water bills due to leaky toilet flappers

32 Replies

Fellow Investors: 

After six (6) years of renting out properties, I still haven't yet figured out the best way to mitigate those tenants who fail to keep an eye out for the occasional leaky toilet flapper for which some claim the Landlord is responsible for occasional  high water bills.  It's a struggle to convince some of them that I believe it's their responsibility to listen for water running over a flapper and if and when it occurs to alert the property management team immediately.  Some have even said they left for a couple weeks and returned only to discover the problem.  I say they need to absorb this risk and expense, and take steps to prevent: listen and report for leaks, and to be extra safe, before heading out for vacation, by closing the ball valve behind the toilet.  

I am interested to know how you handle such tenants.  I have been telling those tenants these types of expenses they try to put on me will come into consideration when their leases are up for renewal.   I would like to put this in the lease that they are responsible for all water expenses even if it is due to a failed plumbing condition, but want to ensure I can properly enforce that requirement through proper language in the Lease Agreement.

Bruce

@Bruce Kozak  

I do agree with you that this is (or should be) the tenant's responsibility.  That said, I have paid for enough $100 service calls that ultimately came down to replacement of the $5 flapper that I have decided to just buy a bulk quantity and replace ALL flappers in ALL my rental properties on a regular basis as preventive maintenance (I do the same with air filters for the HVAC because we all know how good the average tenants are at replacing those...).  While the quality of these flappers has improved over time, people will toss those bleach tablets into the tank which really chew them up.  Yes, I could try to pin this on the tenant and make them pay for the service call, but it's not worth the hassle.

I know Mike Butler (Landlording on Autopilot) recommends including in your lease agreements that a service call that is due to an issue that is the tenant's responsibility (and he gives examples of which ones those are) will be charged a service call fee (like 25 bucks) + repair costs. This is supposed to encourage them to fix things themselves, or get them to be more proactive on alerting you.

I've never tried it, because my concern is that tenants would instead just clam up to keep from being charged and I'd end up with a bunch of deferred maintenance nightmares. 

But I suppose there might be a kernel of that that you could adapt for your purposes since it's an issue that keeps coming up. Truthfully, though, they live in the unit and you don't. Leaky fixtures are your responsibility (even if you charge them for the fix), but you can't possibly fix them IF THEY DON'T LET YOU KNOW THERE'S A PROBLEM. And water bills because they didn't tell you about a leaky fixture are certainly not your cost to bear. 

I think this is more a tenant-training (and possibly tenant screening) issue than a repair issue.

What about regular walk thrus to do regular maintenance and check on the property? That way you could make sure the plumbing fixtures aren't leaking, the air filters are changed and smoke alarm batteries are changed.

Be proactive! Replace the flappers in all of your toilets every five years. Make sure the chain length is correct also, so it doesn't get caught under the flapper. The investment equates to $1 a toilet per year since a typical flapper only costs about $5 and last 5 - 10 years under normal use. Instruct the tenants not to use chemicals in the toilet tank, especially chlorine tablets, as they damage flappers and other parts inside the toilet tank. So much better than getting those untimely maintenance calls or paying for plumbing service calls! A good seal will prevent water leakage. Be sure to get the kind of flapper that matches your toilet. Our flapper of choice is:

Korky® Plus™ Universal Flapper

  • #1 selling flapper in the USA
  • Premium universal 2" flapper for toilets before 1994
  • Long lasting
  • Stainless steel chain
  • Part #2001BP

Thanks to you all for your sage advice.  I will regularly change them out, and with Korky Plus.  I have annual inspections that are performed, and will change them out then.  I work full time, so I don't visit properties more frequently than once per year - and actually pay to have someone do these inspections for me.   I also agree this is about tenant training, since the last I need are issues hidden that aren't reported.  ...

thanks, Bruce

I have the tenants pay all utilities, including water. I have seen first-hand people leave windows open in the middle of winter because they don't have to pay for it, for example. If they have to pay, they are much more likely to be conservative and alert the landlord of any potential issues.

You might want to be more frequent than once a year. Too much time for things to be unknown and disclosed versus every month, every 3 months, or 6 months etc.

Kind of like a car tune up. You do the minor tune ups more frequently and then every longer period do a full in depth check up.

I wouldn't want tenants responsible to fix issues. They will do way more damage trying to fix something then having a professional do it. Worse is when they have bubba do it wrong and they try to bill you this really high amount. They then split it between each other the profit.

