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From the Forum – What are landlords responsibilities when a broken pipe makes bathroom unusable?

by Prince Of Petworth January 15, 2014 at 2:15 pm 51 Comments

Photo by PoPville flickr user Madame Meow

What are landlords responsibilities when a broken pipe makes bathroom unusable?

“I live in a four story brownstone with an individual apartment on each floor. A pipe on the first floor burst and they had to shut down the water and assess the issue. A plumber came by this morning, but was unable to resolve the issue. Currently there is no water to the bathrooms, meaning no functioning shower or flushable toilet.

I understand from conversations with the plumber that this has been a big issue recently because of the weather, so there are a lot of busted pipes and people without water. The plumber indicated that because of this, there is a huge backlog of work. So that they wouldn’t be able to address the issue (which they think requires taking out a wall and putting in new pipes on the first floor) until next week.

What are the landlord’s responsibilities in this situation where the bathroom is unusable for a prolonged period of time? Assuming this isn’t fixed in the next day or two, can I deduct anything from rent for loss of habitability or ask that he cover a hotel? It’s unclear if this was something beyond his control, or if the pipes were damaged because of neglect (he’s been lax to make repairs in the past).

Thanks for any suggestions.”

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  • Do you have renters insurance? If so, most cover the cost of a hotel for a few nights.

    • dcreal

      I ALWAYS advise people not to make file a claim against renter’s insurance policy unless it’s a major catastrophe where you’ll be out thousands of dollars. Reason being is because it goes on record and if you are planning on purchasing in the near future you will have a hard time getting homeowners insurance and if you do it will be astronomical.

      • AP

        I don’t think filing a claim would be an issue. A few years ago I owned and lived in a condo – we had a break in – filed a claim and were paid for the stolen items. The condo insurance went up by about $30 the next year ($30 for the entire year). Condo insurance is similar to renter’s insurance because the condo itself had a master policy for the building, etc. Two years later we sold the condo and purchased a home and got home owners insurance -and it was not expensive (cheaper than what all of our friends pay). Had storm damage last year – filed a claim – got paid – this year the insurance prem went down by $50.

        • dcreal

          Maybe because it was 2 years later but I know it happened to me and I didn’t even go ahead filing the claim. I contacted insurance company to inquire and just that inquiry alone n was enough to hit my record. It was hard getting homeowners insurance and I paid a high premium year 1. Next year I shopped around and found new insurance which was drastically cheaper.

  • hma

    The landlord has zero responsibility.

    If you don’t have renters insurance, you need to find your own accommodations.

  • Anonymous

    Not a lawyer, so this may be inaccurate. But, I think that the lease should guarantee that you have a habitable dwelling, which should include water. If not, the landlord should be responsible for putting you up for whatever nights your dwelling isn’t habitable. I believe that renters insurance only really covers your own belongings in case of damage (e.g. if the pipe had burst in your unit and flooded, thereby damaging your furniture, etc).

    • hma

      Sorry, but that’s just wrong (all of it).

      Most common renter’s insurance covers relocation in case of emergencies, liability, as well as property.

      For a frozen pipe, this is considering a natural disaster, and the landlord’s only responsibility is to fix it as soon as its feasible.

      If you are an adult, you need to take care of yourself. ie. get your own insurance.

      • SS

        There is still an implied warranty of habitability. If you have no running water, the apt. is not habitable (by first world standards anyway).

      • aptowner

        This is correct. The lease should have all of these terms. I am a landlord myself. There is a difference between a natural disaster/act of God and neglect. It sounds like the landlord is making an effort to restore water, so he/she is providing for a habitable dwelling. If the landlord is making no effort to restore the water, that is different. I really suggest talking to your landlord about the issue to verify the solutions and/or next steps. A lot of us are reasonable and want to keep our tenants happy.

        But, everyone, def. get a renter’s policy! As a landlord, I believe I made it a requirement in the lease that my renter has insurance. It’s a cheap and smart policy for a renter to have.

