how to: limited water at apartment/get a rent break
May 13, 2019 11:20 AM   Subscribe

I just found out that my apartment will not have water M-F from 9am-4pm for the next 8 weeks - starting May 20. I am a stay at home parent with a toddler. How? Also how can I get a break on rent cause this is not what i signed up for (ie lease)?

I live in Florida so it's hot and humid outside. Most places have AC, and I'm lucky to have a car.
But naps, cooking, laundry, etc... will become difficult.
I was thinking buying and filling buckets to flush toilets and wash hands. Get some water bottles (need to purchase hurricane supplies soon anyways)
Any other good tips?

Also - we've rented this place nearly 2 years. Our lease is actually up in 5 weeks and we were planning to renew...but then this. I did send an email to landlord (a lawyer) and hope to work something out. What should I even ask for? I have never been in this situation before. We've had a good relationship. We pay on time. She fixes stuff on time. This is a huge building plumbing type thing... out of her immediate control. But heck if I'm paying the full rent without water during weekdays for 2 months... Needing all the tips, please?!
posted by PistachioRoux to Home & Garden (43 answers total)
According to the Cornell Law School Legal Information Institute: "Most jurisdictions read residential leases to include an implied warranty of habitability. This warranty requires landlords to keep their property "habitable," even if the lease does specifically require them to make repairs. Furthermore, the warranty conditions a tenant's duty to pay rent on the landlord's duty to maintain a habitable living space. This makes it easier for tenants to get landlords to make repairs. This warranty is usually coupled with rules prohibiting landlords from retaliating against tenants who complain housing code violations."

A lawyer in your jurisdiction (MeFi Wiki) can give you legal advice about how to approach your landlord about the lack of habitable premises, i.e. a lack of water likely counts as a violation of your lease, but only a lawyer in your jurisdiction can explain how to proceed. It sounds like you are on the right track, and a local legal aid organization may be the best place to start (Florida Legal Aid), because violations of the warranty of habitability, particularly when there are children involved, tend to be priority cases, at minimum for advice, but possibly representation.
posted by Little Dawn at 11:34 AM on May 13, 2019 [5 favorites]

We have a well with an electric pump, so whenever the electricity goes out-- no more water. You'll want to fill the bath tub, assuming you have one. Unless you're using the toilet a lot, that might be enough water to get you through the day. If you have access to a rain barrel, you can also use rain water for flushing. It's easy to do. I wouldn't drink rainwater, though.

Hand sanitizer might be the way to go. I know it's not as good as a real wash, but in an emergency... might be less hassle.

Also, 8 weeks? WTH are they doing? I would definitely ask for some sort of reduction in rent.
posted by tuesdayschild at 11:36 AM on May 13, 2019

This is a huge building plumbing type thing... out of her immediate control.

Just to clarify - is this work the landlord is having done on your building specifically, or is it a larger city public works type project (where the city is repairing or replacing water mains, for example). Who is actually responsible for this will make a difference.
posted by anastasiav at 11:37 AM on May 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

From the email it looks like a project the housing association is doing this. Relining cast iron pipes that are the 'underground main pipes' hence the lengthy disruption.
posted by PistachioRoux at 11:44 AM on May 13, 2019

That sucks. It will probably also be very loud...does your toddler have to nap during the day? Definitely reach out to a local tenant rights organization to ask their advice.
posted by pinochiette at 11:46 AM on May 13, 2019

BTW, the legal term you are looking for is a "rent abatement."
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 11:57 AM on May 13, 2019 [2 favorites]

Maybe they will reimburse you for buying those 2 1/2 gallon suitcases of water for use during the day. Or will buy you some buckets for you to fill at night. In addition to a rent reduction! Especially if there is significant noise.

Are you paying your water bill right now, or is that part of your rent?
posted by Lawn Beaver at 11:59 AM on May 13, 2019

On the "how" front: start storing water now for flushing toilets and washing things (use any watertight container for this); stock up on bottled water and other shelf-stable packaged drinks; stock up on wet wipes for cleaning hands. Is there any way you can arrange to be out of the house, in toddler-friendly places with working running water, as much as possible from 9 - 4 while this is happening? If it were me I'd start making plans now to be at a public library, at a shopping mall with an indoor playground, at a park with a working clean bathroom, at the zoo, etc. as much as possible instead of at home. This of course will necessitate packing lunches and snacks for you both which will be annoying, but probably doable. If transportation is a problem for you, check to see if there is any place (like a library) within walking distance that you can get to at least a couple of times a week.
posted by BlueJae at 12:02 PM on May 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

Only if it’s child safe: you can fill your bathtub with water every night for the next day.
posted by MountainDaisy at 12:05 PM on May 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

I just want to offer a landlord's perspective on this. Tenants tend to say that their place is inhabitable when they want a rent reduction due to some unavoidable circumstance but if a rent reduction does not dollar-for-dollar make up for whatever the problem is, and the tenant wants to continue to inhabit the "inhabitable" place, then that argument doesn't hold very much water (apologies for the unintended pun, I truly don't mean to make fun of your situation). If the problem is such that you can throw money at it, and you are asking for the equivalent rent reduction, then you have more of a case.

