Apartment equivalent of a lemon?
November 5, 2011 11:13 PM   Subscribe

I came home to my ceiling leaking brown water this evening. After a few phone calls from me to the 24/7 answering service my landlord has set up, a maintenance man finally showed up. He deduced that the hot water pipes in the floor between my ceiling an my neighbor to the north's floor had burst. Meanwhile my counters, appliances drywall ceiling/wall/electrical outlets/lights and wood floors are soaked. The maintenance man said he turned off the water flow to the burst pipe, and said he would return tomorrow to ensure the walls/ceiling had dried, but I'm not comfortable with that response --- I feel that all of the waterlogged drywall/floor should be replaced and the appliances should be replaced. What do I do? Should I call a lawyer? Should I write/mail a certified letter to the landlord? I'd like action now, but feel like I'm being out by the wayside. Please help!
posted by thankyoumuchly to Home & Garden (20 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
said he would return tomorrow to ensure the walls/ceiling had dried

Yeah, unless he is coming with industrial dehumidifiers and fans, that isn't going to happen... but I would wait and see what his initial steps toward the water damage restoration are tomorrow before getting too proactive with lawyers, etc...
posted by Meatbomb at 11:18 PM on November 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

my husband had a bunch of dry and rain come through his ceiling and then a leaky roof for 9 or so months that they kept promising they'd fix and then they didn't. certified letters, getting the owners involved, we tried everything we could think of. finally, we moved. it was the best possible solution.
posted by nadawi at 11:20 PM on November 5, 2011

The appliances are probably fine, unless they shorted out internally somewhere when they got wet. I'm aware of situations where major appliances were literally underwater for short periods of time and were entirely salvageable once dried out. So I wouldn't worry about them, although it would be fair to request that someone certified to repair them come out and verify that they are functioning properly and safely, if you wanted to.

Personally I'd be talking the landlord up one side and down the other to have some sort of disaster-cleanup people in to immediately start ripping the wet drywall and stuff out before it starts to mold/mildew/smell. E.g. ServPro or somebody like that. At the very least I'd document that you asked. Take lots of photos of everything that is going on and keep a log of it, at the very least.

Though I might give it one day before really going to town on the landlord, just to see what the response is; if there's no cavalry moving in tomorrow to remove all the wet stuff then I'd probably start making noise.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:21 PM on November 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Yeah, and if you have video capability that would be very useful as well. Do a quick walkthrough of the damage and narrate it. Because even if drywall superficially look "dried out" it almost certainly will fester and rot if not properly dealt with.

It isn't always completely necessary to re and re... you can get the walls perforated to allow the moisture out, but again this requires a proper flood response with big fans and dehumidifiers.
posted by Meatbomb at 11:25 PM on November 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

Does anything that was damaged (like appliances) belong to you? Do you have renter's insurance? If so, call your insurance company. They will in turn lean on the landlord to replace your things via their own insurance company. You might want to make noise about the potential for mold too.
posted by lunaazul at 11:32 PM on November 5, 2011

"brown water"? Are you sure these aren't sewer pipes??

I was in property management and worked for a construction firm. Plus, I once lived in a new build with a faulty fire sprinkler in an above unit that flooded our apartment and those below....

- Cut the breakers and then disconnect everything electrical. Dry them out. They'll be fine.

- What is the true extent of the damage?

It is possible to dry out the dry wall. It is possible that will not be enough, and ripping it all out and then replacing is the best option. It isn't clear from your question.

- For your personal property - This is usually covered by renter's insurance, not the landlord.

Your real problem is MOLD, so you want the innards dried out and/or replaced!

posted by jbenben at 11:34 PM on November 5, 2011

What hasn't been mentioned is that you can place a portion of your rent into escrow immediately, proportional to the part of the apartment rendered unusable by the damages. If that includes some essential part of habitation, like the only toilet, the entire rent can be escrowed.

It will cost a setup fee, but require court action for the landlord to get his rent money - or your voluntary capitulation when repairs are done.

If the court finds in your favor, you should be fine, lease intact, and it will be as if you paid all rent on time, legally (assuming you pay the rent to the escrow acct on time!). If not - if, for instance, you have no real complaint (not suggesting this is true in this case) - you'd still be liable for late fees and subject to eviction for non-payment of rent.

