Landlord Advice And Suggestion Regarding Tenant High Water Bill

18 Replies

Greetings to anyone reading this.

I’ve got a recent situation with a tenant regarding a leaking toilet bowl. And wondering how to handle it as a novice landlord.

I got a call from the city water department regarding high usage in one of my fourplex. I immediately sent out a text to all tenants to check for any overflowing taps, leaks in the apartment and instructed them to shut off any overflowing toilets. I only heard back from 3 out of 4 tenants.

I Had the plumber go to apartment the next day and check all apartments. He determined that the only tenant I did not hear back from had the issue with a leaking toilet bowl. Fast forward a week later and I get a bill of 420$ from the city. Triple the regular amount for each months water bill. Wasn’t too happy about that to be honest.

Not sure how to address it with the tenant since she failed to notify me about the leak. She’s been an exemplary tenant up until now. Always pays on time, even during covid. Regardless, most likely the leak Came from her apartment.

I’m considering paying for it this time but making all tenants sign a note I have to be alerted to any leaks within 4 hours of any leaks if not they’ll be responsible for any additional usage. Thanks for any feedback.

Cheers Mat

Your water company contacted you?  Geez, I'm pretty jealous...that never happens in my market.  A couple of things to know:  a "running" toilet isn't the same thing as a "leaking" toilet yet both are a whole lot of not good.  Some tenants don't think a running toilet is problematic and may not report it.  Had there been a leak with water all over the floor, they would be reporting big time.  The best solution is to add toilets to your inspection list.  The replacement parts are $20 so I choose just to swap them out annually (they last 3 years or so on average).  It's also important to have a maintenance covenant in your lease that states all issues are to be reported when discovered - and then list a few examples like a running toilet, dripping faucet.  Especially when the tenant is not paying for services, letting something drip just isn't seen as "their problem."  

Pay the water bill this time but let the tenant know the amount of the bill and that the problem was found in his/her unit - and share that this one with be on you but the next will be all his/her's.  

(And, if it's any comfort, this happens all the time minus the notice from the city; there was a post just this past week on the very same issue).

The joy of running a business...

You're not going to be able to enforce that OP. How would you measure additional usage?

You don't need to be a PM to do this but our property management company inspects houses quarterly and we check for leaks for reasons like this. Sometimes tenants are negligent and if they're not paying the water they don't care about leaking faucets or running toilets.

I'd just replace the whole toilet. Will cost you $100 for a new one plus labor. 

@Mat K. Asking them to notify you of leaks because of this is a little overkill. Anyone would notify their landlord of a typical water leak since nobody wants water damage but something like this isn’t really noticeable to the tenants or causing damage so they might not care.

You said they were great tenants so I would just fix it and eat the cost and move on, no need to stir anything up if you already have good tenants over this

@Mat K.

Yes to educating the tenant on how to spot this issue early. But no to even thinking about charging them for it.

Originally posted by @Patricia Steiner :

Your water company contacted you?  Geez, I'm pretty jealous...that never happens in my market.  A couple of things to know:  a "running" toilet isn't the same thing as a "leaking" toilet yet both are a whole lot of not good.  Some tenants don't think a running toilet is problematic and may not report it.  Had there been a leak with water all over the floor, they would be reporting big time.  The best solution is to add toilets to your inspection list.  The replacement parts are $20 so I choose just to swap them out annually (they last 3 years or so on average).  It's also important to have a maintenance covenant in your lease that states all issues are to be reported when discovered - and then list a few examples like a running toilet, dripping faucet.  Especially when the tenant is not paying for services, letting something drip just isn't seen as "their problem."  

Pay the water bill this time but let the tenant know the amount of the bill and that the problem was found in his/her unit - and share that this one with be on you but the next will be all his/her's.  

(And, if it's any comfort, this happens all the time minus the notice from the city; there was a post just this past week on the very same issue).

The joy of running a business...

 

Thanks Patricia ! This seems like sound advice ! I’m new to this and only seeking to make sure it’s an amicable end to it all! But also want to be fair in landlording. Thanks again for your perspectives again. Feels like advice from a mom. Well taken. 

Talk to the water company as they might be able to give you a discount in the overages.  The tenant should have told you there was a problem.  I'd split the overages with her and tell her if there are problems, she needs to let you know and you will fix them.

Originally posted by @Matt M. :

@Peter T.