If you want to stay, I would focus on mitigating the problem. For example, filling your bathtub with water is a cheap and relatively easy solution - will this work for you? It's the exact same tap water and it's not that much extra labor to fetch it from a bathtub, and you can always keep the door shut so your toddler doesn't get in there. For washing hands, can't you just get some anti-bac wipes? I've been mother to a toddler and I've lived through protracted water shut-offs and it's honestly not that bad, you just... adapt.

I also think that you need to adjust your perception that this is "not what I signed up for". If anything, a lease is kind of the opposite of a guarantee of life free of repairs. (And for what it's worth we live in a single family home and every summer the city or the cable company or the gas company or the electric company disrupts our lives with all kinds of digging and noise. Life happens!)
posted by rada at 12:27 PM on May 13, 2019 [2 favorites]

And if you have a toddler you don't want to leave bathtubs and buckets full of water anywhere the kid can get to if you turn your back. You need a water cooler, delivered to your apartment with several jugs.
posted by mareli at 12:31 PM on May 13, 2019 [13 favorites]

You need a water cooler, delivered to your apartment with several jugs.

This, and make sure it's the kind that dispenses hot water on demand, too. Or buy an electric kettle. These are (at least) the costs you should reduce rent by, or ideally the things that your LL should supply to you.
posted by Dashy at 12:41 PM on May 13, 2019 [2 favorites]

Water cooler! So smart.
My toddler will 100% get into everything/anything despite my best efforts. Hence buckets/bathtub is no good (and was totally what I thought I'd do - I'm new at this!)
Have left message with FL legal aid
Very much thank you/will keep reading/huzzah
posted by PistachioRoux at 12:53 PM on May 13, 2019 [5 favorites]

I think you can handle this, if you want to! I would definitely request a discount on the rent though, especially since your lease is up: if you were to leave your landlord would not be able to rent the apartment until the water was turned back on, because unless your rental market is insanely tight no one is going to move into an apartment that doesn't have running water most of the day. Since you already have a good relationship with your landlord, I would start out with a "You've been a great landlord and I don't want to leave over this, but..." kind of attitude and see if she if she suggests something. If that doesn't work out for you, then I'd request a few hundred off the rent to cover the costs of extra bottled water, other supplies, etc.

As for how to make it work, the first thing you need is a couple of plastic carboys, along the lines of this: 7 Gallon Rigid Water Container. I would get one for each sink, in an appropriate size. You'll fill them up before 9AM or after 4PM, and you'll keep them on the edge of the sink. You won't have hot running water (might want to invest in an electric coffeepot or something if you don't already have something like that), but you can have plenty of cold running water (way more than you would get with delivery from a water cooler service unless they're coming every day, and way less hassle than buying bottled water). That should cover you for hand/dishwashing.

As for toilet flushing, if the toilet tank is full at 9AM, you get one flush during the day without any work on your part at all (toilet just won't fill up again). So depending on your/your toddler's bathroom habits, you might be able to make do with a "if it's yellow, let it mellow" policy (with the one flush for surprises/emergencies). If that won't work for you, yes you can flush the toilet with a bucket of water, but also yes keeping buckets of water around toddlers is kind of dangerous - at a minimum get something with a real lid that screws on or locks (or something like the water container I linked above, which would be a pain in the ass to use to flush a toilet but you could do it if you had to).
posted by mskyle at 12:57 PM on May 13, 2019 [3 favorites]

We have frequent power outages, one year we had a Nor'easter that knocked power out for at least 5 days, maybe 7 days (we have a well with electric pump, as above). We used bucket water to flush, going with the "if it's yellow, let it mellow, if it's brown, flush it down," method (ymmv on how much yellow you can tolerate). A 3-gallon bucket did about 3 flushes. If you have an old ice cream bucket, and fill the tub, one or two of those would flush the toilet (obvs. shut the door to keep your toddler out).

