Water & Plumbing Issues : How Does Your Lease Deal With Them?

20 Replies

I have been getting nickeled and dimed with leaks and clogs.    From a prior life in Illinois, I remember we had no problem making all plumbing issues part of the tenant's responsibility in the lease.   However, I'm now a Florida (Pinellas County) landlord with a Property Manager in place and they are telling me that under Florida law, the tenant can't be charged for clearing drains unless some negligence is shown or proven...does this sound right?    

So, in other words, if a GI Joe is pulled out of the trap by a plumber, tenant pays.   But normal or unidentified clogs are on me.    The PM says because the hair and who knows what else accumulates over time, that Florida law goes as far to say that it wouldn't be fair to penalize the current user of the property.

I could certainly see this if the lease didn't specify, but they are saying we can't put it in the lease that the tenant be responsible for keeping the plumbing fully operational.

Thanks to any knowledgable Florida landlords out there!

Sadly things like this happen and though in many cases its tenant neglect, you can either eat the cost or make them pay which they might just move out in the middle of the night and now you have to do make ready repairs and deal with vacancy.  Better to just spend the few hundred bucks and fix it.  Keep record so when they move out there it will be deducted from their deposit. 

My favorite was the young woman flushing kitty litter down the toilet only to clog the sewer in the basement. $2000 to dig up & replace the old pipes just to remove the cement like sludge. No reimbursement other than keeping her security deposit.

Here is a recent one (we took 3 of these out) & if it wasn't for the tree roots the socks & toys would have flushed all the way through. The tree roots entered via the city clean out at the curb. But we are NOW required to replace the clean out 'T' as it's no longer code & the city is not responsible !!! You will notice that we had already replaced the sewer lines but only to the property line. 

Wow - that's a nasty chunk! I guess that's where all the missing socks go . . . 

My lease specifically states that the plumbing was functional at move-in & if it clogs up, tenant is responsible. That is the common, standard practice around here. Florida is undoubtedly different - or maybe not.

I would do a little research & make sure your PM is telling you "the law" correctly. If not, call them out on it & consider an "employment adjustment."

When we do maintenance inspections, we clear the drains.  Unfortunately some tenants are just harder on the plumbing (and everything else) than others.

@Tommy Lorden  I would contact an attorney in Florida. Have him review your lease and ask the question about if you can require the tenant to maintain the property in good working order. 

@Cathy Svercl  is a fellow landlord in Pinellas County and one of the more knowledgeable people I have met when it comes to landlord/tenant laws.  

I read through the Florida Statute on residential tenancies because this statement by your property manager made me question a practice that I have heard a number of people using. I know a few people that require tenants to pay for the first $50 or so dollars of any repair. I do not see this being restricted in Florida Statute 83.40. Link to Florida Statute 83.40 In the case of a SFR or Duplex 83.51 specifically states that you can assign some of these duties to the tenant.

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83.51?Landlord’s obligation to maintain premises.—

(1)?The landlord at all times during the tenancy shall:

(a)?Comply with the requirements of applicable building, housing, and health codes; or

(b)?Where there are no applicable building, housing, or health codes, maintain the roofs, windows, screens, doors, floors, steps, porches, exterior walls, foundations, and all other structural components in good repair and capable of resisting normal forces and loads and the plumbing in reasonable working condition. However, the landlord shall not be required to maintain a mobile home or other structure owned by the tenant.

The landlord’s obligations under this subsection may be altered or modified in writing with respect to a single-family home or duplex.

... Section (2) goes in to a little more detail

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I hope this helps. 

Edit:

Clicked post one too many times.

I live in Florida and if a tenant breaks something I have it right in the lease that they are responsible for the repair. So if the coil in the AC is full of dog hair because they don't change their ac filters, I make them pay for it because that is tenant neglect. If they break a window, they pay for it. Now I will pay for it upfront and they can make payments to me so that it gets fixed right of way. Normal repairs I pay for, but tenant neglect they pay for.

Well done!   Thank you both!   

We have a minor repair clause but also tell them to call us if they don't know what they are doing, each state is different and you have to obey the laws but most of the time with a clog it is the tenants fault and you should be able to bill them or take it out of their deposit when they move out.

