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Plumbing Maintenance and Repair in a Rental Property: Who Is Responsible?

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Plumbing Maintenance and Repair in a Rental Property: Who Is Responsible?

Renting is becoming much more common, as house prices are through the roof. While homeownership rates are up, so too are rental ones. Many young people are not yet able to get their feet on the property ladder. Analysts predict this will change in the near future, but for now, renting is most people’s only option.

There are many advantages to renting, however, it is not without its problems. One common issue with rental properties is determining fault and responsibility when maintenance and repairs need to be made, particularly to plumbing systems. Here’s why:

Plumbing Issues Are Expensive

Plumbing is a lot more important than people give it credit for being. Water, heat, and gas are all supplied by your property’s plumbing system. Unless you take measures to keep your plumbing system in good order, issues could arise. When they do, you could find yourself without gas or hot water. These things are essentials in the modern world – most people would be completely lost without them.

Nothing as important as plumbing is simple. Your home’s plumbing system is a highly complex network of pipes and valves. While the most common types of plumbing emergencies are quite easily fixed in theory, plumbing systems are so confusing that they throw even the most intelligent individuals. Becoming a plumber takes years of college, study, and practice. It is such a complex trade that plumbers command huge salaries. For an hour of an average plumber’s time, you can expect to spend around $100. Plumbing issues are expensive to fix and, therefore, landlords are sometimes reluctant to admit fault and pay for repairs to be made.

Negligent and Careless Landlords

Living in rented accommodation can be a gift and a curse. On one hand, it saves people the trouble of having to negotiate a mortgage, find a deposit, and then pay property taxes, but on the other, it means living under another person’s roof and following their rules, however arbitrary. Some landlords are fantastic, going out of their way to make tenants’ lives easier. When you have a landlord committed to delivering excellence and providing tenants with safe and stable accommodation, there is nothing better; when you live under the roof of a tyrant, however, things can be very difficult.

Negligent and careless landlords are not as common as the media makes them out to be. The government takes negligence on the part of landlords very seriously, issuing fines and penalties. Some are able to avoid detection, however. When you end up living in a house owned by careless and negligent individuals, it can be impossible having repairs of any kind made. Landlords like this tend to be more focused on saving themselves money than they are protecting their tenants and even their properties, as plumbing issues can be detrimental to a building’s structural integrity. Trying to get a careless landlord to pay for repairs can be like extracting blood from a stone.

Property Disputes Arise Commonly

One of the main disadvantages of living in rented accommodation is that when problems arise, tenants are legally required to notify their landlords. In most states, they are not allowed to make repairs themselves, even minor ones. The reason for this is that if they do make repairs, not notifying their landlords of problems, then future tenants could be at risk. There is no guarantee that the repairs made are sufficient enough to totally resolve the problem, after all. Therefore, tenants are at the mercy of their landlords. This can lead to disputes. 

If a tenant notifies their landlord of repairs that need to be made, there is usually a fixed amount of time the landlord has before the tenant can take legal action and force the landlord’s hand. In reality, though, this rarely happens. Most tenants are completely unaware of their rights. Even those that do know they have legal protections tend not to pursue them, as lawsuits can be expensive. Landlords who choose to ignore their tenants’ problems do so usually out of complete disregard, not a lack of funds or inability to find a contractor.

Rising Cost of Energy Bills

In the United States and in other parts of the world, energy bills are rising. Rising energy bills are making many people’s lives difficult. In particularly cold parts of the United States, people are struggling to afford to pay for heat. In such places, it is becoming very common for people’s heating pipes to freeze. When this happens boilers stop working. Boilers cannot function if parts are frozen. A frozen boiler is a plumbing emergency and is usually not something tenants can fix themselves. Such situations can be very dangerous, as exposure to freezing weather can lead to the onset of hypothermia.

Because people are not turning their boilers on as much as they normally would, frozen pipes are becoming a lot more common. It’s quite easy to avoid frozen pipes, homeowners just have to turn their heating on, and keep it at a consistently low temperature throughout the day. Turning the heat on for even an hour a day can be extremely expensive, however. Landlords are feeling the pinch too, and many are becoming even more adamant about refusing to make repairs to their tenants’ properties. Plumbing issues are a grey area after all, but this is something that will be explored in more detail later on.

Independent Contractors Hiking Prices

There has never been a better time in American history to be a plumber. Because of cold spells, bad weather, and the energy crisis, people’s plumbing systems have been breaking down more than ever. A lack of use often leads to serious issues, at least as far as boilers and plumbing systems are concerned. Because of this, contractors are raising their prices to meet demand. Charging higher prices of course makes plumber’s lives much easier too, as they also have to deal with the cost of living crisis in their own homes.

