Water flowing down into my apartment: very bad or only sorta bad?
January 17, 2020 3:20 PM   Subscribe

Handy MeFites, halp! I rent a basement, and there's water coming down into my apartment (inside the wall, where the paint is now bubbling) and out on to the floor thanks to washroom renovations upstairs. Owner says don't worry. And yet, I worry.

The puddle is being fed by a trickle from under the kitchen cabinet. There's another puddle under the sink (definitely not from the pipes or sink, but a hole in some wood beams supporting the sink; they're flush with the wall.) The puddles have been forming, slowly, for a few hours. The landlord and contractor say it's fine and normal. I have no reason to think the owner is lying, but I'm also generally of the opinion that puddles don't really belong inside apartments, and definitely not inside walls.

But I also have next to zero knowledge about renovations to back that up, or to know how concerned I should be, if at all. Am I being a worrywart, or are they fucking up? Should I be worried about mould or rot or something?

posted by Mike Smith to Home & Garden (23 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Extremely worrisome! They should clean it up!

Check your lease and local laws re: water, water damage, mold and habitability.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 3:24 PM on January 17, 2020 [8 favorites]

Ahhh that’s not fine and normal. That’s bad and abnormal. It doesn’t have to lead to mold if it gets dried out ASAP. I wouldn’t rely on them to do it. I’d start taking measures myself.
posted by HotToddy at 3:31 PM on January 17, 2020 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Other than running a dehumidifier, which I'm doing right now, what other measures might there be?

To be clear the trickle now seems to have finally stopped, in case that makes a difference.
posted by Mike Smith at 3:36 PM on January 17, 2020

Why would that be normal? Water shouldn't be leaking from anywhere into your apartment.
posted by Young Kullervo at 3:40 PM on January 17, 2020 [6 favorites]

As a worst case scenario, it may be necessary to open the wall to dry out the drywall, plaster, or framing inside.

Any standing water has to come off the floor, and water on the wall has to be dried off. And whatever caused the leak in the first place has to be fixed.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 3:40 PM on January 17, 2020 [1 favorite]

Not fine or normal!

During installation of a washing machine, a little bit of water (like, 1-2 cups' worth) could spill and seep down into your apartment. It would drip for a little bit and then stop, and you could clean it up. That would be fine and normal. But a continuous, ongoing trickle? Enough to cause the paint to bubble? There is a LEAK up there somewhere, and if the owner is not an absolute idjit with no regard for their own property, they will need to fix it asap.

Keep hassling your landlord about it. Let them know if it starts actively flowing again. Tell them there seems to be a leak and it is not stopping. In the meantime, try to get a bucket under there to contain the damage, and try to dry off whatever you can. Once it stops, use a bleach solution to clean the wet areas, and keep using the dehumidifier to dry the area out and prevent mold/mildew.
posted by ourobouros at 3:40 PM on January 17, 2020

Response by poster: Just to be clear, it has stopped coming down, and a bucket isn't relevant since it was coming down inside the wall and reaching the floor that way. Which may make it better or may make it worse :) Supposedly it was related to removing the old bathtub, so maybe akin to the washing machine you mention, ourobouros.

This was a trickle, not a gush. Still, two puddles and the paint peeling seems... not great.

I'm only adding this clarification because I like the owner and don't want to overreact or potentially start a confrontation out of ignorance if it isn't necessary.

Should have taken shop class.
posted by Mike Smith at 3:53 PM on January 17, 2020

Document it with dated photos just in case you end up needing to show for later.... security deposit or anything else. You never know....

If you have a fan to blow on it along with the dehumidifier that will help drying.
posted by mightshould at 4:00 PM on January 17, 2020 [3 favorites]

dehumidifier to suck out any moisture in the air and a GREAT BIG LOUD FAN pointed at the affected area for at least 24 hours. can you sleep on a friend's couch while it dries?
posted by hollisimo at 4:10 PM on January 17, 2020 [1 favorite]

Make sure your documentation photos are sent to the landlord in a timestamped format.