  • Anonymous

    Your landlord definitely has a responsibility to make sure you have running water. DC is very tenant friendly…just Google “DC landlord tenant” and you will probably find all the resources you need. As far as legally being able to reduce your own rent or expecting reimbursement for hotel stays…it may not be as easy as it sounds. There are probably different steps as far as filing a complaint, etc… However, if you do decide to reduce your rent for the next month due to the fact that you could not live there because the plumbing was not working and your landlord was not taking the appropriate steps to remedy the situation, you would probably have a pretty strong case if your landlord tried to evict you for not paying rent.

  • Momo

    Let me guess, no renters insurance? Considering it only costs a couple hundred a year, I am frequently shocked that so many don’t have it. It is exactly what these situations are for and it would pay for a hotel in situations like this and cover your rent in the meantime.

    Basically the landlord is required to remedy the situation in a reasonable time period and owes you nothing. This situation obviously wasn’t brought on by neglect, and it appears the landlord jumped right on it. DC will tell you the same thing.

    Next time, get some renters insurance

    • Wobble

      Having been both a tenant and a landlord, I totally agree with Momo.

      I get annoyed by whiners, like the OP, who try to take money out of somebody else’s pocket for any misfortune that comes along.

      This event is a bummer for the landlord. We had record low temperatures, and pipes burst all over town. Every plumber in town is working overtime. I sounds like the landlord is moving appropriately to get the situation remedied as soon as possible. However in emergency situation repairs take time.

      OP – you have had some bad luck brought upon you by “an act of God”. So has the landlord. Live with it and be cooperative to move things along.

      • jcm

        One of the nice things about being a renter is that this sort of thing isn’t your problem. The landlord is required to provide a habitable residence in return for the rent. If he can’t do so then he should cover the cost of a hotel until he can. He can then try to recoup the cost from his own insurance.

        • hma

          jcm – wrong, landlord insurance does not cover relocation for tenants. That’s the tenants responsibility.

          • jcm

            If the landlord’s insurance won’t cover loss of rent while his property is uninhabitable, then he should pay it out of pocket, and chalk it up to the cost of doing business. It’s his property, and should be his responsibility. He’s accepting money in exchange for the use of a habitable dwelling. If he can’t provide the dwelling then he oughtn’t be entitled to the money.

            Realistically, how much money are we talking about to cover the renter? Maybe $500-$1000? No one should be making insurance claims for so little, anyway. It’s likely to bite you come renewal time.

            I should make it clear that I’m not a lawyer and I have no idea what his legal responsibility is. I’m just stating my opinion of his ethical responsibility.

      • Anonymous

        I agree. It sounds like the landlord is attempting to remedy the situation and it’s taking longer because a lot of other people have the same problem. The weather is something definitely beyond his control. Now I’m not sure what you mean by “lax with making repairs in the past,” but in this case it seems like he’s trying to get it fixed as quickly as possible.
        Surely you have a friend you can stay with for a few days while it gets taken care of?

    • hma

      Amen. Same here (both landlord and former renter).

      Before I owned, I paid $100/yr in renters insurance and it gave me $30k of protection.

    • Anonymous

      See, this is the kind of thing that makes me think I should require renter’s insurance for any future tenants. My old landlord required that we each have a policy in case anything ever happened. Thankfully I never had to use it, but it was nice knowing it was there just in case.

      • Anonymous

        As a renter, I think you should. It’s required in my current lease and I have renter’s insurance through Geico for a $220 annual premium (gets me a $100 deductible, $20K in coverage for my possessions, $4K for incidentals (hotels, meals, etc), $100K personal liability, full replacement cost for possessions, and sewer back-up insurance)

