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Is A Tenant Responsible For Water Damage?


Water damage in a rental property can quickly escalate from a minor inconvenience to a significant problem, leaving tenants and landlords navigating a murky sea of responsibilities and rights.

The question of who bears the brunt of the costs and repairs often leads to a flood of concerns and confusion. This article aims to clear the waters, providing a detailed exploration of when a tenant might be held accountable for water damage within their rental home.

Understanding the nuances of liability can help both parties avoid getting soaked in unexpected expenses and disputes. Let’s dive into the depths of this issue and emerge with a clearer understanding of a tenant’s responsibilities regarding water damage.


Understanding water damage

Water damage is a significant issue in New York due to its high risk of flooding—as reported by CNBC. However, aside from storms and flooding, tenants can face multiple hazards that result in water damage.

They include:

  • Leaks: Faulty plumbing systems and appliance leaks can cause significant water damage. As many of these leaks go undetected initially, they’re also known to spread mold quickly.

  • Roof issues: Roofing systems with gaps or loose tiles can let excess water into the building, resulting in damage.

  • Blockages: Sink and toilet blockages usually occur when debris builds up. Grease, feminine hygiene products, and food can block the pipes.

  • HVAC systems: One of the biggest causes of water damage is HVAC systems. They can leak, but the most common problem tenants face is condensation buildup.

  • Sewage backups: Nobody wants to deal with a sewage backup, but they can – and do – happen. Tenants in basement apartments are particularly at risk.

The consequences of rental property water damage

Water damage can cause various issues, spanning from minor cleanups to major repairs. Unfortunately, not addressing the damage immediately can result in significant expenses and even legal implications.

Structural repairs

Severe property damage can result in structural issues, including damage to walls, flooring, and roofs. These repairs often require the tenant to vacate the property and cost a lot of money.

Legal liability

Depending on the cause of water damage in a rental property, the landlord might face legal action. Similarly, in some cases, the owner might file a lawsuit against a tenant.

Health issues

Mold thrives in a high-moisture environment, and its spores multiply rapidly. This can cause allergic reactions, respiratory issues, and asthma.

Which laws must landlords follow in New York?

According to NYC Housing Preservation & Development, it’s the landlord’s responsibility to ensure a safe and secure living environment. This includes keeping the property free of vermin, providing necessary amenities, and ensuring residents don’t live in hazardous conditions.

Rental laws also ensure tenants receive protection against discrimination and unfair evictions, resulting in more stability for renters.

However, despite the many responsibilities property owners have, finding out who’s responsible for water damage is no easy task. For example, nobody’s to blame if sudden and accidental events occur, such as severe storms or floods.

In other cases of water damage, the context and cause of the problem determine whether it’s the landlord’s or tenant’s duty to fix it.

Landlord responsibilities

If the landlord fails to create a quality environment for tenants, they have the right to withhold rent. Property owners must make sure the building meets all applicable codes and perform due diligence before the tenant moves in, including:

  • Ensuring the plumbing system works properly.

  • Provide and maintain toilets, sinks, showers, baths, and other essentials.

  • Perform regular checks and maintain drainage systems.

  • Inspect the property’s exterior regularly for roof, window, and door damage.

If a tenant reports an issue with any amenities, the owner must fix it. When a landlord fails to do this, they’re not adhering to the law and can face consequences.

Tenant responsibilities

Now, here’s where things get complicated: Some areas of the property are a tenant’s responsibility. While landlords typically provide plumbing systems and essentials such as showers and toilets, tenants of unfurnished properties will buy their own appliances.

So, in some cases, when a water leak occurs due to a tenant’s actions, the repairs become their responsibility. Let’s take a look at some applicable scenarios:

  • Leaking appliances: If tenants purchase a washing machine or HVAC system and leak, they’re responsible for the repairs because the tenant bought and placed the appliance into the property.

  • Drain blockages: Blocks can occur for numerous reasons, but putting items down the sink and toilet is the most common. Is the landlord responsible for this damage? Well, it depends—but if they’ve blocked the sink, it will be their duty to fix it and pay for property repairs.

  • Burst pipes: If a burst pipe occurs because the tenant didn’t set adequate temperatures during winter, the landlord can also hold them responsible for water damage.

  • Lack of notice: The tenant must notify their landlord or leasing agent when they notice water damage. Failing to do this and leaving the problem to worsen counts as tenant negligence.

  • Not taking action: Similarly, when tenants know there’s a leak but don’t move their personal belongings, they might find it hard to file a successful renters insurance claim.

Navigating water damage claims

Landlords should have property insurance, but New York doesn’t make this a legal requirement. However, many mortgage providers refuse those without landlord insurance policies because the property won’t have any protection.

Landlords should also encourage tenants to invest in renters insurance, which protects the tenant’s belongings from damage. Some policies also cover liability, such as leaking appliances and accidental damage.

Some standard property insurance plans won’t cover flood damage, but the National Flood Program ensures landlords can protect their and their tenant’s personal property in flood-prone areas.

Addressing the damage promptly

Tenants should report damage immediately, even if only a tiny amount. Property managers and owners are legally responsible for visiting the property and taking steps to prevent the water damage from worsening.

If a tenant doesn’t report the issue and it results in damaged landlord belongings, it’s their responsibility.

Documenting damage and filing a claim

When water damage occurs in a property, emotions can quickly get in the way. However, communication is vital regardless of whether it’s the landlord’s or tenant’s fault.

Documenting damaged personal property and areas of the property that require repair makes it easier for the insurance company to assess your claim.

Again, if the tenant fails to fulfill their legal obligations, they’ll claim on their policy, while owner negligence means the landlord will contact their insurance company.

Insurance claims can take some time to settle, but working with a professional water damage restoration company can speed up the process and support you.

Preventing water damage

Tenants and landlords can prevent water damage by understanding their responsibilities. While the landlord is typically responsible for damage, a tenant’s misuse or lack of attention can cause issues.

Here are some tips for preventing water damage and ensuring better tenant/landlord relationships.

Regular inspections

Regular property inspections and maintenance can prevent water damage, saving you the time and frustration associated with claiming on your insurance policy. 

Landlords should schedule regular checks and let their tenants know they’re always available when there are issues.

Fix small issues immediately

Even a minor issue can cause significant damage when left unattended. If your tenant reports a minor leak or notices plumbing issues, taking immediate action can save a lot of time and money in the future.

Obtain flood insurance

As New York is subject to floods, property owners can sign up to the National Flood Insurance Program. While there are some additional costs associated with obtaining a policy, it can prove to be a lifesaver when your property suffers damage due to a natural disaster.

Educate tenants

Tenants should understand their responsibilities when renting a property. Landlords should explain the importance of regular appliance checks and set clear rules for tenants.

Not caring for the fixtures and pipes can also count as the tenant’s negligence, but a landlord’s failure to set clear expectations in the lease agreement means it’s hard to define who’s at fault.

Safe-proof your property from water damage 

Small steps can prevent water damage to your property and ensure its longevity. Getting a comprehensive insurance plan ensures you can claim for any damages, but education and regular maintenance can prevent water damage.

Real estate agents and legal specialists can help you understand your responsibilities and create tenant agreements that ensure tenants take responsibility for their actions.

Most importantly, be alert and fix issues as and when they occur—that’s what will make the difference between small repairs and requiring specialist support.

If you’re dealing with significant water and structural damage from a leak, flood, or anything else, iFlooded Restoration has a professional team of technicians operating throughout New York. With a 24/7 emergency helpline, we’ll help you return your property to its pre-loss state.