You also might want to talk to other property management companies, maybe the one your using is too tenant friendly?

we had a new tenant move in and immediately start having toilet clog problems.  after a few un-clogging sessions, i had a plumber come out and pull the very old toilet.  toys from a previous tenant had caught in the trap at the toilet/floor level.  so we didn't charge this tenant.  but in the future, we will be able to keep better tabs on issues before a new tenant moves in.

in our triplex, we prefer the tenant to call us first, then we'll send out a plumber.  better than having them call a pseudo-plumber that ends up making a bigger problem.  we agree with paying for the repair, then allowing the tenant to pay us back over time.  (we have low income tenants.  other landlords nearby with middle income tenants suggest the tenants make the call to a short list of pre-approved plumbers/other repair person.)

Make sure they know how to use a plunger. That will clear quite a few clogs.

We talk about plumbing maintenance with our tenants at move-in.  We give them a plunger and talk about when and how to use it.  We give them a "Freeze the grease. Save the drain!" kit which we get free from our local utility (www.crwwd.com).  We give them a bottle of vinegar and a box of baking soda and teach them how to clean and freshen their sink drains once a month.  

Our rental agreement has a section about drains, cleaning and maintenance, which includes this line: "Tenant agrees to pay for clearing the drains of any and all stoppages except those, which a plumber who is called to clear the stoppage will attest to in writing, were caused by defective plumbing, tree roots, or a result of weather."

In our tool kit, I keep a "Zip It" drain tool and use it when we do our regular maintenance inspections, here's a good video that demonstrates it. 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vGs8qh7YgFk

We also have super plungers and plumbing snakes and toilet augers.  Best of all, we have a great plumber, Bob.

We do not allow chemical drain cleaning products to be used in our plumbing systems and we cover that in our rental agreement.  Chemical drain cleaning products may damage the plumbing system, are hazardous to the environment, and also pose a danger to us or our plumber who may be called in to clear a drain.

@Marcia Maynard

Very good post! Thank you for including the verbage used in your rental agreement.

Paul

I provide hair drain catchers in my rentals, I just stick them in the drain, explain what they are,  and hope they don't remove them. Helps in my own house; some hair will get around it but it definitely slows down the drain getting full of hair.

Sounds about right. By some hardcore ( almost pure sulfuric acid) drain cleaner...use every time a tenant moves out....and dont get it on you.

Well, hubby and I are learning our lesson.  We decided to forego the PM and found a tenant ourselves.  Professional couple, good income, wanted to move in immediately to be closer to their practice and children's private school.  We thought we hit the jackpot.  Now we're starting to reconsider....

To be fair, our house is almost 100yrs old, so we understand that "things" will happen.  But this is the same house WE had been living in for the past 2+ years without issue.  Within 4 days of move in, there was a major leak under the master tub...big enough that the foyer ceiling below (original plaster and lath) was cracked and sagging, and then it somehow dripped all the way down into the basement and soaked a large section of the basement ceiling as well.

Luckily, we had already hired a plumber (prior to them even inquiring about the house) to install a back flow valve as part of the city's sewer upgrade.  He just happened to be coming over the day the leak occurred, so he fixed it for us...for $1500.  He says the tenant admitted to cleaning the sink and tub (both of which had already been cleaned by a maid service prior to move in) and pouring DRAINO down the drains.  She, of course, completely denies this to me.  She also complains that the tub faucets "just spin" after the plumber had tightened them down for her after she complained of seeing a "leak spot" in the tub (it was there when we moved in...there was never a leak because it had been fixed long ago). She basically forced the handles, after he tightened them, and stripped them.  They are the original faucets.  Another $1500 to remove the old fixture and replace valves, and install new ones.  So $3000 in repairs before we even get a full first month's rent.

Then, she calls back to say the foyer ceiling needs to be "taken down" and an electrician called because they are too scared to turn on the electricity.  What?  Oh, the water got into the foyer ceiling fixture....$200 "emergency" electrician call to flip the break to that one light (instead of the whole house).  Oh, and what about the holes in the foyer ceiling?  Apparently, the plumber went through it to access the pipes, but didn't repair it.  Oh and what about the ceiling tiles in the basement?  ARRRRRGGGGGHHHHHHHHH!

So basically, the tenant caused (but I can't prove) the leak...either by breaking the tightened valve or pouring draino down the drains, and we're going to be about $7000 in repairs by the end of next week.