Occasionally you will have a tenant with some decent repair skills but more times than not that isn't the case.  

You can install the self-cleaning fill valves that have a little clasp on a chain that keeps the level-line bobber in an up position until the toilet is flushed.  These run about $13 or so.   These also have an adjustable clamp on the overflow tube to reduce excess water running down to the bowl, so more water fills the tank.   If the flapper is malfunctioning, the tank will be empty when the tenant tries to flush.  They will call you no problem after that happens a couple times!

Thanks.  I tried the flapper-less type (in my personal residence first) but, didn't have much success.  The one I tried seem rather finicky.  Perhaps I tried the wrong type.  Kept getting "ghost flushes". 

All my tenants pay all utilities, but I keep water and sewage in my name and send them bills, so that I can keep an eye on consumption and not get stung with lienable water/sewage bills when they move out.

Yes, for sure, don't want tenants doing repairs...

I agree, once per year isn't enough to visit properties.  But, isn't more frequently than, say, twice per year a little "intrusive" to tenants just for routine maintenance? 

I would like to know more about the self-cleaning valve types...

@Bruce Kozak  

We have been using a model from Niagara Conservation which scores 1000+ on the MAP test.

We've deployed over 30 of them in the past 24 months and have had only one issue - a faulty fill valve, which was promptly replaced.

I had a tenant leave a few weeks ago. I did not know she left until the city called me and said the water was running. 191 gallons an hour.  For 10 days. The toilet handle was stuck up. $393.00 water bill. The joys of rental property. We bought the duplex last year, with tenants there already. For some reason the tenants were paying rent with landlord paying the utilities, which was not smart due to each unit having all separate meters. 

New tenants ant the duplex will be required to pay the utilities. 

Question. We are purchasing 8 four plexes with a common water supply. How do I manage this type of problem, or even find out about it in a reasonable time.

Yes, I can actually top that - how about a $2,000 water/sewage bill for four (4) weeks of a toilet running in the basement and the tenant claiming she didn't hear it?  When the service tech went there to address it, he told me when he walked in the front door he could hear the problematic basement toilet running (from the upstairs front door!).   Since then, I have removed ALL basement toilets.  But, this tenant has been in the unit a long time, and pays her rent on time.  She is on very limited income, so I agreed to pay half the bill versus evicting her, having the place vacant for possibly several months and getting a less desirable tenant.  

I have a triplex that I am just now inquiring how to have each unit metered separately for water.  This is the only rental unit I have for which I don't send water and sewage bills to tenants - and, I've regretted it for years.  The water company tells me they must be able to shut off any one unit (for non-payment) and not affect the other units.  I am waiting to see what they say.  A master plumber here in Pittsburgh told me they probably will require a separate metered system for each unit outside the building.  We'll see. 

If it's not cost-effective to retrofit as the water company requires, I could keep the existing configuration and utilize a "deduct meter" for each unit (installed in the common area), whereby I would take a picture of the meter reading every three months and bill each tenant.  

Bruce

@Bruce Kozak  

The utility here will not participate in sub-metering, but do not care if you install your own manifold of sub-meters after their entrance.   This is the approach we've taken in those buildings where it is possible - we have one old converted 5-unit that does not have separate cold water runs to each unit .... once that is straightened out, we will sub-meter that building,

We use a meter unit which can be read remotely, so no pictures necessary.

In some areas, there are companies which will install the sub-meters and bill your tenants for you ... all for a fee, of course.

Originally posted by @Roy N.:

We use a meter unit which can be read remotely, so no pictures necessary.

Roy, what kind of sub-meter is that? I am looking to do that in my unit. Remote reading would be nice.

I have had several toilet flapper issues and old toilets, so rather than rely on old toilets and dumb flappers, I've taken to upgrading the toilets to a newer model.  It's a Kohler that handles flushes and does not have a flapper.  It's more expensive than the cheap $80 toilets with a flapper, but the toilet claims to save up to $90/year on the water bill. That would be good on the tenants too.

@Roy N.  ,

What kind of meter are you using? I've got a few units in PA that I've sub-metered myself, but I have to have the meters read manually every so often. Remote reading would be much better.

Thanks!

Originally posted by @Michael D. :

@Roy N. ,

What kind of meter are you using? I've got a few units in PA that I've sub-metered myself, but I have to have the meters read manually every so often. Remote reading would be much better.

