Damage from a running tap?
September 11, 2017 12:42 PM   Subscribe

Just got a call from my landlord that my boyfriend left the faucet running before going to work, and the two apartments beneath me have flooded. What can I expect?

So, my boyfriend is not extremely attentive and apparently left the faucet on before going to work, flooding the first floor and basement apartments in my very old apartment building. What can I expect going forward?

The landlord is a pretty good guy and I'm sure he has insurance, but I doubt anybody beneath me does. Am I going to be financially on the hook? I also feel incredibly guilty-- should I offer to pay the landlord? Should I offer to pay my neighbors?

This is in Cambridge, MA.
posted by naturalnumbers to Home & Garden (22 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Check the lease to see if you are responsible for fees incurred due to negligence-- if so, your landlord may or may not choose to charge you for the cost of repairs. If you are charged, make sure it's itemized and reasonable.

Don't feel guilty. Don't offer money to the landlord. The neighbors won't be paying anything out of pocket if you're all renters, so definitely don't offer them money.
posted by kapers at 12:50 PM on September 11, 2017 [1 favorite]

Do you have renter's/homeowner's insurance? If so, give your landlord their contact details and let them hack it out. If not, call a tenant's rights organization immediately for a referral to an attorney. I'm sure you're a lovely person and your landlord is great and the tenants below you are terrific, but this has the potential to get very ugly very quickly.
posted by Etrigan at 12:51 PM on September 11, 2017 [19 favorites]

[Sorry, I somehow misinterpreted-- I was thinking "leak," but you said "flood," which probably means a lot more damage than I was thinking.]
posted by kapers at 12:55 PM on September 11, 2017

We had a pipe (the tube that goes into an undersink water filter) burst in the middle of the night which flooded our kitchen and the basement below it. We lost about $300 in "stuff" to water damage, plus spent like $200 on rental fans and dehumidifiers from Home Depot.

If your Cambridge bathroom is anything like the Cambridge bathrooms I'm used to, it was above another bathroom which was above another. This is your Best Case scenario for limiting stuff damage as people don't keep their flatscreen TVs in their bathrooms. Still, there will be a lot of testing to see where the water got in to - it it's between the walls and floors there is some worry about damp and structural damage. Unfortunately, you can only really check for that by ripping open some things, so you might be on the hook for that. The landlord will probably call ServePro or similar and they ain't cheap.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 1:01 PM on September 11, 2017 [1 favorite]

How on earth did water from a tap penetrate through two units that quickly to flood them? I must have a poor understanding of apartment infrastructure...in any case, if you have renter's insurance it should cover you and everyone else...still I'd like to know what amount of damage was actually done.
posted by Young Kullervo at 1:03 PM on September 11, 2017 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I don't have renter's insurance, sadly.
posted by naturalnumbers at 1:05 PM on September 11, 2017

Have you verified with your bf that he left the faucet on? Even if he knows/suspects that he did, you (and he) are not 100 percent at fault here because sinks are supposed to be designed to prevent that from happening. Your neighbors should have renter's insurance for any items of theirs that were ruined and your landlord should have insurance against this kind of damage.

BTW, renter's insurance generally covers your personal property and not damages to the place you rent. it is also pretty cheap to add on to auto insurance.
posted by soelo at 1:12 PM on September 11, 2017 [7 favorites]

Even if he knows/suspects that he did, you (and he) are not 100 percent at fault here because sinks are supposed to be designed to prevent that from happening.

In my case, the renter did not tell me that the pipes were clogged and the drain was extremely slow, so leaving the sink on for a few minutes flooded the floor below. Just saying it's possible.
posted by FencingGal at 1:20 PM on September 11, 2017

I'm calling bullshit, unless there were dishes in the sink blocking the drain? Can you please clarify?

Leaving the tap on does NOT cause flooding unless the drain is blocked OR the pipes are blocked. Blocked or slow pipes are not not not your problem. That's on your landlord. If your BF blocked your drain and left the water running, that's on him. If your neighbors don't have adequate rental insurance, that's on them and your BF.