  • Anonymous

    So, we had a cold snap that’s unusual for DC. A pipe burst. As you, yourself noted, this was an extremely common problem. It sounds like a plumber was called in a timely manner, but was unable to fix the problem. And it sounds like there are plans in place to complete the work. I’m sure that this is inconvenient for you — but it certainly sounds like the landlord is making an effort to address the problem in as timely a way as possible. Obviously the weather was beyond his control. Do you have a reason for suggesting that the pipes could have been “damaged for neglect”? What sort of “neglect” might that be?
    I’m wondering what your responsibilities as a tenant are. Do you have renter’s insurance? Would that cover a hotel in the event that you are inconvenienced through no fault of the landlord? I’m also curious — does the landlord live in the building? If so, that makes it even more likely that he/she is doing their best to deal with the problem as quickly as possible. I’d say suck it up. Inconvenient things happen sometimes. Instead of trying to get money from your landlord to cover hotel bills, hope the landlord has the cash to make effective repairs. I get that it sucks to be without a working toilet, but unless there are other problematic things going on, I’d be a bit more patient. It sounds like you do have water — just not in the bathroom, and it sounds like your landlord is making a reasonable effort to address an unexpected problem.

    • SS

      Lack of insulation?

  • Josh
  • KMB

    It seems like people have been very judgmental and have been jumping to conclusions on a lot of these questions lately!

    Despite what others have stated, landlords are required to provide hot (reaching at least 120 degrees) and cold running water in kitchens and bathrooms (source: DC Tenant Survival Guide provided by the Office of the Tenant advocate). I would suggest talking to your landlord about providing a partial discount in rent for the days you are unable to use your apartment, though I don’t think it’s reasonable to ask him to foot the full bill for a hotel for those days, considering that the average nightly cost for a hotel obviously runs higher than the average cost/day for an apartment. If you choose to deduct any rent without agreement from your landlord, I would open a separate bank account and put the deducted rent into that account rather than just holding on to it

    I’m really unsure why people are automatically assuming you don’t have renters’ insurance. I thought most people were aware that renters’ insurance, like all kinds of insurance, comes with deductibles.

    Additionally, I would recommend calling or stopping by the Office of the Tenant Advocate. They were quite helpful when I had issues regarding the return of my security deposit. Good luck!

    • Anonymous

      Really? The OP stated a plumber has already been by and the plumber himself told OP that there was a huge backlog of work. It’s not as if the landlord is being negligent. Do you really think OP needs to involve the OTA? I think they have more important things they can be dealing with rather than someone who has been temporarily inconvenienced.
      Now if they landlord was dragging his or her feet on getting the problem fixed, that would be another story.

      • KMB

        Yes, I really think it would a good idea for the OP to stop in to the OTA and talk to them about this issue and what he can/should ask his landlord for. I’m not suggesting he ask the OTA to talk to his landlord or that he file any sort of official complaint with them, but one of the services they provide is advice on what to do in these sorts of situations. I don’t think taking 15 minutes of their time would detract all that much from the more important issues they’re currently focusing on.

        • Anonymous

          Yeah but this is exactly the problem. This society has become a bunch of litigious whiners. From what I can tell the landlord is making a good faith effort to take care of the problem. Why does the OP need to consult with government officials about what “his or her options are.” Here’s an options be an adult and figure it out yourself. Like I said, if the landlord was not making an effort to make the repairs, by all means, go to the OTA.
          That said, as a landlord, I would probably knock a few hundred bucks off rent that month if the problem persisted more than a few days. If it was just a few days, then I would hope my tenant would be understanding enough that things can happen and not be a giant whiner who runs to OTA anytime they experience an inconvenience. Sheesh.

          • GUEST

            Good faith effort? Rental units are a business. If I am paying to receive a fully functioning, habitable apartment, I expect it to be fully functioning.

            I also think it’s funny how obvious it is between the landlords and renters who are commenting :)

    • Anonymous

      Good points. At the very least, the landlord should be on the hook for the tenant’s renter insurance deductible.

      • Anonymous

        Wrong again. No.

      • hma

        Good lord. No. WRONG.

    • 3:30

      The OP wrote in to a neighborhood blog for opinions — and we, the opinionated, are responding. And reading these various opinions is no substitute for professional advice, if, indeed, that is warranted. I wasn’t assuming that the OP does not have renter’s insurance — but wonder if renter’s insurance would be helpful in this case. As for the deductible, I’m aware of that, but don’t see it as having any bearing on this instance. The deductible is whatever the renter feels they can tolerate as an acceptable expense — and that shouldn’t have any bearing on the landlord’s responsibilities either way.