First step: advise your landlord that you are taking this step if he doesn't get proactive in his response.
posted by IAmBroom at 12:27 AM on November 6, 2011

** The drywall will be fine if it's only soaked through this once, then dried out. Fans not necessary but nice, and they're going to need them anyways for:
** Carpet. Roll it all back, tear out the padding, roll the carpet back and hit it with the machine used to clean carpets but set it to suck the water out of the carpet. If their smart they'll lift the carpet afterwards, put it up on something(s) so it will be reached all the way around when they turn the monster fans and dehumidifiers on.
** Your appliances are almost certainly ok.
** Floors -- depends if wood or not, if tile, they're fine. If wood, depends upon how long they soaked, mostly.
** Paint -- They may try to sleaze out and only paint the part where it's browned, after they've repaired the sheetrock. They might be able to match it in with the rest of the ceiling but man I sure doubt it -- that's an art. In any case, there may or may not be major drywall repairs; if soaked just this once, they may get lucky.

If you get real lucky and the carpets got really trashed and were old anyways, you might get new carpet out of the guy.

Water is disconcerting but mostly not as big a deal as it looks at the first, most of the time. Get all your "stuff" off the floors just in case, lean on them heavy to get movement, don't be surprised if you don't get any action until Monday, but if they do that the carpet should be replaced, at least in my experience; maybe there is some chemical way to stop the mildew action.

Good luck.
posted by dancestoblue at 12:57 AM on November 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

IAmBroom: "What hasn't been mentioned is that you can place a portion of your rent into escrow immediately, proportional to the part of the apartment rendered unusable by the damages. If that includes some essential part of habitation, like the only toilet, the entire rent can be escrowed. "

Be careful. Not every state allows this under state law. Texas, for instance, makes it very difficult to repair-and-deduct or escrow for repairs. The latter is impossible, I believe; only repair-and-deduct is allowed and only after a certified letter and several days have passed. Withholding rent can cause the eviction statutes to immediately kick in and a tenant would have a defense to eviction only if he or she could show that the landlord is being negligent in repairs.
posted by fireoyster at 1:56 AM on November 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Whatever you communicate, do it in writing. Fine if you want to call and talk to people, but also create a paper trail (date everything).

Document everything, all the damage and their process of addressing it with dated photo and video if possible. If they bring fans and it does not seem adequate, then document it.

If your landlord really drags his feel, try contacting a water damage expert. There may be a service provider in your area that addresses water damage from burst pipes or fires, they will tell you what the recommended course of action is for your situation. Don't let them sell you anything but find out what they think is the minimum. See if they'll put it in writing so you can include that in your correspondence with your landlord.

Do you live in an area that has a tenants' rights organization or legal aid? Contact them as well, they can have great resources, though sometimes they are more focused on things like evictions and less on repairs.

If you continue to have problems, you can try to request an inspection from your local government department of building and safety.

Blogger Not Martha had a plumbing emergency in her home and documented what they did to dry it out properly. They did't have to gut the drywall, but they did need special equipment to dry it out.

GOOD LUCK, I truly wish you the best. My washing machine flooded my kitchen tonight, so I feel a little of your pain.
posted by dottiechang at 1:59 AM on November 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Fireoyster is correct. I used to work for a tenants' right organization and, even where it is allowed, this procedure is tricky. You should seek advice from a legal resource like legal aid before you attempt it so that you are prepared for any eviction related shenanigans that your landlord might pursue.
posted by dottiechang at 1:01 AM on November 6, 2011

Disclaimer: you should of course be familiar with the tenancy statues in your jurisdiction.

My first response to a landlord in situations like this is to call/write a letter/email to the effect of: "Hi! I've got this very serious problem with gross water damaging my apartment and I'm worried about mold etc etc. Are you going to be arranging for the replacement of the drywall/floor, or would you rather I take care of it and deduct the cost from my rent?

I've found framing things that way usually kicks the landlord/manager into gear, and if they just cold dismiss you then you should look at escalating via your legal options.
posted by auto-correct at 1:47 AM on November 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Are you sure these aren't sewer pipes?? -- Brown leaking water could also be caused by rust, and not necessarily sewage. If it were sewer pipes, you'd know it by the smell.
posted by crunchland at 1:54 AM on November 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Don't start raising hell yet. So far your landlord's response has been appropriate and pretty prompt. They sent somebody over the same evening to identify the source of the leak, shut off the water, and assess the damage.

They'll have to send plumbers over to fix the pipe - and it's likely they'll have to go through your ceiling to get to it. Then they'll have to schedule a dry wall crew to come in and replace damaged drywall. Your floor may need work as well. And there may be some damage to the apartment below you. Your appliances are probably fine.

... said he would return tomorrow to ensure the walls/ceiling had dried

I assume this means he can better assess the damage after things have a chance to dry out a bit, especially your floor. (Wood warps when it gets wet and dries out again. He's going to have to see how it looks when it dries to see how bad the damage is.)