Legally, you might be held responsible for any of this, but I'm hoping everyone involved is honest and moral. If you know exactly how the flooding happened, we can help you navigate this better. That detail is crucial.
posted by jbenben at 1:37 PM on September 11, 2017 [7 favorites]

Oh, shoot! I just re-read the end of your question.... DO NOT OFFER ANYBODY ANYTHING OR ACCEPT BLAME UNTIL YOU HAVE ALL OF THE FACTS.

Ask a lot of questions, be interested and open. Absolutely do not accept any blame or liability at this stage. You don't know what happened. Be available and inquisitive. Consult an attorney if you need to because flood remediation can be extremely expensive and this is not like you dinged someone's car in a parking lot. You need facts, and possibly legal advice down the road. You did not do this. The less you say now, the happier your (potential, let's hope you won't need one) future lawyer will be.
posted by jbenben at 1:44 PM on September 11, 2017 [18 favorites]

Leaving the tap on does NOT cause flooding unless the drain is blocked OR the pipes are blocked.

Please stop this. I am a homeowner, but I am here to attest that leaving a tap on -- in my case for less than an hour -- can certainly overflow most sinks, even without slow drains or blockage or anything else. It happened to us. Your answers of this type are not helpful.

OP: don't talk with anyone but your BF and the landlord about this. Don't post on social media, and don't -- for heaven's sake -- DON'T admit any fault. Wait to see what the landlord says/offers/does.

Hopefully the tenants below you have renter's insurance. Also, this should go through the landlord's insurance next. Don't allow him to browbeat you into doing anything or paying anything until he has submitted a claim. They may pay, they may reject the claim, or they may pay the claim and then come back to you to make them "whole".

This will be very stressful for a good amount of time, but I'm confident that you will probably be ok in the end.

If there is a tenants rights org in your area, I'd strongly advise you to run the scenario past them. (Again, admit nothing -- "my landlord says that X happened".

Best of luck to you.
posted by anastasiav at 1:57 PM on September 11, 2017 [39 favorites]

I can certainly attest that a faucet left on can quickly overflow even a new sink with new pipes. Happened to me, though luckily in a greenhouse with a drain on the floor.

I don't think the OP disputes the events as presented, unless she hasn't talked to the boyfriend yet. A tenant's rights attorney is the safest option, especially if the damage is in any way significant. Hopefully it's just a Cambridge triple decker with stacked bathrooms!
posted by lydhre at 2:08 PM on September 11, 2017

The neighbors won't be paying anything out of pocket if you're all renters

If they don't have renter's insurance and this was due to negligence I wouldn't at all be confident that this is true; they may SOL.

You say he left the faucet on before he left for work, in which case it was running for eight-ish hours? I can confirm that my mother left a bathroom faucet running all night and it flooded a huge swath of her place and the unit below hers.

Seconding a tenants rights association and not talking to anyone else about it.
posted by Room 641-A at 2:18 PM on September 11, 2017 [1 favorite]

Not abusing the edit window to add that maybe you should anonomize this.
posted by Room 641-A at 2:18 PM on September 11, 2017 [5 favorites]

Alas, my Cambridge-adjacent (Somerville) bedroom does indeed have a bathroom directly over it, as I learned when water started coming through the ceiling* as I got ready for bed. Fortunately it just landed on a laundry basket full of towels, which falls into the "gross, but nbd" category. Kitchen sinks usually don't have any overflow protection at all, so if OP's boyfriend left for work in the middle of doing the dishes, yeah, that could do easily do some serious damage.

Regardless, though, the best bet is to keep as quiet as possible and try and get in touch with ACT - Alliance of Cambridge Tenants.

Hopefully the landlord's insurance covers everything. For future peace of mind, especially with an absent-minded boyfriend renter's insurance can be very reasonably priced - mine is about $250 a year and I didn't even really shop around for it (got it online through Geico, although I don't think Geico actually holds the policy).