      • KMB

        Yes, and I, one of the opinionated, am of the opinion that, on several of these threads (hence my mention of the fact that this is something that I’ve noticed quite a bit lately), people have been needlessly rude and have jumped to conclusions.

        You may have noticed that you are not the only person to have referenced renters’ insurance in your initial response, and Momo did assume the OP doesn’t have it. Why assume my initial comment was directed at you?

        And I’m well aware of the purpose of the deductible. I stated prior to any mention of a deductible that, according to DC law, the landlord is provide running water in the bathroom. To me, a few comments seemed to imply that, if the OP has renters’ insurance, all of his expenses will be covered, so there’s no point in deducting rent, even if it is within his rights to do so. I was simply stating that that isn’t the case.

        • Momo

          Why do I assume or how do I know they don’t have renters insurance? Because anyone that does would have simply paid the $100 deductible and moved into a hotel for a few days. There would be zero need to try to get your landlord to pay for something that isn’t their responsibility if the OP already had it covered. The last time I had renters insurance, ( requirement of my lease) I paid 190 a year for some crappy bargain basement policy and it still paid upwards of 30 days of hotels, and covered the rent due the landlord in the meantime. There is zero excuse not to have it.

          The landlord doesn’t owe you anything in this regard, and I wholeheartedly suggest you waste a couple hours of your day going down to the Tenants Rights office, because they will tell you the same.

          • KMB

            I’m not the OP, so no need for me to go to the OTA. However, when I went down there to ask them a similarly simple question, I was in and out in about 30 minutes, no need to waste a couple of hours. Why do you think they would tell the tenant the same, even though DC law states that a landlord must provide running water in the bathroom?

            And, even though I’ve always had renters insurance (my father’s an insurance agent and I worked in his office several summers-I saw too many people trying to get insurance after something happened to ever consider not having it), I would also want to know if the landlord was responsible for covering any of my expenses, so I guess you’re incorrect in your assumption that anyone would pay the deductible and get a hotel.

        • 3:30

          I did not assume that your comment regarding renter’s insurance was directed at me. After reading your comment, I chose to clarify the reason that I brought the issue up in the hope of gaining some enlightenment. In that spirit, I appreciate your efforts to clarify your comments as well.

  • Anon

    Wow. Just wow. I don’t know if I am more impressed with how wrong most of the advice is that is being provided above or how confident those same authors are in providing the statements. If you are looking for legal advice on a comment section for a community blog, just remember you get what you pay for. Your question is completely legitimate and comparable to many issues in a landlord/tenant relationship. Consult a landlord/tenant attorney who represents tenants. That is the best (non-legal) advice you will get all day.

  • Stupid question …. what does your lease specify?

    That is the legal document that obligates your landlord to provide you with a certain level of service, and that obligates you to pay for that service. For what its worth, I do agree with the others that it appears that your landlord is trying to handle this as professionally as possible. If you start trying to bilk him by 1) paying him less rent and 2) making him pay for a hotel room, then expect him to save that money by doing a shoddy and cheap repair job, which would put you in this situation again in the future.

  • Anon

    This is why rent is so high in D.C. Every tenant thinks they are entitled to a few nights at the Four Seasons every time there is a plumbing issue. Go ahead and ask your landlord to pay for you hotel bill. He/she may but you will definitely get your rent raised in the future to cover the difference.

    Grow up tenants. Houses in D.C. are some of the oldest in the country. Part of being an adult is learning to be handle unexpected events in life. If you failed to pay for renter insurance, then take it as a life lesson and open your own wallet.

    • Anonymous

      There’s a difference between getting hosted at the Four Seasons on your landlord’s dime and figuring out if you can withhold rent for the days your place is inhabitable and need to crash on a friend’s couch. If I were the OP, I’d talk to the OTA and see what my options are.
      If you can’t live your apartment – even if the landlord is making efforts – why would you need to continue paying rent (or even the full amount)? There’s a happy middle ground here.

      • KMB

        Agreed! I don’t necessarily think the OP is trying to bilk the landlord out of thousands of dollars or anything, but I also don’t think it would be unreasonable to ask for, say $25 for each day the apartment isn’t inhabitable.