Thanks!

 Michael & Scott {Weaner}:

We've been using GWF meters on an M-bus with an IP gateway.  The solution works well - a testament being that it is used by several turnkey sub-metering service providers.  However, GWF meters are from Switzerland and there are only a few distributers here making them a little costly.  We are presently searching for a domestic/North American solution that will lower our installation costs and be more readily accessible.

Originally posted by @Bruce Kozak :

Fellow Investors: 

After six (6) years of renting out properties, I still haven't yet figured out the best way to mitigate those tenants who fail to keep an eye out for the occasional leaky toilet flapper for which some claim the Landlord is responsible for occasional  high water bills.  It's a struggle to convince some of them that I believe it's their responsibility to listen for water running over a flapper and if and when it occurs to alert the property management team immediately.  Some have even said they left for a couple weeks and returned only to discover the problem.  I say they need to absorb this risk and expense, and take steps to prevent: listen and report for leaks, and to be extra safe, before heading out for vacation, by closing the ball valve behind the toilet.  

I am interested to know how you handle such tenants.  I have been telling those tenants these types of expenses they try to put on me will come into consideration when their leases are up for renewal.   I would like to put this in the lease that they are responsible for all water expenses even if it is due to a failed plumbing condition, but want to ensure I can properly enforce that requirement through proper language in the Lease Agreement.

Bruce

 I agree that it is the tenant's responsibility! I believe that communication may be the first solution that you should try! 

The idea with the meter is excellent! Thanks!

Thanks to All.  One word of caution about toilets that save tenants dollars with a lower gpf, is the "plunger capability" of the flush may facilitate sewer lines to become more easily clogged over time.  My seasoned plumber advised me of this - particularly important on very old homes.  But, I do like the flapper-less provision.

Bruce

Originally posted by @Bruce Kozak :

Thanks to All.  One word of caution about toilets that save tenants dollars with a lower gpf, is the "plunger capability" of the flush may facilitate sewer lines to become more easily clogged over time.  My seasoned plumber advised me of this - particularly important on very old homes.  But, I do like the flapper-less provision.

Bruce

 If you have old, deteriorating cast-iron or galvanized waste lines, the inner surface will be far from smooth - pitted in places, with mounds of rust build-up in others, etc.  This puts you at a higher risk of clogging regardless of whether you are using a UHET or an old 5-gallon, push flush  - the waste travels in a relatively thin layer around the inside surface of the pipe.   It's not the UHET toilet which facilitates the waste lines to become more easily clogged, it's the condition of the lines themselves.

Originally posted by @Marcia Maynard :

Be proactive! Replace the flappers in all of your toilets every five years. Make sure the chain length is correct also, so it doesn't get caught under the flapper. The investment equates to $1 a toilet per year since a typical flapper only costs about $5 and last 5 - 10 years under normal use. Instruct the tenants not to use chemicals in the toilet tank, especially chlorine tablets, as they damage flappers and other parts inside the toilet tank. So much better than getting those untimely maintenance calls or paying for plumbing service calls! A good seal will prevent water leakage. Be sure to get the kind of flapper that matches your toilet. Our flapper of choice is:

Korky® Plus™ Universal Flapper

  • #1 selling flapper in the USA
  • Premium universal 2" flapper for toilets before 1994
  • Long lasting
  • Stainless steel chain
  • Part #2001BP

I've used this flapper in at least a dozen toilets.  But slow leaks would start happening anyway.  Took me years to figure that it's not the flapper that was failing.  We have VERY hard water. The build up of even light layer of scale/crust on the rim of the opening makes a loose seal.  Now the first thing I do is scrub down the rim. 

That's right Roy.  You explained it nicely as to the effect of the inner surface of the pipe condition, and what I failed to mention.  Clearly, that is the mechanism that "trips-up" the debris.  However, my master plumber has told me he's run into fewer drainage issues on old houses with larger flush volumes compared to those with less than half the flush volume.  The audible different is clear too.   I think it stands to reason (short of data) it ought to be easier to deposit debris with softer flushes...how much, isn't clear...I've also experienced having to flush a second time with the more "eco-friendly" toilets, so, I am still using the "moderate flush volume toilets".

Bruce

I have had similar problems with the low water flush toilets.  Changed a few of them to higher water per flush and they work much better.  Some of the first low water toilets you could just change out the flapper to get more water per flush.

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