Anxious first-time renter and reporting apartment water issues
July 29, 2020 1:43 PM   Subscribe

First time renter and noticed not long ago that when I washed the dishes with running water (I often washed them in small bursts to conserve), the floor got very wet, wetting the mat I kept there and I needed to mop things up. Then it got worse. I'm anxious about reporting this and need some tips on how to handle it all.

I'm a first-time renter, and I've been living month to month (no on-paper lease) for about 7 years in a tiny basement studio. No issue and things have gone well with the landlord in that time. I have to communicate anything complex through a translator.

I recently noticed, after moving some things around, and washing the dishes there was a leak on the floor. My mat became pretty wet and I tossed it. I later, after moving more things around, noticed that there looks to be water damage and then a short time later, when putting an appliance away, noticed mold growing under the kitchen area sink/cabinets.

I have been seriously depressed and anxious and live with PTSD and chronic illness and a lot of my cleaning got tossed by the wayside, especially after falling and injuring myself. So, during this current pandemic time, I've still been struggling with the above, but constantly home and mostly without work. I have been paying rent consistently and will be able to keep doing that, so I'm not starting from a bad space.

My floor is dingy and I've been struggling to clean it, though I did reduce about 85% of the clutter in here. Things just need organizing. My plan was to get a one-time cleaning from some place and hopefully be able to get things together enough to maintain myself.

But then I noticed the leak and in a very short period of time after that, the wall damage and then the white mold.

I'm already living with serious anxiety and I have the "I don't want to get in trouble' scared kid feeling inside. I don't know how to handle this. But I know I have to report it and time is of the essence. I'm still considering having a cleaner in here but I've been afraid since I'm on an immunosuppressant.

Essentially - how should I handle this situation?
Any tips or a script to follow?
What should I even expect from reporting all this? How does this go? How long does this take to fix and would I be on the hook or in danger of being kicked out (I am not in a position for that)?
Any way to assuage the anxiety?
posted by Fire to Home & Garden (15 answers total)
(Just one forgotten detail - Things have recently been about 90+ degrees and humid and this one enclosed room is an oven. I don't have air conditioning, just a big fan, so I believe it's making things worse. In case this detail informs anything)
posted by Fire at 1:47 PM on July 29, 2020

Relax, you didn't do anything wrong and this problem is most likely a 20-minute fix by a plumber.

This happened to us several months ago. Like you, we found a slow leak underneath our kitchen sink, so we called a plumber. It turned out that the part that connects the opening in the bottom of the sink to the drain pipe underneath had corroded through and needed to be replaced. This part apparently lasts about 25 years.

Since you're renting, hiring the plumber should be your landlord's responsibility. Start with getting the leak fixed. The plumber will not judge you for having a messy place. Once the source of moisture is gone, your landlord can consider the wall damage.

It's possible the mold will clear up by itself once the moisture is gone (though I am no expert on mold).
posted by heatherlogan at 1:59 PM on July 29, 2020 [2 favorites]

Just wanted to add, in the mean time, if you can put a bucket under the U-bend to catch the water when you use the sink, it will help prevent further damage.
posted by heatherlogan at 2:00 PM on July 29, 2020 [2 favorites]

Most landlords I know are grateful for being told asap about water damage since it's their investment that you're helping them protect. However, this is landlord-by-landlord.

Also, most landlords who have tenants who pay on time and mostly don't bother them think that those tenants are gold and are happy not to kick them out.

With the landlords I have had, who have been pretty reasonable people but not chummy, I have called and just said "there's a water leak around the kitchen sink somewhere that I can't pinpoint. Would you please ask a plumber to come look at it when it's convenient? It's causing a little bit of mold in this heat."

It's not an emergency and probably not a big deal.
posted by small_ruminant at 2:02 PM on July 29, 2020 [15 favorites]

We also had this exact problem right at the beginning of quarantine! Here are some steps you should take:
-- Get everything out from the cabinet under the sink.
-- Dry what you can, in that cabinet and along the nearby floor. Anything that appears wet.
-- Turn on the water for a few minutes. Peering into the cabinet, can you see where the leak is coming from? This will be helpful if yes but it's okay if aren't seeing a specific leak.
-- If you see where it's coming from: for now put a bowl or pan or something under that spot to catch leaking water. Now you can keep using your sink.
-- Whether you can see where it's coming from or not, don't put stuff back into that cabinet for now. The plumber will need it to be empty for them to have space to work.
-- Contact your landlord. Your problem is very straightforward: "My kitchen sink is leaking. I need a plumber." You will have answers ready to go: "Yes, I can see where it's coming from." or "I can't tell where it's coming from."
-- This is all super, super normal and it's your landlord's responsibility to deal with it.
posted by BlahLaLa at 2:04 PM on July 29, 2020 [8 favorites]

Under-sink leaks happen, and they often go unnoticed for ages because it's dark under there and often used for storage for rarely-used items. This is par for the course of property ownership - sinks, showers, and toilets are gonna leak, and sometimes do so secretly for a long while before it becomes obvious.

It is very unlikely you're going to get in trouble. The process of getting it fixed may be a hassle just in the normal way of accommodating repairpeople, but that's true whether you rent or own or are borrowing the place.

If you get a bright light down there and turn on the water, can you tell where the leak is? Is it coming from an obvious point of weakness like a connector or just flat-out hole in a pipe or hose? Is it a containable leak, as in somewhere you can put a bucket and catch the water in a container large enough that you only need to empty it once or twice a day? (Important sub-question: is it only leaking when you're running the water, or is it a full-time leak? I suspect the former by your description, but it might be an all-the-time leak that gets worse when you run the water.)

