IS the tenant responsible for this? If so....can I charge her or?

7 Replies

I have a tenant that just moved into one of my rental properties (a condo) last month and now water damage has occurred from the upstairs bathtub that has caused water to come through the ceiling that is visible from downstairs.

 I've called a plumber to come out and they will be there tommorow afternoon. The tenant has an 11 month old and likes to take baths with her baby. The way she tells the story, she was taking a bath Monday night, then later that night around 3am she came downstairs to get something out of the kitchen and that was when she noticed water in the kitchen, She looked up and saw water dripping from the ceiling. She didn't want to call me right away because she says it didn't seem to be an emergency, which is why she says she waited until around 9:30am to call and tell me. 

There is a homeowner liason person who that's been living at the condo complex for at least 15 years and he says he's seen it happen dozens of times over the years with the units. He believes that there was so much bathwater that started pouring through the overflow valve that it was too much water for it to handle and therefore leaked through. Either that or the overflow valve was "dry and cracked" so when the water did get to the overflow valve it went through the cracks in the valve and therefore dripped through to the first floor.     

When the plumber comes out we will see what the plumber says caused this. Some things come to mind.

1. Is the tenant at fault for these damages? This may be a loaded question because I don't know yet what the plumber will say. If the overflow valve was cracked then I guess I can see where I need to pay for this to be fixed, I'm just finding it very hard to believe this could be a coincidence because......  

2. I personally lived at that property for almost eleven years, took a number of baths, and NEVER had anything like this happen. I moved out in September, she moves in with her baby in October, and BAM! This happens. How and why?

3. Can I legally tell the tenant I need her to be more careful with how high she lets the bathwater get? Obviously I want her to know that her and the baby can still take baths but can I legally tell her to watch out and observe when the water is getting close to the overflow valve and let her know that the overflow valve is the MAXIMUM height for the water to go to but not a TARGET or a GOAL for her to let the water get to that height? 

4. I'm fairly certain that once this is fixed this time I will definitely let her know that if this happens again she will definitely be responsible for repairs. 

5. The good news is that I do have a security deposit from her.  F it's found out from the plumber that there was no crack on the overflow valve and this is simply something that she caused because of a continuous occurence of water overflow then she is at a minimum partially responsible for this. She may complain saying "She didn't know" and to a certain extent I might be inclined to agree to a partial extent, but it really gets under my skin that this has never happened before and now that she's in there with her baby it's happened after less than a month. 

How would YOU as a landlord handle this situation?

Hope this isn't going to be a huge expense for you. Get some repair estimates and talk to your insurance agent to consider making a claim. Tenant has to accept some responsibility and learn water dripping from a ceiling is always a big deal. Good luck.

@Brian Garlington The long and the short of it is that the tenant probably did this but it will be difficult to prove. Re your point 3, sure you can tell them to be careful with bath tub levels. Yes, you can say that they would be responsible for a second time but if you billed them and they refused to pay you would have to go to small claims. What proof would you show the judge? As I understand it the security deposit is essentially meant to cover expenses at move out. We don't have them in Ontario, hence all damages have to be taken to Small Claims Court. It is an involved process but you can win if you have the evidence. But what would your evidence be in this case? That you moved out in September after eleven years free of bath tub problems and she moved in, then a month later this issue arises? I don't see how that circumstantial evidence could be seen as proof that would be persuasive to a judge if you had to go that route.

From what I read of California landlord and tenant law you may have to have evidence of a similar standard if you want to charge this to a security deposit and have it stand up if the tenant challenges you. As a practical matter if you do make such a charge and the tenant moves out at the end of the lease or before you have to consider your potential rental losses if they go. How easy would it be to re-rent this property?

Did the water come out over the tub sides from the bath, or did it leak from drain pipes under the tub. easy enough to test and observe.

More than likely the tub faucet was running so strong the overflow could not handle the water fast enough to keep the water from flowing over the side of the tub and she didn't catch it in time because she left the room. OR she was in the tub and it was so full during bath time she splashed so much water it ran over edge of tub so water leaked.

or. She was probably drunk or occupied doing something else stupid and forgot she had the faucet on that fast.

I'd charge her every dime for the damage caused, the plumber will verify if the drain and overflow is working, so unless that's clogged or broken pipe which I DOUBT>>>!!!!

She is responsible. 

Photo's of everything , her unit and unit below, and including plumbers call while he's working.

I'm used to this story and 99% of the time it's tenants fault. 

This all goes back to your rental contract. The contract should stipulate who is responsible for damage to the unit. Laws very by state but in Missouri you can assign responsibility for all claims and damages to the tenant and require the tenant to hold harmless and indemnify you for everything except damage resulting from the sole gross negligence of you as a property manager.  

Assuming you require the tenant to have renters insurance, her liabily coverage will pay for damage she is liable for.  You can also file a claim with your insurance company who would likely pay and then subrogate against the tenants liability policy. This puts determining liability in the hands of the insurance companies who will also pay the legal fees. 

I would notify your agent and talk through the pros and cons of filing a claim with both her and your insurance companies. 

I am not a lawyer but leaving the bathtub running to the point of hitting the overflow valve and then leaving the room should be considered negligence on her part. This is no different than turning the stove on and leaving the house. 

Thanks and I will keep y'all posted. I'm waiting on the plumber now

This happened to me at the house that I currently own/live in. The tub was filled and when I got in, the water reached the overflow valve. I thought it wasn't a big deal and released some water from the tub. When I was finished, I went to the kitchen to grab something and noticed water was slowly dripping from the light fixture. There wasnt any water damage, thank goodness!
Check your rental agreement, but you may want to just write this one off and keep her informed of the hassle and expense this has created. Good luck. Interested to hear what the plumber says.

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