We use gallon jugs for drinking water, and unscented baby wipes to clean hands. You could also fill a clean dishpan with warm water and use a wash cloth to wipe faces and hands during the day. I didn't realize how many times I washed my hands, let alone used water to rinse dishes, until we went without for several days in a row. So at least 1 dish tub with water for that, and maybe a smaller bucket in the other half of the sink or bathroom sink for washing hands or dipping a washcloth in.

You just have to adjust to doing dishes and bathing early or later, depending on your schedule. If you want to stay, that is. It's kind of like having your kitchen redone, it sucks while it's happening, but then you get it done and it's all over, and it's a thing you lived with.

Other people have spoken about the rent issue, but just wanted to say it's doable, as long as you plan ahead, even if it sucks.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 12:57 PM on May 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

I think the water cooler with hot and cold is a great idea.

You could pass the rental cost if the cooler to the landlord with a letter pleasantly worded. Say that you understand the need to shut off water but your toddler doesn’t and sanitation and hygiene are things that you cannot delay for 7 hours on a given day.

Also you could get away with filling the cooler bottles from your tap water so there would be no charge for delivering more water.

Also tabletop water dispensers exist and could be a good substitute for hand washing over the sink.
posted by sol at 1:00 PM on May 13, 2019

the kind that dispenses hot water on demand, too

If you have a toddler, this thing can be a tipping/falling hazard - and... if the hot water tap doesn't have a child-safe option, could pour scalding water onto an inquisitive young person (or careless old one like me).
posted by jkaczor at 1:26 PM on May 13, 2019 [3 favorites]

My grocery sells water in giant plastic jugs(carboys?). Buy a couple, pay the deposit, refill as needed at home, return when this is done.

Arizona iced tea, laundry deterg., OJ, all come in large jugs. Camping supply places will have 1 gal water containers. The Red Cross recommends 2 liter soft drink bottles for water storage. Detergent jugs are great for water for cleaning, esp. the big kind that have a dispenser. Squeeze bottle from dish deterg. is also good for hand cleaning, rinsing dishes. Juice containers of water in the fridge for drinking, several 2 liter jugs of water for cooking. A couple 2 liter bottle of water in the bathroom for washing up. It takes @ 2 gals to flush the toilet, so get in the habit of limiting flushes to solid waste. Just pour directly into the bowl. You need a liter to drink per day per person (for 9 - 5), several liters to cook and clean.

Do laundry early, so it's ready for the dryer at 9. Run dishwasher at night. Either store water for the baby's bath or bathtime is after 5. Showers, of course, are before 9, after 5.

This is more doable than you may think; we used to vacation at a place with a well and no running water or indoor toilet, even with a toddler. For purposes of rent abatement, it's a giant pain for which you deserve 25/day to cover expenses and hassle. Somebody has to refilll the containers every evening or morning. It's disruptive to your schedule and quite a bit of extra work with a toddler. What does the fire dept. do if there's a fire?
posted by theora55 at 1:31 PM on May 13, 2019 [3 favorites]

For example, filling your bathtub with water is a cheap and relatively easy solution - will this work for you? It's the exact same tap water and it's not that much extra labor to fetch it from a bathtub

True, it's the same water that comes from the tap, but tap water doesn't settle in a place where folks regularly bathe. If the renter is using a saved tubful of water to pour into the toilet tank, that's one thing, but said water is really not appropriate for drinking.
posted by Oriole Adams at 1:31 PM on May 13, 2019 [3 favorites]

Found this when I was looking for emergency water storage, it's a flexible plastic container designed to fit in a bathtub. Does this fix the toddler vs. bathtub problem?
posted by HaveYouTriedRebooting at 2:17 PM on May 13, 2019 [2 favorites]

It sounds doable, but I'm picturing so many unpleasant scenarios.

Some ideas:
Prep lunch the night before
Cold drinking water can be stored in a water dispenser
Load up on baby wipes
See if your landlord will pay for a laundry service
Hide any paint or other messy activity supplies from your toddler
Consider a gym membership (once we had no power for a week and I would bring my kids to the gym so we could all take warm showers)
Keep your fingers crossed that no one gets sick
Hold off on potty training!
posted by galvanized unicorn at 2:23 PM on May 13, 2019

I don't think you should have to pay for any of these additional expenses like laundry, buying buckets or water coolers etc. This landlord is bonkers. Of course they need to provide water!! It would be one thing if this were for an hour for an emergency repair. It's another thing entirely when it's hours upon hours for weeks! Surely she had NOTICE that this was going to happen, and yet she still rented out the place to you. She's probably known for months that this was coming.

