It's raining in my living room. Help!
December 12, 2010 8:44 AM   Subscribe

It's raining in Philadelphia and in the living room. What should we do?

I am visiting my boyfriend, who lives in a rental apartment in Philadelphia. Last night it started to rain, and the 1st story living room ceiling started leaking. We traced the source of the water to a leak in the ceiling on the 2nd story -- there's a dryer vent that goes up into the ceiling/roof, and water was streaming in around the dryer vent. We couldn't contain that leak because of the placement of the dryers/pipes/etc., so we put buckets downstairs in the living room. Over the course of the night, the leak got worse and worse. Right now we're up to 6 buckets -- I estimate we've emptied over 100 gallons since 4 AM. [My boyfriend went to the hardware store this morning and MacGyver-ed a funnel-like device to divert some of the upstairs leak into the washing machine, where it drains away, and I think it helped. The stream from the living room ceiling has slowed, somewhat.]

Obviously, we've called the landlord many times with varying degrees of profanity and frantic-ness. He says he can't do anything until the people he has called (roofers, presumably?) call him back.

Sooo... what should we do in the meantime? A lot of the water is pouring in through the light fixtures. We're not turning the lights on, obviously. Are we still in danger of something electrical and dangerous happening? Should I worry about the washer and dryer falling through the living room ceiling? Do we just hang out and bail/mop, or should we evacuate?

[Other possibly relevant information: the boyfriend and his roommate have lived here for 6 months and the ceiling has never leaked before.]
posted by coppermoss to Home & Garden (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I would suggest the first action be calling and securing some renter's insurance if your boyfriend does not already have a policy.
posted by banannafish at 8:50 AM on December 12, 2010 [2 favorites]

Are you sure that it's rainwater coming in from the roof, and not a leak from the apartment above you? If it's definitely from the roof, can you get up there to place some sort of tarp over the leak?

Until the water is stopped, really all you can do is limit the damage it does in your apartment. I had a flooded apartment a few years ago.

Mop/bail. Create a damming system using towels to restrict the flood. I love the funnel idea.

Prepare for the worst-case scenario: move things up off the floor, especially electronic items, porous things (think books on the bottom shelf of a bookcase), and sentimental items.

Keep nagging your landlord. Go read your lease, and renters' rights laws in your area.

Don't turn on anything electrical if there's a chance they've gotten wet. I wouldn't worry about the ceiling caving in just yet.

This is the most important part: Document it. Take lots of photos, especially of where the water is coming from. Get as close to the source as you can to take photos. Go knock on your upstairs neighbor's door and ask if they're having the same problem. See if they'll let you take photos of the leak (or lack thereof) in their apartment. Photograph anything that is getting wet in your apartment, including cabinets and appliances. These photos may make all the difference in getting your deposit back, your apartment professionally cleaned if the flood is significant, and remuneration for damaged personal items.
posted by oceanmorning at 9:14 AM on December 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

He says he can't do anything until the people he has called (roofers, presumably?) call him back.

Tell him you're going to call someone in an hour and send him the bill if he doesn't get his shit together. Tell him your uncle works at the Dept. of Building Inspection, who the longer the landlord waits probably isn't going to like what they see when they come by this week. Impugn his masculinity for having to wait for a repairperson rather than fixing it himself.
posted by rhizome at 9:45 AM on December 12, 2010

Also, call him every 15 minutes to ask if he's heard back yet.
posted by rhizome at 9:46 AM on December 12, 2010

This happened to me in rental situation. The magic words that snapped the landlord into action were "your property is being extensively damaged". I explained that the dry wall on the ceiling and wall were becoming saturated, the flooring would warp, and that if it wasn't fixed in the very near future that he was going to have to do extensive repairs. Once it sung in that it was more than just an inconvenience to me, he found someone to get there within hours instead of days.
posted by kimdog at 9:51 AM on December 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Landlord stopped by, took some pictures for insurance purposes. He said a guy will come over first thing tomorrow morning (!) to deal with the roof, but that there's nothing he can do right now. My main concern right now is our personal safety with the water + electricity in the ceiling...
posted by coppermoss at 9:59 AM on December 12, 2010

