I made a stupid mistake a flushed Clorox wipes down my apartment toilet and it clogged the plumbing. What are my responsibilities as a tenant?
November 28, 2011 8:07 AM   Subscribe

I made a stupid mistake a flushed Clorox wipes down my apartment toilet and it clogged the plumbing. What are my responsibilities as a tenant?

Yes, I made a stupid mistake and flushed Clorox wipes and my toilet and shower drain were clogged. The landlord came to take a look and found the wipes in the drain and had to call a plumber. He said that since I flushed the wipes, I pay for the repairs. The plumber came and had to snake out the drain and such and cleared it fine and everything went back to normal.

A few days later, the apartment building (around 35 apartments) has a sewage backup in the basement and has to be repaired and sanitized. The apartment owner wants to meet with me tomorrow and I am assuming he will put the blame on me for the whole building's plumbing issues. I may be responsible for paying the plumber the first time, but I do not think I should have to pay for the entire building's issues. The plumbing is extremely old as it is and my mistake may have been the last straw. It is hard to prove that the wipes directly caused the entire building to fail.
posted by *lostatsea* to Law & Government (27 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
How many wipes are we talking about here?
posted by crankylex at 8:11 AM on November 28, 2011

Response by poster: @crankylex Just one Clorox wipe...
posted by *lostatsea* at 8:12 AM on November 28, 2011

Yeah, there's absolutely no way that caused a complete sewage fail to the entire building. You pay for your snaking. You're not responsible for the building's issues. If he says you are, then you need a lawyer if he threatens to sue you. In the meeting tomorrow, admit to nothing and agree to pay nothing other than what you have already agreed to if they demand more.
posted by inturnaround at 8:15 AM on November 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: @crankylex Or, I should say, I flushed two wipes at two different times and the plumber only found one wipe clogging things up. Apparently the other made it through fine.
posted by *lostatsea* at 8:15 AM on November 28, 2011

I agree with odinsdream. Face-face will not go down well. Everything should be in writing, so you can consult with a lawyer if this spirals out of control.
posted by LeanGreen at 8:29 AM on November 28, 2011

Response by poster: @odinsdream Any reason in particular for not meeting with the owner? I will still refuse to pay if they say I am responsible for the entire building. I guess I could see it ending very ugly...
posted by *lostatsea* at 8:30 AM on November 28, 2011

If you're still going to meet face to face, ask for permission to record the conversation (don't do this on the sly). You can say that it's because you don't want any misunderstandings down the road. If he refuses, I would not continue the meeting and I would contact a lawyer at that point.
posted by desjardins at 8:33 AM on November 28, 2011

If there's any chance that anything could get legal, you should have it in writing.
posted by missmagenta at 8:34 AM on November 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: @LeanGreen and @odinsdream, issue is I already have set up the meeting for tomorrow. I could cancel, but I really have no way of knowing that he will push the responsibility to me, other than my gut instinct.

They sent me an email stating that the owner would like to meet with me about my toilet problem. It may simply be a slap on the wrist or to discuss the charges for the first plumber, which I do agree I am responsible for.
posted by *lostatsea* at 8:36 AM on November 28, 2011

Response by poster: @odinsdream Yes, that is a good point. My initial thought was to simply attend the meeting tomorrow and see what it is about. If things continue from there, I will require it in writing.
posted by *lostatsea* at 8:38 AM on November 28, 2011

Coming in to underscore in red pen: record the meeting, and/or ask for everything in writing. I like odinsdream's script, above.
posted by lakersfan1222 at 8:44 AM on November 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Things have not gotten messy at this point. Up until now, I have been in really good standing with the landlord and would prefer to stay that way. Flipping over prematurely into defense without or before any allegations may stain my current standing. My lease is almost up and I was happy to have a good recommendation, and would like to keep that if I could.

I think recording the meeting is a great idea initially.
posted by *lostatsea* at 8:49 AM on November 28, 2011

Pulling out a recorder and asking for permission to record the conversation is entirely more hostile than calling the landlord and saying, "I cannot make the appointment. The holidays are very busy for everyone. Please send me a letter outlining what you want to cover. Thanks."
posted by LeanGreen at 8:51 AM on November 28, 2011 [8 favorites]

Response by poster: @LeanGreen Good point.
posted by *lostatsea* at 8:54 AM on November 28, 2011

As soon as the meeting is over, send him a recap of what you discussed.