“Hi Carl, just sending you pics of the water leak from the upstairs renovation. This is how it looks after 3 days. When we spoke today you had mentioned you weren’t concerned, but I just wanted to make sure you had seen these! Would you like me to do anything?”

Leave an open ended question to make sure it’s clear he DIDN’T want you to do anything.

And try to get him to reply on the text thread again in the next few days to make sure it’s documented that he saw your note.
posted by nouvelle-personne at 4:11 PM on January 17, 2020 [6 favorites]

Clear out anything you want to keep. When I had something like this happen, parts of the ceiling fell in, and had to be re-plastered later.
posted by zadcat at 4:16 PM on January 17, 2020 [4 favorites]

When I've had apartment floods, I've had to be out for weeks or months for them to repair the water damage, and that was after like, several hours of water, not DAYS. I'm not quite sure if you're at flood or not from this, but water leakage is nothing to blow off. Your landlord should be calling some company that will bring huge humidifiers to dry out the joint for days on end. Your landlord needs to be doing something RIGHT NOW. Mold is an extreme issue. Look for "water fire damage restoration" services near you, I had ServPro come in both times when it happened to me.

Also, yeah, clear out as much stuff as you can and find somewhere else to go if you can. Renters insurance will cover a hotel in cases like this if you have it (which is why I now have it).
posted by jenfullmoon at 4:27 PM on January 17, 2020 [2 favorites]

Not normal. Not good. I have personal experience with a landlord who took their time responding to a leak. It took about a day or so for the leak to turn into a hole in my ceiling. Same thing happened to my partner in his apartment. Except his landlord was on vacation in the Bahamas or something for a week and not listening to voicemail. In his case, the wait was longer so the hole was much bigger and the destruction greater. I remember looking up and seeing the exposed wooden beams, now that all the plaster was, um, in pieces on the bathroom floor. It behooves them to deal with this problem before it becomes much more expensive to fix.
posted by thewrongparty at 5:23 PM on January 17, 2020 [3 favorites]

posted by supermedusa at 5:27 PM on January 17, 2020 [1 favorite]

If you don't have apartment insurance you should get it (make sure it covers water damage, as you're in a basement apartment.) Your landlord doesn't sound super on the ball. I had a landlord tell me that it was totally fine and normal for sewage to leak through the seams in my shower enclosure, as they were switching out a toilet upstairs. Some landlords will do and say anything to avoid a fuss or paying more money, even if it's sewage in their property's walls.

You want to get the area affected by leak to dry out as soon as you can before mold sets in. If the paint bubble is filled with water, pop it. Follow the advice above re: fans and a dehumidifier.
posted by Feminazgul at 5:48 PM on January 17, 2020 [1 favorite]

Chiming in to say that (1) this is not good at all, and (2) if you have a shop-vac or a wet/dry vacuum cleaner, that can go a long way towards cleaning up the puddles. Depends on just how much water there is—if there's a substantial amount, I'd go the wet/dry vacuum cleaner route. You can get one fairly cheaply from Home Depot or similar.
posted by un petit cadeau at 6:44 PM on January 17, 2020

The landlord and contractor say it's fine and normal.

Compared to what?

Fuck that noise. The landlord and contractor don't live in your basement. Document, document, document.
posted by flabdablet at 6:54 PM on January 17, 2020

Chiming in to say the exact opposite of everyone else. A slow leak while working on the plumbing is not a good thing but it’s not unheard of, and a one time trickle down the wall is going to leave water stains and very little else.

By all means document it, but a minor one time leak is not worth raising a fuss about.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 8:38 PM on January 17, 2020

This exact same thing happened to me. The owner of your place suspects it will cost at least a thousand dollars to fix this. They probably don’t have the funds to take care of it. Telling you not to worry about it and then doing NOTHING makes them unethical. Leaks don’t usually go away, they get worse, and it’s illegal for a landlord to continue to collect money from you for an unsafe living space that’s not up to code. Your reported the damage. The owner is now obligated to fix it. Send him photos and a written demand for repairs.