Plumbers are raising their prices which means negligent landlords are becoming even more reluctant to repair their tenants’ plumbing systems. It was already somewhat challenging to convince such individuals to step in and make repairs, but now it’s borderline impossible. With the average cost of plumbing services rising, landlords are flat-out refusing to make repairs. And, as already mentioned, taking legal action can be too expensive for many tenants to be able to afford, meaning they are stuck unless they want to make repairs themselves, which in most places, is not actually legal for them to do.

Who Is Responsible?

To answer this post’s titular question: It is hard to say. Plumbing is a grey area. In other parts of the home, the landlord is always at fault. For example, if a property’s roof starts caving in then the landlord has to take immediate action. If there is a snake infestation in the backyard or basement, then they have to call in pest control right away. However, plumbing is something that can sometimes be the tenant’s responsibility. As homeowners use plumbing on a daily basis, there is always the chance that they were responsible for their system’s breakdown.

If the problems that you are experiencing in your house were not caused by you, i.e., a blocked sink, drain, or pipe, then your landlord may be responsible. However, your landlord may argue that there is no way of actually proving they were at fault, and as you use the plumbing every day, it logically has to be yours. Types of problems that could be a landlord’s fault include rusty pipes, blockages far down the drain, and any minor problems that were present when you first moved into the property where the issues are.

If plumbing problems have become manifest in your house, the first thing you should do is call out a private plumber and ask them for a quote. They will identify the issue, tell you what it is, and then tell you how much it will cost to fix it. You can then report this information directly to your landlord, quickly identifying the fault.

Taking Legal Action

If your landlord is refusing to make repairs, your only option might be to take legal action. The unfortunate reality of legal action against one’s landlord is that it can take years to resolve and more often than not leads to eviction. When a landlord knows that their tenants are taking action against them, eviction notices are often issued. While tenants do tend to have some protections that stop landlords from being able to enact these evictions, some landlords go ahead and force tenants out anyway. Legal action against your landlord might be the only way to compel them to make repairs, notwithstanding eviction risk. Depending on your landlord’s criminal history or job, they might have no other option than to make repairs, lest it affect their life or reflect poorly upon them in the local community.

While reference was made earlier on to the fact that legal proceedings can be costly, there are some lawyers that will represent tenants on contingency bases. A contingency plan basically means that you do not pay your lawyer’s fees until after they have won your case for you. If the case is ruled against you, then the lawyer is not paid. Because of this, these kinds of lawyers have very strict representation criteria. They will usually only take on clients that they are confident will win their cases. It is too risky for them to represent individuals whose cases are not guaranteed success.

Making Repairs Yourself

So what should you do if your landlord does not want to make repairs or is claiming the problem is your fault? In most cases, if you can afford to, it is best to just pay for the repairs yourself. You can then take legal action against your landlord and claim the money back from them. In such cases, you can also get damages awarded to you, compensating you for the stress you have had to go through chasing your landlord up for the money. Always notify your landlord of problems before you arrange to pay yourself, however.

In addition to notifying your landlord, you also need to document the problem, ideally in writing, signed by a plumber, and keep receipts proving how much you paid. Unless you are able to prove how much you paid for repairs, you will not be able to make a claim for compensation. Most courts will not hear claims unless there is hard proof in favor of the claimant’s case. If you have mobile banking, then you can use proof of transfer as evidence of payment. If you pay in cash then make sure that you get a written receipt from the plumber you employ.

Withholding Rental Payments

Not everybody is wealthy enough to be able to pay a plumber’s fees outright. As mentioned several times already, plumbers are expensive. Most charge by the hour rather than for specific jobs, meaning you’ll have to pay a plumber for as long as it takes until the job gets done. Depending on the severity of the issue, this could range from half a day to an entire week, maybe more. A lot of people only have a small amount of money spare after they get paid, which they commit to food and other essentials. In these cases, withholding rent is the best option.

While legally there is no excuse for not paying your rent, if you are unable to use your property’s plumbing system because your landlord is refusing to pay, then you have to use the only money that is available to you. Your health, happiness, and safety are more important than your landlord’s rent payment. If they then want to dispute the fact you have not paid them the rent, you can again show evidence that they have refused to make repairs to your house, and therefore, put your health at risk. Finding a judge to rule in your favor in such circumstances should not be difficult.

Nobody should feel unsafe or uncomfortable in their own homes. Unfortunately, this is exactly what negligent landlords make people feel like. Plumbing is an integral part of any functioning, healthy home. If yours is no longer working and your landlord is refusing to help, it’s normal to feel lost. You do have some legal protections, provided your landlord is actually at fault and you were not the catalyst for the issues.

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