"Dear Landlord,

As discussed in our meeting of November 29, I am responsible for the plumber's visit of [whatever date] to snake out my toilet. Upon presentation of his bill, I will pay the fee for this visit within 3 days (or whatever you agreed to). [Or: I have seen the bill for XXX.XX and will pay it within 3 days (or whatever you agreed to).]



Or whatever fits. Don't tape it. You can also follow LeanGreen's advice.
posted by jeather at 8:56 AM on November 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: @odinsdream Agreed. I am not paying for the building. I understand I am most likely responsible for the initial plumbing charge for my apartment.
posted by *lostatsea* at 9:43 AM on November 28, 2011

I think you'd have an excellent shot if this went to court, but it would be a huge expense and hassle, potentially. Any wastewater system that could be obstructed by a single clorox wipe was in terrible shape to begin with. Really, it's almost impossible, and I suspect you'd have no problem getting a plumber to say so.

If it does get contentious, make your starting point a request for proof that your action caused the problem.
posted by spitbull at 9:44 AM on November 28, 2011

It is also likely that the plumber dislodged something that then blocked the pipework. After all, the plumber remedied the blockage you have admitted responsibility for.

It really depends on whether a cause for the present blockage is identified, if it is flushed wipes, then circumstantially it looks like your fault.
posted by epo at 10:28 AM on November 28, 2011

Just out of curiousity, do you have renter's insurance? There is a chance, maybe, that they could help you out in a worst case scenario, or even help pay for the plumber's first visit.
posted by shortyJBot at 11:04 AM on November 28, 2011

Response by poster: @shortyJBot I don't have renter's insurance. I wondered if adding that today would make any difference.
posted by *lostatsea* at 11:06 AM on November 28, 2011

Adding that renter's insurance after the fact won't help you here. Your policy would have had to be in force at the time of the incident in order for anything to be covered -- and fudging the dates is a big no-no.

But nthing not meeting in person. Cancel meeting with excuse, write note, request in note that any issue landlord needs to discuss happen via note as you don't have time for a face to face.
posted by countrymod at 11:19 AM on November 28, 2011

You may want to ask a mod to anonymize this question if there is any chance of ugly legal proceedings down the road.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 12:44 PM on November 28, 2011

Lots of (possibly legitimate) hysteria here. Go to the meeting. If things don't go well, ask him to put something in writing. Go from there.
posted by 2legit2quit at 1:42 PM on November 28, 2011

(I used to be a landlord) What does your lease say? Were you warned about delicate plumbing? Listen to Landlord, make notes. Be really sympathetic, polite and non-committal. Explain that you used a wipe, but that there's really no way to know if other households used wipes, or what the state of the plumbing was. Ask for a letter, in writing, explaining any request for payment.

Many towns have a legal aid /tenant's rights office; check the paper phonebook. Your state has an Attorney General, with a website, and they should have info on tenant's rights. When I rented an apt., I would not have passed this on to a tenant, though I put plumbing care notes in the rental agreement.
posted by theora55 at 4:39 PM on November 28, 2011

Response by poster: @theora55 My lease does say the plumbing is delicate and to not flush anything but toilet paper. I will check for a legal aid office. Thanks.
posted by *lostatsea* at 12:37 PM on November 29, 2011

Response by poster: Thank you all for your responses up till this point, they have been really helpful.

I ended up meeting with the owner this afternoon and kept relatively quite and polite and simply listened. He said that basically what happened was after the blockage was removed the other night, is everything that was backed up went to the basement and overloaded the waste system causing a catastrophic failure.

He then proceeded to show me the damage (which was pretty extensive) and said when everything is said and done, there will be around $25,000 of cost put into fixing this. What he would like me to do is pay the deductible for his insurance, which will be around $500 he said. At this point, I am going to wait for the invoice and take things from there. Not sure if I should be liable to pay. They do not have any concrete proof that I caused this failure, other than what the plumber pulled out of the pipe, which was one Clorox wipe...

The wipe was not what caused the overflow, it was the backed up waste. Seems like any plumbing system in a building this size should be able to compensate...

Any tips on how I should handle it from this point on?
posted by *lostatsea* at 12:43 PM on November 29, 2011

Many lawyers will give you a free consultation. Then figure out which will cost more, the $500 deductible or the lawyer. A sternly worded letter from the lawyer might be enough to get the landlord to back off - the management company probably does not want to deal with a lawsuit over $500.

I'm still not a lawyer.
posted by desjardins at 12:46 PM on November 29, 2011

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