    • John

      Conversely, because the rents are so high, renters feel like it’s fair to get pro rata rebates for the days when promised facilities are delivered. And I agree. Fair, in my book, is to rebate the rent for the days when it’s not fixed. “Long delays” doesn’t cut it. The landlord could pay more and get a plumber there faster.

      The person already opened their own wallet. When they paid rent. The landlord is not delivering what the law and contract requires, and has some responsibility. Some. Not four seasons. For many apartments ~$50 / day is the going rate.

      “Grow up tenants” sheesh. And like the rent wouldn’t go up anyway if they could get it.

      I could take your “insurance” rant if it applied to homeowners. This is different. And homeowner’s insurance wouldn’t cover this anyways! So please come down off your high horse.

    • jcm

      Grow up landlords. Houses in D.C. are some of the oldest in the country. Part of being a landlord is learning to be handle unexpected events in life. If your property becomes uninhabitable, then take it as a life lesson and open your own wallet.

      • Anon

        One again this is why rent is so high. Landlords have to with nagging tenants that don’t understand what it is like to own a home. In the end, the landlord will just raise the rent to either get you to move or cover his/her loss. If you don’t like it, put on your big boy pants and buy your own house.

        I think it will be great when tenants have to pay $10k a month for a 2 bedroom because the tenant friendly laws have driven up the cost of doing business in D.C. Of course the nagging tenants will probably get the D.C. government to subsidize their rent. The cycle never ends.

        • anon

          wow, this is in no way why rents are so high in DC. You are clueless if you really think this is the reason rents are so high (what does this have to do with supply and demand?)

          If you were paying for a monthly service, say cable, and its stopped working for a couple months (i made it a couple of months instead of days otherwise the couple of bucks would not translate) would you still be happy to fork over money to comcast? or would you expect to not pay while you were not getting service?

        • Nagging Tenants?

          You seem exceedingly bitter about “nagging tenants”… which tells me you must suck as a landlord. Either you don’t bother to maintain your rental property properly, or you didn’t do your due diligence with perspective tenants.

  • Mary Kate

    OP, there is a lot of contradictory internet tough guy arguing in this thread. Ignore most of it, and consult a landlord/tenant lawyer if you can’t live in the apt and can’t afford a hotel. You can also politely request a reduction in your rent this month, due to the disturbance, knowing that you aren’t legally owed a reduction. If you approach your landlord with a reasonable request in a polite manner, you never know. The value of a good tenant is huge–especially in DC. A smart landlord will make reasonable concessions to a good tenant, even if not legally owed. That’s just smart business.

    • dunning-kruger

      Well said, I’m a landlord here in DC. I would probably work out some kind of compromise with my tenant were I in this situation (the most similar situation I’ve had like that I did), but like pretty much everyone in the world if I felt like my tenant was trying to bully/demand with threats I would quickly become far less reasonable and remind them that they should have gotten renters insurance as I suggest to all my tenants because if I cover this it comes straight out of my pocket.

      If I had other tenants in the same situation I would have to think very hard about it as if I set a precedent I may end up losing my shirt; additionally, if the water is still off I’m dealing with that and really not feeling like writing a blank check for however long the issue persists. If your landlord is truly negligent you might want to do both of you a favor and try and get an estimate yourself if you have access, it’ll probably be more than what he was going to pay but if they can come sooner maybe you’ll feel charitable towards the nincompoop and split the difference.

      Also, OP if you read nothing else read this: YOU CAN STILL FLUSH YOUR TOILET, just fill up a pitcher, bucket, whatever large container you have, take the lid off the tank (don’t worry, no one poops in there except the worst kind of tenant which I’m sure you are not) and fill it, now you are good for 1 maybe 2 flushes, keep your container of water filled and by the toilet, there, you now have a working toilet. I’m sure your landlord assumed you knew this (we assume tenants know a lot of stuff they don’t).