Good luck with the legal aid office and definitely ask for a reduction in rent. Even if you aren't renewing your lease.

As far as living without running water, I have done it for a few weeks here and there (due to being on a well, power outage and no generator).
-If it's yellow, let it mellow.
-Fill your bathtub every night and use something to scoop water out of it for flushing.
-A water cooler that's like those tubs of gatorade celebratory athletes dump on each other--put that somewhere near the kitchen and fill it every night.
-Purell. So much purell.
-Take showers when the water is running but have a back up plan--a gym, friends who would let you come shower, or baby wipes & dry shampoo.
-Do your laundry when the water is running but have a back up plan--a laundromat, a friend.
-For the kitchen, fill all your pots and the kettle with water and put them on the stove top. Use this water for cooking and drinking.
posted by purple_bird at 3:02 PM on May 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

Also, if you want to store water in your bathtub in a toddler-safe way, perhaps a Water BOB would work for you. I have one for emergency water.
posted by agatha_magatha at 3:13 PM on May 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

Get one or two ‘Culligan’ style water jugs (like the kind that go in water coolers and a small powered pump to pump water out of it as needed. A slip over the faucet hand held shower will make filling them much easier. Refill nightly as needed. For bathing toddler, what about hanging a solar shower from a very sturdy hook in the tub. This could also be used for handwashing. It won’t get warmer than ambient but if need be could also be warmed up by adding some hot water from a kettle. This sucks but is totally survivable!
posted by Northbysomewhatcrazy at 3:23 PM on May 13, 2019

As far as storing water in the bathtub, you might consider investing in doorknob covers just for the bathroom if you decide you want to fill the tub. That would help keep Toddler out of the bathroom.
posted by epj at 3:32 PM on May 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

It is NOT reasonable for your landlady to have told you this a week before it happens and neither is it reasonable for her to expect you to eat it without any assistance from her. On some level she knows this. So I don't think she should be surprised to hear you want some kind of abatements.

If you're sure you want to stay, I'd make up a list of the things that could abate this (like the hot/cold water cooler, maybe a white noise machine to help the kid nap during construction noises, a ton of hand sanitizer/antibacterial wipes and some bucket tech that you deem toddler-safe). Then I'd write to the landlady and be like "hi landlady, I really like this place and don't want to leave, but also two months of being home all day with a little kid with construction noise and no water is going to present challenges with bathing, napping, toileting, cooking and laundry. I would like to ask for a rent abatement and/or for you to purchase these devices which I think will help make the place livable under these no-water conditions: [list here]. let me know what you think."

Here is a script for people who want to negotiate their rents -- not adapted exactly to your situation but to the idea of negotiating with your landlord in general.
posted by hungrytiger at 4:11 PM on May 13, 2019 [7 favorites]

Another thought is putting an eye-hook latch high up on the outside of the bathroom door so you can lock it from the outside (thus keeping any water you've got in there safely away from your kid). Maybe in addition to the doorknob covers, even.
posted by hungrytiger at 4:12 PM on May 13, 2019 [3 favorites]

BTW, the legal term you are looking for is a "rent abatement."

Also: "reduction in services."
posted by rhizome at 4:50 PM on May 13, 2019

You'll want to check with the plumbing people or landlord to see if and when pipes can actually be used. We have an ongoing project in our building that had some occasional hard no usage periods, for instance when they are replacing a sewage or gray water drain.

Your city and/or state should have some renter's rights you can check. This level of major ongoing interference with basic necessities may qualify for rent abatement or the ability to break your lease with no fee. They also should have given you a LOT of notice for something this major.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 4:54 PM on May 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

You should not have to be hauling water home from the store. Your landlord should be providing water jugs and delivery, at a bare minimum. I think asking for a hot water dispenser is too much, since you can heat water on the stove. What plan do you/they have for midday naps?

It may not be your landlord's fault, but they are profiting off of this repair in the long run.
posted by soelo at 7:04 PM on May 13, 2019 [6 favorites]

If you think you might need hot water during the day get an electric kettle - a million times easier than heating water on the stove, and safer too since you don’t need to pay any attention to it or turn it off once it boils (but make sure to get one with an automatic shutoff).