If you can catch the water and start doing that today, you can slow down and breathe a minute to get your bearings and finish at least necessary crisis cleaning before someone comes in. That will also let the damaged wood start to dry, which is generally good all around.

Then, whether you can wait a couple of days or not, I suggest getting phone video of whatever you have ascertained about the leak - this will probably spare you one extra diagnostic visit. We do this with our landlord all the time. In your case, he may not even need translation if you've got video - here's the leak, you can see it leaking.

You've been in this place for a long time, throwing you out would likely mean having to remodel before re-renting it, they could jack your rent up any time they want since you have no lease, so there is very little to be gained in getting rid of you. If this landlord has a history of being reasonable and easy to deal with there's little reason to expect that to change now.

You've had a great run - 7 years is a long time to never have a major malfunction. If he's not doing a lot of proactive upkeep, in fact, you're likely to come up against other issues. Depending on whether you can clean to a state of reasonable use (look, landlords and plumbers have seen some messes, as long as it's not a health risk just brace yourself to be secretly judged and move on) it might be a good idea to have him or the plumber just inspect the toilet and bathroom faucets to look for anything else that's on the verge of becoming a problem.
posted by Lyn Never at 2:15 PM on July 29, 2020

Just wanted to add another thing to my answer above: if you take the stuff out of the under-sink cabinet and you see where the leak is coming from, and it's not a terrible leak, it's okay to put a bowl under it and stop right there for now. If you can religiously empty that bowl when needed (could be once a day, or once a week or more or less), you can wait on having a plumber come in. With Covid, having a worker come into your place may be more than you can handle, and if you can stop any additional damage going forward, you're okay to do that.

(In our case, we have been able to do that -- turned out once we cleaned out the area, dried the wet spots, and left the cabinet doors open for several days to really let it air out, the leak was small enough that we can stop-gap it for now and wait until safer times to have a plumber in.)
posted by BlahLaLa at 3:56 PM on July 29, 2020

I’m hearing some anxiety (shame?) about the state of your place, and if that’s keeping you from calling in the repair, that’s not necessary. You don’t need to hire cleaners just to get a leak fixed. I get it—I say take an hour, throw whatever needs throwing into some garbage bags and clear a general path to the sink so you’re not so scared, then call it in. Landlords and repair people are used to seeing messes. You don’t get in trouble for a mess as an adult unless you’ve forgotten to tell us you’re hoarding-tv-show level buried in trash. Even then, the leak is normal wear and tear and that’s all the landlord or repair person will be looking at. If you can get a vid on your phone your landlord may not even want to inspect before sending their repair person.
posted by kapers at 3:59 PM on July 29, 2020 [1 favorite]

Small time landlord here.
I tell every tenant that moves in to not be shy about calling me if there is a problem, and I specifically mention under sink leaks.
If they call me soon, I have a leak to fix.
If they wait, I have a leak to fix, cabinet to replace, floor issues, etc. Does anyone live below you? Add fixing ceiling gyp board and paint, and an unhappy downstairs tenant.
Better for everyone if the landlord can fix it ASAP.
posted by rudd135 at 5:41 PM on July 29, 2020 [2 favorites]

Nthing to add that you sound like a good tenant, and your landlord will most likely grateful to you for reporting this issue promptly, and telling them about the knock-on effects clearly (including the mould) so they can put right any damage to their property rather than having it worsen over time.

As well as being their tenant, you're the custodian of their investment, and it's a positive thing for them that you're taking steps to make sure it's well cared for.
posted by penguin pie at 5:44 AM on July 30, 2020

I'm renting my house out while I live abroad. I tell my tenants to let me or my property manager know about anything right away. I am also a renter who deals with anxiety, so I see both sides of your problem. I would take a deep breath, jot down an outline of what you want to say, and give the landlord a call. You'll feel better having let them know, and they will appreciate being able to get on to the repair as quickly as possible.

Regarding the mess, I have had some really messy tenants. As long as the place wasn't being damaged, they paid their rent, they didn't make insane demands of the utilities, and they were willing to clean the place upon move out, I tried not to let a mess bother me.
posted by sincarne at 6:45 AM on July 30, 2020

You need a script? Here you go:

"Hello landlord. I just noticed a leak under the kitchen sink and I wanted to tell you right away so you can arrange to get it fixed. I am working from home right now so please let me know when a plumber will come by so I can be sure to let them in."

I would find it highly unlikely that you'd be on the hook for any damage caused by a leak in a kitchen pipe. That's one of those owning-a-property things that you just sort of understand as a landlord. This is not something you need to hang on to worry about. We are in the middle of a global pandemic and you have EVERYTHING going for you - you are a fully-paying tenant. Your landlord would probably do anything to keep you from leaving!
posted by juniperesque at 7:45 AM on July 30, 2020

Nthing that landlord should (and likely will!) be grateful that you're telling them about the leak.
posted by (Over) Thinking at 4:28 PM on July 31, 2020

A) you found a problem that is a serious one to the landlord, although one he never knew about but that could cost him a lot of money in repairs if it's not addressed now.
B) water leaks are common in multi family units so dont worry
C( you should tell him right away because it could damage the floor to the extent an accident could happen or the mold could make you sick.
D( it's not your fault he cant blame you so stop worrying
posted by The_imp_inimpossible at 2:46 AM on August 3, 2020

Just to close, you were all very helpful in getting me to pull it together and do it. The repair will be happening. Pandemic slight delay, but it doesn't seem like it's that complicated, so here's hoping the other side of it is more or less just peace of mind. Thanks!
posted by Fire at 2:56 PM on August 6, 2020

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