      • Anonymous

        I would find it VERY helpful to have a list of Things that Landlords Assume Tenants Know. I also would like your opinion on Tenants who try to fix things when they don’t know what they’re doing. I have few skills in this regard and always assumed that it would be better to call the super than to muck things up, possibly making things worse.

        • dunning-kruger

          Here’s a list of some things that I have been surprised people didn’t know/understand (or just wished more people knew):

          1) you can flush a toilet with any water source
          2) touch your radiators and check your windows/doors before you call me and say the heat is out
          3) you aren’t bothering me when you call about ‘minor’ issues, report EVERYTHING, I’ll determine how major/minor it is, minor issues are one aloof tenant from becoming major
          4) you can light a gas range with anything that makes fire
          5) changing light bulbs in your apt is not the responsibility of the landlord
          6) ACs should not stay in the window year round
          7) there is such a thing as a toiler plunger (that orange ACME looking thing doesn’t count)
          8) garbage disposals are not for garbage
          9) your apt has a breaker box or fuse panel, the power is not out
          10) there is such a thing as renters insurance, it covers things I can not possibly insure as your landlord
          11) when your roommate doesn’t pay rent it means you are both behind
          12) your dog barks because you aren’t around, how your dog acts when you are around is not relevant
          13) don’t hold off on reporting a long term issue until you simply can’t stand it anymore and then be impatient on the repair
          14) don’t hold off on reporting an issue until Friday evening/Sunday afternoon, my family and I are used to having our weekends screwed up by emergencies, but if you knew about this on Wednesday why wait?
          15) my handyman doesn’t work for you, if you have an issue bring it up with me
          16) plumbing fixtures have cut-off valves, if something is causing water damage use it
          17) wires can shock you!
          18) the lobby is not a safe place to leave packages for weeks at a time
          19) if you rented a clean apartment you return it clean, it doesn’t matter that we both know I’m going to clean it again, this is a great way to leave on bad terms and lose some deposit
          20) last but not least and applicable to the OP, there are a lot of old buildings still doing their thing in DC, its something many people really like, if you like living in an old building you have to take the good with the bad and understand that your landlord has refused dozens of offers to sell to a flipper who would do a cheap gut rehab, charge at least 50% more rent and still have roof leaks/burst pipes because they do everything on the cheap, you want DC to be the cool quirky city you (maybe) fell in love with? or you want to bust our balls until we all say ‘fuck it’ and sell out (sheit I’m sounding like one of those diva job creators… seriously though our mailboxes are overflowing with offers, it just takes a couple nightmare tenants to make you want to cash out)?

          You can probably tell I manage/super myself which is why there is so much plumbing/electrical in there and 1st hand experience dealing with an old building full of young entitled people who grew up in new suburban homes.

          Overall it is just a bad idea to let tenants make their own repairs/modifications; a sloppily painted accent wall can mean having to repaint window trims that normally aren’t painted between tenants or worse still strip paint off of exposed wood or brick (which then needs to be refinished or clear coated). You can also hurt yourself, I had a tenant try to change a light fixture without cutting off the circuit, somehow they did not get shocked (they also didn’t change the fixture as they clearly had no clue what they were doing, we finished the job). A shoddy plumbing fix can mean $$$ repairs for water damage, etc. I will sometimes allow tenants who are homeowners to do things I normally wouldn’t, I let a tenant who had a sibling that was a painter do some painting, stuff like that.

          Enjoy the list/rant. Hope it is informative.

      • jerseygirl

        it’s hard to fill your tank when the water is shut off to your entire apartment, like mine has been for an entire week, now. i’ve been filling gallon jugs at my gym and at my neighbor’s houses, but it’s still a huge pain in the a$$. i started the week with 30gal of water, never thinking that it would run out, because i also didn’t think it would take so long for my plumbing to be fixed.
        on the other hand, my landlord has been trying really, really hard to get the plumbing fixed, and as far as i can tell he’s not in control of the weather, so the OP should just suck it up and deal with not having water for a few days. yeah, it’s a pain in the rear, but as long as the landlord is trying to fix it, what are you going to do?

  • Landlord

    I am a landlord and when this sort of thing happens I offer a rent deduction. This is a customer service business, people!!


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