By the way—Google “implied warrant of habitability.” This requires your landlord to fix leaks. If they ignore your written request to do so, you can sue the sadsack for damages and/or move out without leaving notice.
posted by cartoonella at 9:33 PM on January 17, 2020

Take photos and post them. Not just for my curiosity :)
posted by amtho at 11:36 PM on January 17, 2020 [1 favorite]

If when they pulled the bathtub out two and a half gallons of water from a pipe went down the wall and there is not going to be any more water coming down you are fine.

If when they started renovations they left a bad connection dribbling you are in trouble.

There is a huge difference between those scenarios.

Moisture trapped inside the wall IS a problem. It causes mould and it causes structural damage. However, most houses have moisture trapped inside the walls if they are in countries that have significant difference between the outside temperature and the inside temperature because of condensation. What matters is how much moisture and how long. Negligible and brief amounts of moisture are usually okay and require maintenance on a schedule of decades not right away.

Consider the other conditions surrounding your tenancy there. First, how dry is it in the house overall? If you need to run a humidifier to prevent nosebleeds during the winter central heating season, you likely live in a house where the moisture in the walls dries out promptly enough that it's not setting you up for future mold induced respiratory problems.

If the landlord keeps decent care of the property, if the windows don't leak moisture, if the roof appears to get appropriate and timely maintenance you can potentially trust him to be looking after issues like moisture in a responsible fashion, and his assurance to not worry may be based on his experience.

Anyone who has either lived with kids, or lived in an apartment below them knows that the occasional flood is going to happen. Sometimes they over flow the bathtub, sometimes they flush a sneaker, sometimes they trip and drop a bucket of water, sometimes they bring a super soaker into the house. If those floods are a one time thing then an ordinary decently build house can handle having the water seep into the walls or the floor and then dry up over the next few days. Plumbing renovations are as bad as kids for causing floods because sometimes you have to take a pipe out and there is standing water in the pipe.

What you need to be thinking about is trends. If this is a one off, you and your building are going to be okay. If this is just the latest - or the first, you and your building are going to be under continuing stress.

Did your landlord contact you, or did you have to contact the landlord? If the landlord contacted you to let you know there was water coming down I would be pretty blase about the issue, whereas if I had to try several times to contact the landlord I would not.

How long has the water situation been going on? A day? Three days? An hour and a half? The longer the situation the more concerning. If it began at 8 AM and the trickle stopped by 11 AM it's probably just one of those unfortunate things, not something to worry about.

So ask your landlord what caused the flood. Get more information. Find out how much water was leaked or spilled. If the answer is "yeah, the pipe is capped off now," you can probably relax. If the answer is, "yeah, I gotta take the cast iron drains out all on the west side of the building, all six floors, gunna take most of the winter," then you are on potentially shaky ground.

Ask your landlord if there is anything he can do to ensure that the inside of the wall will dry properly. Make sure that there are conditions in that area that will dry the area out, so not rags on the floor to sop up any water that may seep out tomorrow, but exposed to the air with a heater or a fan if you can get one, positioned to keep the area warm. Leave the cabinet doors open for the foreseeable future except when you need to work in the area and they would be a hazard to your shins. Do this even when the inside surface of the cabinet is dry, as you are trying to dry out the inside of the wall behind the cabinet. Keep that up until it seems silly.

If plastering will have to be redone poking holes through it with a screw driver will enable someone to inspect as it will show if there is visible moisture inside or not, or worse if the plaster is mushy. It will also provide ventilation holes. If you ever have a leak coming through your ceiling rather than the bottom of the wall poking those holes is critical - it allows the water to come through without standing and soaking through, which is a safety issue and prevents the ceiling from crashing down.
posted by Jane the Brown at 5:25 AM on January 18, 2020

A bunch of newspaper does a pretty good job of soaking it up overnight or so.
posted by theora55 at 6:27 PM on January 18, 2020

Is it still leaking?
posted by Jane the Brown at 12:19 PM on January 24, 2020

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