Is my apartment company liable for my shorted-out laptop?
December 3, 2009 2:12 PM   Subscribe

Is my apartment management company responsible for water damage to my laptop that occurred as a result of their lack of maintenance?

Excuse me if this a common-sense question that I should already know the answer to, but IANAL, etc.

I live in a ground-floor apartment, and over the past several months there have been multiple ceiling leaks coming into my living room from the bathroom of the apartment above mine. I have informed the apartment manager of this on multiple occasions, but it continues to be an issue. On one occasion they patched and repainted a spot on my ceiling where a leak had occurred. And they say they have told my upstairs neighbors not to be so "messy" when they shower.

But as far as I know, that's the extent of maintenance action they've taken, despite the fact that this has happened more than half a dozen times. When I've spoken to them about it, they've claimed that there's really nothing else they can do to prevent future leaks, which does not seem like an acceptable answer to me.

So there was a leak once again last night while I was sleeping, and the water got into my laptop. Now my laptop won't boot up, and it was working fine yesterday.

Does this mean the apartment owners are liable for damage to my laptop? If so, what are the chances of actually getting them to pay up, and what's the best way to go about that?
posted by iamisaid to Law & Government (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Probably not in most cases, as your possessions should be covered by renter's insurance. Now, you might prevail if you sued them in court, or if you had a renter's policy and your insurance company took them to court, but no one can say for sure. IANAL.
posted by soelo at 2:16 PM on December 3, 2009

Your possessions should be covered by renter's insurance, but you may well have a case given that the damage is a direct result of your landlord's negligence.
posted by Tomorrowful at 2:32 PM on December 3, 2009

Incidentally, I am not your lawyer, nor am I a lawyer at all.
posted by Tomorrowful at 2:32 PM on December 3, 2009

I am a lawyer, but I am not your lawyer, and I am most likely not licensed to practice where you are. This is not legal advice; contact a competent attorney in your jurisdiction before proceeding.

The answer is the traditional law-school refrain: it depends. It could depend on whether you left the laptop under or near somewhere that got hit before, where you usually keep your laptop, what notice the landlord received, their response, your response to that, and it definitely will depend on the laws in your jurisdiction, which vary widely.

I'm not sure where you are, but most large cities have tenants' associations (sometimes called "tenants' unions"). Search for those and YourCity'sName, and odds are that at least one of them will offer free consultations. The Get a lawyer page on the MeFi Wiki also has some good resources.

Good luck!

(Marginally-related: did you buy it on a credit card? Look into whether you can claim on any insurance policy they have. American Express helped me out when my newish MacBook had a run-in with a friend's glass of wine once . . .)
posted by tellumo at 2:43 PM on December 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

it all depends on your lease. every lease i've ever signed has a stipulation about how to get proper maintenance and how no matter what happens any contents of the apartment are my responsibility. so in all of my cases, the answer would be no, the apartment people wouldn't pay for my damaged laptop.

as with most questions, knowing where you are would be helpful.
posted by nadawi at 2:45 PM on December 3, 2009

And just to play devil's advocate (don't you hate it when people say that?) what if it really isn't your landlord's fault?

What if your upstairs neighbors are in the habit of plugging the tub, turning on the water, and walking away, thus flooding their bathroom? Or a toilet that frequently gets clogged and overflows without their noticing it (or being able to mop it up faster than it seeps into the floor).

I can't think of any other reason why they would periodically be flooding your ceiling, rather than every time they bathe.
posted by ErikaB at 6:22 PM on December 3, 2009

so in all of my cases, the answer would be no

Not all clauses in contracts are binding, and this is especially true when it comes to leases. The local landlord tenant laws are more important than the text of your lease.
posted by Chuckles at 7:06 PM on December 3, 2009

I can't think of any other reason why they would periodically be flooding your ceiling, rather than every time they bathe.

Nah, intermittent leaking in this kind of situation is very common. Water is probably leaking every time a shower takes place, but it has to saturate all the building materials between the apartments before it can start dripping. So, if your neighbour takes an extra long shower once in a while, or they get out to answer the phone once in a while, or any number of things that make it just a little worse one time in ten, and you have this kind of occasional problem.
posted by Chuckles at 7:13 PM on December 3, 2009

Your apartment manager isn't synonymous with your apartment owner, and the two are entirely different. I don't see the former being liable under any circumstances. The owner may be depending upon the terms of your lease. But this is a legal question and depends upon the contract to which you agreed and which should be handled by someone with real estate law experience.
posted by prunes at 7:50 PM on December 4, 2009

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