Should I mention that they insisted that they wanted right of first refusal on buying the house?  I'm starting to wonder if they are going to conveniently break everything they can before asking to buy the house.  Trying to stay positive and assume that this was just extremely bad luck for both of us (who wants contractors, plumbers, etc to deal with when you're moving into your new home??) but geez!!!

@Karyn T.  

Sorry you are going through this.  It's an older home and some people like older homes but don't know how to live in them. Getting rid of drip spot on a older tub just isn't going to happen (I just had to explain to a tenant that I can't make her 100 year old tub have 20th cen itury finish).  I can't say about the tub leak, chances are that can happen eventually. I would question stripped faucets though. If they were perfectly functional and they have now been stripped can you hold them accountable for that?  They also need to be accountable for mitigating damages, how did a second floor leak get down to the basement. Did they let water keep running when they saw a leak?

Our lease does specify if hey cause it, it  is on them but it is often hard to determine cause especially when  a  place is older.

Hi there. So I'm a tenant,  just signed a lease at the beginning of last month. I paid a double deposit and paid my rent 4 months ahead. My landlord has a Property Management company overseeing all of his properties. I'm currently living in a large single family-turned TRIPLEX... the basement has been converted into a unit. The toilet is not working and in short I'm broke. The cost of my move, utility deposits, paying ahead tapped me out to literally no dollars, not exaggerating. I'm suppose to open my own in home daycare, (unlicensed, 5 kids) but can't until the toilet is fixed! I am finally going to have to go for child support from my estranged husband, which I've been proud not to do for the 2 & 1/2 yrs "our" son (who he's only cared to see 1x)  has been alive. (We separated during the pregnancy) I'm very independent. Last year I pulled in $36,000 in less than 3 months, invested in the furniture and materials for the daycare, and focused on enjoying motherhood while developing my curriculum. The house I was renting film family, which I put thousands of dollars of My own money onto, was unexpectedly put on the market and thus I wasn't able to open the daycare as expected and after that it became a game of "who will rent to me" as all I had to verify income for 3 years was PayPal statements that show money received as gifts rather than in exchange for goods or services. (I didn't have to pay taxes and PayPal didn't take out any fees.) 

Long story short - the place is uninhabitable by law, but the lease I signed says I'm responsible for all maintenance besides roof and structural. Mind you I've already taken out the nasty old laminate flooring  in the kitchen and replaced it with new, durable flooring, and updated the bathroom faucet. (I improve the places I live in for my own aesthetical peace, though these improvements didn't cost me a penny. Materials were leftover from family member's house.) Am I responsible for this plumbing, as I believe the problem was here before I moved in? And if my toddler did cause it? (He's got his own potty chair, so I can't see this being the case.) What about if I don't have the money for repairing it? I read one investor saying he's being "nickled and dimed." My parents use to do the renter thing & I understand the headache! Damages, dirtiness, disorderly tenants, disrespect, etc. I don't envy investors. But on the flip side, someone that keeps an immaculately clean home, that makes improvements with permission without looking for an exchange of discounted rent, who pays ahead... I'm an asset as a tenant, & renters do rent for a reason! Anyway, I'm also a rambler (apologies) and I digress. Back to the original question: legally, what am I currently looking at? 

Lots and lots of opinions. 

So from the perspective of the plumber.

I know it sucks when we plumbers make a hole to get to a pipe, but please keep in mind, we are plumbers not sheetrockers. Trust me, you don't want us to fix the Sheetrock.

I have received a number of calls from both renters and owners. Policy at any place I have ever worked was to make sure the owner gave full permission to do the work, as renters had no authority to do so.

My point is this. Nine times out of ten, on drains especially, the tenant was the cause. Now I'm not picking on tenants, but I am calling an ace an ace. In the research I've done, the owner must be as specific as possible. When the tenant signs that agreement you know have something to come back on. If you don't have those things listed or considered in the lease you really have no recourse and should just pony up to the repair, their fault or not.

Remember, no one will treat your stuff like you will. So teach them how, and have them sign and initial that they know how. I believe most plumbing issues can be avoided with just a short conversation with your tenants in the beginning.

in my eyes...... unless it's diaper/toy/pad, the landlord is responsible. no matter what.

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