it.

    • But don’t necessarily believe what they tell you – some people there are very tenant unfriendly and will state you the law quite incorrectly (they are landlords themselves, I’ve been told.) They’ve also been very unprofessional in my few interactions with them while trying to get some information about my rights as a tenant on basic issues. I’ve run into others with the same experience. Very sad, really, and a waste of taxpayer dollars.

  • How did the tenants not notice a burst pipe until a meter reading? A pipe bursts in my house and you can hear the water, just flowing everywhere

  • Did you TALK to your landlord about this? That is step 101. Do than and report back.

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