Am I liable for a pipe burst

9 Replies

we currently live in an apartment and we had a pipe burst with our aquatherm system. The pipe is in our ceiling and we live on the fifth floor. Our apartment is saying we are liable for damages because we don't use heat often and we sometimes use our ac in the winter (never when it is freezing temps). Can they really hold us liable for damage to the property? I don't see how they can dictate when we can use our utilities. Our apartment gets so hot from the surrounding units there is no need to use our heat ever. I also know that water pools above our unit and then freezes at night. That seems more feasible as to why it froze. Any advice would be much appreciated. 

@Alexandria Dobbins

Ultimately the wording of your lease and tenancy law in Colorado will determine if you are liable for the damage.   Perhaps @Bill S. could shed a little more light on the local tenancy law.

We have wording in our leases that tenants are required to maintain the premises at a temperature of at lease 12C (~55F) even when they are not present.  This is predominately aimed at our student tenants who go home to their families between autumn and winter terms (right now) and might think turning off the heat to be a good way to save money.

In your case, if you are on the top floor, you would have to be keeping the unit quite cold - i.e. not causing the hydronic system to circulate -  for water in a ceiling panel/line to freeze.  Even then there must not be minimal insulation above the ceiling (or a big draft getting to the panels) to allow a line to freeze.

@Alexandria Dobbins It's pretty straight forward, irrespective of specific lease language, that if you cause a problem in a unit that causes damage you are liable. If a pipe burst then it's likely because it froze. If it froze above your unit and you did not have the heat on, then it seems pretty logical to me that you were the cause of that. If that were not the case, it would have frozen every year for the past 100 plus years. Ice on the roof has nothing to do with it. It is also highly unlikely that the pipe would have frozen anyway (if you had the heat on) because there would have been a history of burst pipes in your unit.

Not sure why someone would run an AC in the winter. I can understand it being too hot in your unit as boiler heat systems are notorious for having imbalanced heating when they are not properly operated. But there are appropriate ways of handling that issue (written notices to property manager) that don't involve running the AC. If your unit is so hot, I find it impossible to freeze a pipe it would seem that we are not getting the full picture.

I hope you have renters insurance. If so, turn it over to them and hope they cover it. 

We are the first to live in our unit and have done things the same way for the last three years. Water didn't used to pool above our unit but the building has settled and changed things. I have had rust in my vents every year and reported it to management as well as cracks in our walls that that haven't fixed. Our apartment even when we run ac is never below 66°. We run our ac because otherwise our apartment can get to be 80°. That is why we have never had to run the heat. I don't think it is well insulated because they have left the panel off and there is no sign of insulation and without the panel our apartment has been freezing cold. Our heater runs off of our water heater, something called an aquatherm system, so water is still circulated through it. When the pile burst we hadn't run our ac for a couple weeks so that is why I don't understand how they can blame that. We have been home the entire time and our apartment has been between 70° and 73°


Originally posted by @Bill S. :

@Alexandria Dobbins It's pretty straight forward, irrespective of specific lease language, that if you cause a problem in a unit that causes damage you are liable. If a pipe burst then it's likely because it froze. If it froze above your unit and you did not have the heat on, then it seems pretty logical to me that you were the cause of that. If that were not the case, it would have frozen every year for the past 100 plus years. Ice on the roof has nothing to do with it. It is also highly unlikely that the pipe would have frozen anyway (if you had the heat on) because there would have been a history of burst pipes in your unit.

Not sure why someone would run an AC in the winter. I can understand it being too hot in your unit as boiler heat systems are notorious for having imbalanced heating when they are not properly operated. But there are appropriate ways of handling that issue (written notices to property manager) that don't involve running the AC. If your unit is so hot, I find it impossible to freeze a pipe it would seem that we are not getting the full picture.

I hope you have renters insurance. If so, turn it over to them and hope they cover it. 

I don't understand how she can be liable IF the unit was never cold. Regardless if she needs to use her own heat or not, if she has been living in the unit she certainly did not keep the temp below 32. I suspect that the pipe was in an area with poor insulation and froze from the outside temperature.

I think that this just happened, and she should fight the liability.

Question: the pipe that burst, does it have hot/warm water running thru it from the system, while the system is running, or is it always cold water?  Seems if it was in between your ceiling and the roof, the ambient temperature from your unit would keep it from freezing.

@Wayne,

That would only be true if the system is continuously circulating from the hot water storage tank.  Some hydronic ceiling/wall panel systems only circulate water when there is a call for heat (or cooling).