Why would you replace the entire toilet plus labor over a 2 minute $5 repair?

 I read leaking toilet, not toilet bowl. Fixing a flapper is not a $5 repair though.

@Mat K. I would fix the leak and move on. If the tenants are not paying the water bill, then they are not going to care if it is leaking. Does your lease have anything regarding this? If so, follow the lease. Otherwise, learn from this and add it to future leases, and maybe send addendum to the current tenants.

Originally posted by @Matt M. :

@Peter T.

Why would you replace the entire toilet plus labor over a 2 minute $5 repair?

 Because he is a PM and its generally its not his money, plus he gets a nice surcharge on top of it!

That’s actually a nice gesture for the water company to contact you and give you a heads up. 

There is nothing you can really do to the tenant other than to remind her that if her toilet is running when it should or if any other faucet is leaky to give you a heads up so you can address the issue. 

I change out all the old toilets & install a new flapper I like. Slow leaks from flappers are tough unless you do the old food color test & tenants are usually oblivious to it. We have a 7 unit with free laundry & our water bills ($75/month) only come every 3 months so by the time we would see a leak it's $$$o late. I wish we had the same City installed hourly usage system that's available for our home in Scottsdale AZ (pic below) ....but our cities know water charges are a significant cash cow so they have no incentive to offer the same monitoring that AZ has installed. 

@Mat K. This same situation has happened to me several different times, in several different buildings over the years, so I want to add a few thoughts for you to ponder with all the other advice you're getting.

Sometimes a running toilet (i.e. a leaking flapper) doesn't always have to run constantly 24/7 to cause an expensive bill. It can surge leak every few minutes or even every few hours. That would still cause your bill to blow sky high, but might honestly be imperceptible to your tenant.

If you spend $5 on a flapper, instead of $13 for a better quality part...or spend $100 on a toilet (which has a $3 flapper inside it) instead of $250 on a better quality toilet with better quality parts inside it...be prepared for this to happen again in the near future. Try to start moving your units away from any plastic parts on the supply side of your water (other than PEX). Look at your kitchen faucets, vanity faucets, stops under each sink and behind the toilets, and inside the tank of each toilet. If you see plastic on any part listed above, make a note of it. Doesn't mean you have to replace everything at once, but you do want to replace it with a quality metal part at some point in the near future. Plastic just doesn't hold up long term to high pressure and the types of chemicals most of us have in our water supply.

Speaking of pressure, buy yourself a $10 water pressure tester from HD, and check your water pressure every six to twelve months. If the pressure is high, that means your regulator is probably bad, but more importantly it means you're about to start blowing valves and seats and flappers all over that building. Try to keep it under 60 psi.

If you're water department is both water and sewer combined, you can usually get the sewer part waived, since you'll be able to prove with your plumber's invoice that you had a leak, and the water that leaked out clearly didn't make it down their sewer line. They can go back to the same month last year and see the difference of usage. Usually they'll waive the extra usage, if you ask nicely.

I had to learn the hard (and costly) way about every one of these things. The majority of tenants I've had over the years would not be considered conservationists by any stretch of the imagination, so if we had a high water bill, it fell on me to find the problem...or pay a plumber $125/hr to find it for me.

I never will forget the time I opened an $11k water bill for a 70 unit property. We told everyone to help us conserve water while we tracked down the problem. The very next day, I drove up to find 12 female tenants running their weekly Saturday afternoon "free" bikini car wash...tip bucket included... With my water. Haha. I can laugh about it now.

Good luck...

Jay

There is one VERY EASY & SIMPLE Solution for this:  RUBS (Ratio Utility Billing System) WATER Reimbursement / Rebilling  back to the Tenants. Very simple, easy to implement.    Tenants, and only Tenants, should be paying for their water that they use. This magically makes them much more sensitive to running toilets, and use much less water!  After we implemented RUBS Water billing, water suddenly went down by nearly 40%!

There have been many discussion about this here, but here are a couple...

https://www.biggerpockets.com/forums/52/topics/121910-i-declare-no-landlords-should-pay-for-their-tenants-water

https://www.biggerpockets.com/forums/52/topics/18485-why-do-landlords-pay-for-the-tenants-water-

Or just do a search for "RUBS" or "RUBS Water"  

 Ive been NOT Paying for Tenants' water for over 15 years, since day 1, and have never once regretted it for a moment.

Good Luck