Make Tenants Pay Water Leak Bill?

13 Replies

Hi BP Family,

I have good tenants in a home that for some reason didn't notify me of a potential water leak until a week after it had been leaking.  The tenant called and said no hot water for early morning shower, so I inspected with plumber same day.
Home is a pier and beam and has 3+ inches of water underneath.  This was the hot water line; therefore, the flooring is warped throughout the home.  
Question: Is it reasonable to ask the tenants to pay for the plumbing leak since they didn't notify me within 24 hours of the leak? The lease agreement states tenants negligence. Any advice is appreciated.

Thanks.
  

Technically they are in violation of their lease since they didn't let you know within 24 hours, but do you have evidence the leak was caused by tenant negligence? It sounds like this would have been an expense you incurred even if they notified you within 24 hours, because you still would have called the plumber I assume. 

@Sixto Moralez   It's not clear to me from your post where exactly the water was leaking, but are you saying the tenants noticed the water leaking in a place that was causing damage yet they failed to notify you for an entire week? 

To me, there's only two reasons you should even consider charging a tenant for a water leak:  1) They intentionally caused the leak through some sort of negligent act or misuse of equipment, or 2) They didn't cause the leak but they noticed a readily apparent leak (and you can prove this) and then failed to notify you of this leak and that failure to notify you allowed the leak to become worse and cause additional damage above/beyond what it would have had they notified you right away and allowed you the opportunity to deal with it immediately.

For example, my lease has a clause that states, in part: "Tenant shall immediately notify Landlord, in writing, of any problem, malfunction or damage. Tenant shall be charged for all repairs or replacements caused by Tenant, pets, guests or licensees of Tenant, excluding ordinary wear and tear. Tenant shall be charged for all damage to Premises as a result of failure to report a problem in a timely manner."

On the other hand, if they didn't cause the leak, or if you can't prove they knew about it prior to them reporting it to you (either because it was in a place that wasn't readily apparent or maybe they weren't home or whatever), then you shouldn't charge them. 

Just my two cents.

@Sixto Moralez Technically you could probably stick it to them because they didn’t tell you quickly enough. However the result will likely be a fight of trying to get them to pay, and ultimately they will leave and it will be a messy turnover. If they’re good tenants otherwise I would just make the repairs and implore them to inform you sooner if there are subsequent water damage issues (or any issues).

I had a tenant do something similar. I had a $700 water bill and learned one of the tenants didn't report a running toilet and said it had ran a few months prior and claimed she had bad hearing and didn't know it was still running. 

On the next lease term I raised her rent but a few months later she O.D.'d and died from smoking fentanyl. 

Increase your tenants' rent to cover the costs once their current lease expires. If they have renter's insurance file a claim, but I'm assuming they don't have a renter's insurance policy.

I would submit the repair invoice to the water company to ask for an adjustment. Some do and some don’t. If you’ve had a good experience and they are taking care of the home Id increase the rent at renewal and do your best to keep them. Good , long term residents are so important. Personally, some occupants don’t realize things like a leak or can be afraid to tell you about it. I would assume their best intentions and move forward knowing it’s just part of property management. 

@Paul De Luca . Thanks Paul. The only evidence I’ve got is the tenant saying the drawers in the kitchen felt wet and damp. Other than that I’ve got nothing. You’re right about plumbing needing repair at some point. Just wish they’d have told me sooner. Thank you for your time to reply. I appreciate it.

If there is strong evidence indicating the Tenant was aware of the leak but failed to report it, then I would charge them.

@Kyle J. Thanks Kyle. The leak happened underneath the home at the kitchen. They didn’t deliberately cause the leak. They didn’t inform me until it was too late and 40+ gallons of hot water was underneath, causing the floors to warp.

Thanks for your reasons and I will definitely update my lease agreement wording to reflect you example. I wouldn’t be able to prove they knew about it other than their word against mine.

I appreciate your input.

@Steve K. Thank you Steve for your reply. I agree. I don’t want them to leave as they pay on time. I definitely will make it known to inform me of ANY repairs that are needed in the future before it gets catastrophic. I appreciate your advice.

Appears you have two separate issues here:

1) High water bill from leak

2) Damage from leak

Your lease should cover both as separate issues.

1) Tenant has 24 hours to notify you, otherwise they are responsible for high water bill. If they caused leak, they are responsible no matter what.

2) If tenant caused leak, they are liable for any and all property damages.
- Otherwise, they have 24 hours to notify you or they MAY be held liable.
----If they are great tenants and small amount of damages, then it may make sense to just cover it yourself. You may want to leverage some guilt to get them to extend though!
----If not so great tenants or high amount of damage, then you may want to try to charge them for it. Of course, they may break the lease and move out over a weekend without telling you, trashing he house on their way out.

For the damages, you should also discuss with your insurance agent. WARNING: it rarely works out to file claims on small amounts. The insurance industry does "blackball" landlords and deny coverage for too many claims or the type of claim.