Please understand that all of this won't happen instantly, but it should happen soon. (And understand that, as of now, your upstairs neighbor has no hot water. You're not the only person affected.) There is no way your maintenance person could have given you a firm schedule, when he came by last night, of what repairs are going to be done when. They can't do that until they've had a chance to call contractors and schedule them.

If repair work that needs to be done doesn't get scheduled and completed soon, you'll have a problem. But so far it sounds like they're on it.
posted by nangar at 5:22 AM on November 6, 2011 [6 favorites]

This situation most likely voids your "warrant of habitability" by law; check with a lawyer or tenant advocacy group to be sure, but basically, you have no working appliances and no electricity, right? Your place is not fit to live in and does not have the essential features of a habitable apartment you had been paying for in your rent. The landlord should be paying for you to live somewhere else, like a hotel, etc. while repairs are done. If mold remediation does not begin in a few days, you need to start investigating the legal options for breaking your lease, because mold remediation is not optional whenever you have extensive water damage.

I've been in a situation where a pipe burst in the floor and the repairs took ages. Gutted one bedroom and bathroom down to the studs. Mold remediation for over two weeks. Then new carpet, new drywall, etc. Three months total and I was living on the couch the entire time that my bedroom couldn't be occupied. Honestly, if I were in that situation again, I would have started to look at ways of getting out of my lease rather than wait out the repairs, because they were so extensive and took so long.
posted by slow graffiti at 7:38 AM on November 6, 2011

Just another data point, when I had a leak like this it also leaked brown, and wasn't sewer water. I thought it was leeching something from the plaster or perhaps the paint, but the rust thing makes sense too.
posted by gerryblog at 7:41 AM on November 6, 2011

thankyoumuchly posted "I feel that all of the waterlogged drywall/floor should be replaced and the appliances should be replaced."

Major appliances (stoves, fridges, dishwashers etc.) will be fie after a water leak. I used to routinely pressure wash appliances without issue. There is the remote possibility that if the unit was in use when soaked something might get damaged but you'd know that by now. So once dried off if everything works you are all good.

IAmBroom writes "What hasn't been mentioned is that you can place a portion of your rent into escrow immediately, proportional to the part of the apartment rendered unusable by the damages. If that includes some essential part of habitation, like the only toilet, the entire rent can be escrowed. "

Tread carefully, this isn't even remotely true in my jurisdiction, at least not in a unilateral manner.

crunchland writes "Brown leaking water could also be caused by rust, and not necessarily sewage. If it were sewer pipes, you'd know it by the smell."

Leaking potable water is often brown because it picks up years of dust that has accumulated within walls and floor/ceiling spaces. The inaccessible areas of our dwellings are filthy.
posted by Mitheral at 7:44 AM on November 6, 2011

I've been the bad guy in such a scenario: my washing machine flooded the downstairs neighbor. It looked really bad, big blisters of paint full of water all over their walls and ceiling, dirty water coming down everywhere.

I mopped it up, towel-dried the walls, and pushed the wet sheet-rock back into place. I promised to repair everything in the coming days. With a little time, most of the damage kind of receded, and all it needed was a little spackle and touch up paint.

Your damage may be more severe, but I'd point a box fan at it and see what it looks like in a couple of days.
posted by StickyCarpet at 7:53 AM on November 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

The water is brown because the wood, paper, and whatever else it was filtered through oxidizes. Sewage smells like sewage.

Take pictures, lots of well-lit pictures. Record expenses. Contact the tenant's rights organization in the phone book. The response, so far, is unacceptable. You have legal rights, but they are specific to your city and state, so you have to find out what they are. No reason not to be friendly with landlord, but also no reason to accept this situation. Meanwhile, if you have any fans, set them up. Moving air will help a lot.
posted by theora55 at 11:49 AM on November 6, 2011

Didn't read the above responses, forgive me if I am repeating something already said; when I was a commercial property manager, for any flood situation that occured we AUTOMATICALLY replaced the drywall that had gotten wet, in order to avoid having any mold develop. That would take place a few days after we had set industrial fans/dryers in the space. So, yeah, your maintenance guy shouldn't just wait for it to dry out. I can't speak to the tenant law in this case, but if the maintenance guy is that lazy (or more likely doesn't have the equipment or the budget to properly deal with such a situation), my gut tells me that the landlord is not going to rectify this to your satisfaction. Start thinking about cutting your (psychological) losses and about moving. Oh, and document, document, document!
posted by vignettist at 2:45 PM on November 6, 2011

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