We’ve had several days without water due to plumbing issues and construction. It’s a pain (I’m also a stay at home parent of a toddler), but you’ll adapt quickly. It’s very easy to store enough fresh water for drinking, and since you’ll have water in the evenings and at night you’ll be able to do most things then (laundry, dishes, bathing, etc).
posted by insectosaurus at 6:15 AM on May 14, 2019

[Couple of comments deleted. This needs to not be personal about people in the thread. Please stick to just answering OP's question; thanks.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 11:25 AM on May 14, 2019

Update - just received a notice that from 9-4 we can't actually get any liquid even down the drain - like no flushing toilets, not water down sink, etc...
I will be leveling up my skills for sure! Again, any tips much appreciated. Thanks

posted by PistachioRoux at 4:12 PM on May 14, 2019 [1 favorite]

I would seek to pay 1/4 rent for the two or three months that this is going on, but start the negotiations at zero rent and a hotel room for your use the entire time, since this touches on the basic habitability of the unit.

They're quite literally putting you out, so I recommend talking to a tenants union (if one exists there) or lawyer to help with this.
posted by rhizome at 6:05 PM on May 14, 2019 [2 favorites]

I think the "no water down the drain" is kind of a big ask. The "store your own water daily for a couple months" is too. I personally would ask for a 50 percent abatement and if I didn't get it, I might accidentally drain my tub every day at noon. Both tubs and the laundry tub, actually.

I wouldn't trust a toddler in a home with a full bathtub even with the door closed. This whole deal really sounds unpleasant: I am filled with rage on your behalf. I hope you come up with a good result.
posted by Gilgamesh's Chauffeur at 6:13 PM on May 14, 2019

No water down the drain is pretty unreasonable. I'd ask for a membership at a pool club or someplace where you and toddler can go spend several hours a day. Many libraries have toddler times with stories; some libraries have a good toy area for toddlers and most libraries are open to all, so you can visit the library in the next town. A good local park is a great place to spend a couple hours. But you'll have to do all the meal prep after 5 and before 9. Good luck.
posted by theora55 at 9:32 PM on May 14, 2019

No flushing? You're supposed to what, keep an open container of grey water in your apartment all day?

Move. Now (really sorry for the inconvenience, but). Then file in small claims court for the LL breaking your lease without proper notice. You should have 60 days notice when you have to move.

And I say this as a former LL. Your LL will have to sue her building for causing her losses, but that is not your problem.
posted by Dashy at 2:11 PM on May 15, 2019

For those worried about the tip hazard of water coolers, bottom loading water coolers like this are a thing and are probably much safer with a kid around.
posted by mosst at 3:00 PM on May 15, 2019

And, I'm not sure if you're interested in logistical ideas like this, but: do you know any other parents of similar-aged kids who might be interested in a in-home childcare arrangement in their home? I'm imagining something where perhaps you watch both kids for that period of time in their home, or if they're also a SAHP, maybe you hang out together/trade off childrearing. Going to libraries and pools and such as much as possible is good, but having a second "home base" would be much better.

Also, if you were at all thinking of planning a family vacation (maybe even an extended one if there's someone suitable you could stay with), this may be a good time to schedule one.
posted by mosst at 3:11 PM on May 15, 2019

Thanks a bunch folks.
Called lawyer (bar referral) not incredibly helpful...
In email negotiations with landlord
We shall see
Looking into extended visit with my folks to alleviate some of the time of the project.
Hope to know wtf is going on by project start on Monday :-/
posted by PistachioRoux at 12:21 PM on May 16, 2019

What is the housing association saying? Have they made any statement? Are there owners who live in the building? Are they getting a break on association dues for the inconvenience?

If the bar didn't give you a decent referral for a tenants rights lawyer, try again and then get another referral from a local tenants rights organization. Try searching "tenant rights [your county]".

OTOH, you have to think about the long-term relationship here, too. Do you plan to stay in this spot for years? Then it might be worth easing up on any demands. Me, I'd be looking to move if the landlord refused to offer any assistance, and trying to avoid signing a yearly lease, if possible, until I found a new place. But moving is such a pain, so....

No matter what happens, never withhold any amount of rent unilaterally. Make sure your every move is run by a housing law professional first.
posted by mediareport at 1:23 PM on May 17, 2019 [1 favorite]

Ok we're staying/signing lease, getting a rent abatement, and me and kiddo are going to visit family for an impromptu extended vacay.

What a hassle, but it could be worse.

Thanks for all the advice :D
posted by PistachioRoux at 3:34 AM on May 18, 2019 [3 favorites]

Yay! This is an absurd situation that totally deserved a rent abatement. I want to ask how much the landlord coughed up (landlords generally hate coughing anything up), but understand if you don't want to share.

But I'd also understand if you did decide to share, so: how much of a rent abatement were you able to get?
posted by mediareport at 8:36 PM on May 18, 2019

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