Anyway, this sucks but it happens - friends of mine had an upstairs neighbor who repeatedly flooded their bathroom by overflowing the tub. And they were all condo owners so they were stuck with each other for years and years.

Everything is going to be OK though in the end!

*according to the upstairs neighbor: inexplicable pipe problem that plumbers were unable to detect the next morning and which never happened again!
my best guess: he left the kids unattended in the bathtub and they poured water down the heating vents!
posted by mskyle at 2:26 PM on September 11, 2017 [2 favorites]

You can expect the landlord to make something which may or not be your problem your problem. If leaving a sink on causes a flood, that drain is defective. If your own sinks can't drain faster than the tap can fill it, that is a problematic situation which should remedy themselves. Faucets fail, the world is an imperfect place. Folks who say you can flood a sink by leaving the tap on need to get their pipes snaked or have a vent problem.

If it were me, I'd do and say nothing, and immediately contact an attorney who will certainly save you money over simply giving into the landlords demands.
posted by Geckwoistmeinauto at 2:48 PM on September 11, 2017 [2 favorites]

One more vote for "leaving a faucet on does no damage in a correctly functioning system".
You're on the hook for your own wasted water and water bill; any other damage is out of your hands. When you rent an apartment, you implicitly rent the use of a functioning faucet and drainage system, that may in fact be used for hours at a time. I will not "stop this" line of reasoning, it's a basic point of plumbing: faucets don't come with time limits, and if they do, it is because of a known problem, and if so it should be explicitly explained in the rental agreement. (I am assuming you would have said so if the faucet was on and the drain was plugged, and it would also flood your own rooms).

Offer nothing, keep this close. This is not a time to get screwed because of some misplaced sense of politeness.

If, like many of us, you find it hard to stay firm when discussing things in the moment with landlords or lawyers or whatever, it may behoove you to request that all of this communication takes places in writing, either over email or snail mail.
posted by SaltySalticid at 3:09 PM on September 11, 2017 [5 favorites]

Kitchen sinks generally do not have overflow holes, some bathroom sinks also lacks these, while tubs generally have them.

If the plug was in/down in a sink without an overflow hole, and the tap was running, it would flood, plain and simple. The basin would fill up, and water would spill over the side. This would not be a defect of the drain.
posted by walkinginsunshine at 3:10 PM on September 11, 2017 [5 favorites]

What can I expect?

Well first, that your boyfriend will offer to cover costs. Whether a sink functions properly or not, leaving a house for the day while a tap is running is pretty outside of normal use -- his error.

But yes, I would get some facts about what happened and be sure there wasn't another problem, and not offer anything or admit any responsibility until you have some legal advice.
posted by warriorqueen at 3:45 PM on September 11, 2017 [1 favorite]

Nthing that you need a lawyer and to not say anything else without talking with one. Depending on how bad the damage is and whether your personal finances make it worth the time and cost to go after you, you could be looking at being sued for five figures. Insurance companies specialize in not having to pay their own money whenever possible.

Also, depending on how things go, your landlord may not be inclined to renew your lease (especially if your boyfriend is living with you but not on the lease) so you might need to consider other housing options.
posted by Candleman at 3:52 PM on September 11, 2017 [5 favorites]

What kind of insurance does your boyfriend have?
posted by halogen at 7:08 PM on September 11, 2017

This is one of the textbook reasons to have renters' insurance -- liability for accidental damage to other renters and the building. (The phrase "accidentally overflowing water" even shows up here.) It's possible that you're liable not just for your neighbors' stuff but to the landlord for damage to the structure, depending on your lease. Whether anyone deems it worth their time to go after you for this money will depend on your personal circumstances. I think anastasiav, snickerdoodle, and Candleman's answers are the best.
posted by salvia at 8:49 PM on September 11, 2017 [1 favorite]

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