When I lived in Philly, our ceiling was leaking and the landlord waited til the person he wanted (read: someone really cheap) could come to fix the leak. I was calling constantly and he said it would be the next day. The landlord's friend inspected the roof and said it was fine (dubious) and the landlord still hemmed and hawed on a contractor for the drywall. That night, the ENTIRE bathroom ceiling fell down in one gigantic waterlogged block. Seriously, if someone had been in there, they would have been killed. There are lots of very old buildings in Philadelphia that have just not been maintained in their bones. I heard stories over the next few weeks about many fallen ceilings, from many of my neighbors.
The next time it started to leak, I told him that if someone wasn't there to fix it that day I would take care of it myself using the yellow pages, and take it off my rent. And that is what I did. In fact, I wound up doing that with anything involving safety because it became clear that he really couldn't handle it.
This apartment leaked from one ceiling or another the whole year I was in it. The smaller leaks didn't seem dangerous; the bigger ones demanded immediate action, and after that lesson, I took it. I think he too realized that letting it go and risking his tenants' being injured -- as well as the overall expense to the unmaintained home -- was not a good strategy.
If it seems scary, don't go under that ceiling. Ours came down FAST.
posted by keener_sounds at 10:17 AM on December 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

What keener said. Get someone out to fix it yourself, chase the money later. Water in the structure you live in is NOTHING to mess with.
posted by SpecialK at 10:28 AM on December 12, 2010

He said a guy will come over first thing tomorrow morning (!) to deal with the roof, but that there's nothing he can do right now.

He's lazy and lying to you. Break out the yellow pages and tell him you're doing so. Just say "Hi, we decided tomorrow isn't acceptable and are just going to call someone ourselves. You can cancel your repair guy." Leave that hanging for a beat or two.
posted by rhizome at 11:14 AM on December 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

The landlord is being an idiot, this is not a good time for him to be a slacker about your safety, after what happened above Monk's. I know that there is a way to look up L&I violations against landlords, but I can't find it. Anyone know?

Seconding rhizome and keener. Impress upon him that your personal safety is at risk, you may have to evacuate, raise the ugly name of L&I, and be ready to get someone in there first thing on Monday if his guy hasn't shown up.

Document everything that has happened thus far, and call:
* 3-1-1 to register a complaint. They are supposed to forward your complaint to L&I. Be prepared for a runaround, but at least your complaint is on the books.
* Tenant Union Representative Network
* Philadelphia Fair Housing Commission

It might not hurt to call the PA Office of Consumer Advocate, as your boyfriend is a customer of the utility companies. They probably can't do anything directly for you, but may have some advice.
posted by desuetude at 12:35 PM on December 12, 2010

Careful with hiring someone yourself and "taking it off the rent." This is generally not legal, and you will still be on the hook for the full rent. Check your lease and your local laws, and consult a lawyer before you consider doing this (IANAL)!
posted by rikschell at 1:51 PM on December 12, 2010

Yes, but I belive in most cases it's at least as much hassle for a landlord to have an uncompensated tenant-made mandatory repair hanging over the apartment. It can make things very sticky if the landlord figures they need to deduct something from the deposit upon move-out.

After having lived here 10 years, I've had to tell my management company, "Look, you guys suck. I'm calling someone myself." and it always winds up a meek "mmmo.k. Just send a copy of the receipt rather than deducting and we'll send you a check." because they know this stuff is now stuff.

This isn't a rule to live by, but the law is probably on your side to act unilaterally in situations like this.
posted by rhizome at 9:21 PM on December 12, 2010

Blue tarp held down by cinderblocks over the part of the roof that's leaking. Works every time.
posted by electroboy at 8:35 AM on December 13, 2010

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