Apartment water pressure is abysmal - options?
June 29, 2022 5:33 AM   Subscribe

I rent the third floor of a multi-family house that was converted into a multi-unit apartment. The water pressure is absolutely terrible. What can I do about this?

(state of NY) We're talking literally zero water for periods of a time, and just now I went to wash my dishes and walked away because I couldn't due to the low flow. The occurs frequently. I just measured the flow from my sink at <1 L/min or <0.25 gpm (def not up to plumbing code). Other times it is fine, but it's entirely dependent on the water usage of the people living below me. I suspect the non-infrequent periods of literally zero water are when the pressure is low enough that the water literally can't pass up the pipes from the second floor of the house.

I rent. One of the advantages of that would be my landlord is ostensibly supposed to do something about this, however I have interacted with my landlord literally once past my initial application and that's essentially been the case for the other tenants as well as far as I know. I live in a very desirable area in the city which my rent is on the low end for the location (approx 20% cheaper than similar in the area). I'm afraid that by asking my landlord to do something about this they'll raise the rent. It's also not a spectacular time to be looking for a new rental now.

What options/protections do I have, either legally or plumbing? I could try replacing the shower head with one designed for low pressure applications, but that's not going to help at all when I turn the shower knob or go to get a glass of water from my kitchen sink and no water comes out.

This is not a sudden recent development, so it's not like there was some leak that happened overnight.
posted by ToddBurson to Law & Government (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Is the apartment a legal conversion under local or state law?
posted by parmanparman at 5:43 AM on June 29

Response by poster: @parmanparman: Yes, this is a legal conversion, not a "renting a loft above someone's garage and the city doesn't know about it" situation.
posted by ToddBurson at 6:06 AM on June 29

Best answer: I mean, you can't fix this without bugging your landlord. But also it's quite possible that a large part of the reason your rent is on the low end is because you DO NOT HAVE RELIABLE RUNNING WATER.

This could be a pretty simple fix for your landlord, like, there is a valve somewhere that's not open all the way. Or it could be a super expensive one, like they didn't put the right size pipes in when they did the conversion or existing pipes are corroded and need to be replaced.

I would start by letting your landlord know that you don't always have running water (which is obviously a code violation and would allow you to get out of your lease immediately - you can mention that part or not) and ask them to have a plumber come out and look at it.

Also what's your lease situation? Are you month to month or do you have a defined term lease?
posted by mskyle at 6:14 AM on June 29 [6 favorites]

Plumbing wise, this could be worked around by installing water pressure booster pump, plus optionally a pressure tank. The pressure tank size would determine how long you have water pressure when there's none coming up to you. Cost is in the area of $200-$500, plus probably an hour of a plumber's time.

It could get complicated if you have different rooms that are fed by different pipes coming from downstairs. Might need multiple pumps then, or larger changes to the plumbing.
posted by joeyh at 6:44 AM on June 29

Response by poster: @mskyle: I am in a month-to-month. I figured this is something I'd have to involve my landlord if I wanted it resolved, I'm just looking for a feel of what kind of cans of worms I might be opening. A lot of that would be related to the plumbing I suppose, depending on the potential cost of the fix. The other time I interacted with my landlord was when the boiler exploded and I imagine that was a costly fix. The rental market is pretty rough where I live, and I am about to go back to school as a non-college-age adult with fixed income that would make moving during that period extremely difficult so if I were to move it would have to be pretty soon. I guess the main thing I'm afraid of is my rent being raised (it hasn't been in the multiple years I've been living here) without my water problem actually being solved and my involving the landlord just making the entire situation worse. Perhaps I've known too many people with nightmare landlord stories from spending time in nyc. I couldn't necessarily do a "Fix the water or I'm moving out" in this market I think, even though before I took this unit it was on the market for a long time due to some other annoyances like room dimensions.

@joeyh: I live in a studio with a separate kitchen which is adjacent to the bathroom, so I'm no plumber but I imagine that means it would all be fed from downstairs at the same location. If the cost were on the order of <1>
(Don't mean to threadsit, just providing some potentially relevant context)
posted by ToddBurson at 7:07 AM on June 29

Do you have access to an outside faucet you can turn on to check the pressure from the city? Water pressure is typically pretty high, so 3rd story (what? ~30 ft in the air?) shouldn't be effected too much, but the pipes could be dramatically undersized to support 3 separate tenants, so if 1st and 2nd are using water intensively at the same time as you, there might be nothing you could do. Your landlord would need to install an appropriately sized input pipe from the city for 3 apartment units.
posted by The_Vegetables at 7:51 AM on June 29

Best answer: I faced low water pressure last year, to the point where my washing machine wouldn't work and I couldn't shower. Here are some things that won't help with the pressure, but will help narrow down the problem so you can get a more accurate sense of what will help the pressure.

1 - Create a water pressure map of all the faucets in the house, not just your studio. Is the pressure low just on your floor? Is it low everywhere in the building? And -- critically -- check the basement (if there is one), or the very first faucet after the water pipe enters the house from the street. Most plumbing installs will have a faucet within a few feet of the water shut-off valve. Test that pressure. Is it low there?

2 - If the pressure is low at the first faucet after the water shut off, have a quick chat with any next-door neighbors. Is their pressure also low?

3 - If the pressure is low at multiple houses, call the water department and ask if they can test the pressure at your homes. Having multiple homes with low pressure will put the burden more on them to flush the line. Plus you also may now have a reading on the pressure for your specific house, to use with the landlord if needed.

4 - If the water pressure is low for your whole house and no others on the street, it could again be an issue with the water main, but the water company might not be as quick to flush the line, since the possibility it's old pipes (from the curb to the house) goes up. Those pipes are, in most places, the responsibility of the homeowner/landlord to maintain.

5 - If the water pressure is spotty throughout the house, consider hiring a plumber for a consult. You could defray the cost by sharing the expense with everyone. But ideally this consult would give an expert opinion on the lack of pressure and what to do about it. This you could present to the landlord in a kind of win-win way.

6 - If the water pressure is low just for you, that's also helpful info to solving the problem, but leaves you as a lone voice in fixing the problem. In your shoes - concerned about retaliation but obviously needing water - I'd probably pay for the fix myself (assuming it was reasonable and affordable) and then take it out of rent. But I'd bundle a few friendly messages about the lack of pressure with other things ("Rent check's in the mail. And there's still no water pressure. Any sense of when you can take a look?"). If there's no response, try to put on a voice of "Hey, just gonna go ahead and do the right thing to take of the house. I've hired a plumber to fix the pressure so there's water and I'll take it out of future rent. This will be on x date. Lemme know if you have any questions!" This approach documents your attempts to notify and get attention, and also to fix. But it depends on your cash flow and the cost of the actual fix.

* I'm not familiar with NY specifics on landlord or water issues, so my suggestions are more of a general approach.
posted by cocoagirl at 7:59 AM on June 29 [5 favorites]

I found a video (finally) - input line is probably 3/4" to 1" for a normal home - a 1" that provides 9 gallons per minute. A duplex should be 1 1/4" inch - 16 gpm. A 3 family 1 1/2" line that would provide 25 gallons per minute at a run of 50 feet.
posted by The_Vegetables at 7:59 AM on June 29

The first apartment I lived in had this problem. I discovered several years later that it took several lawsuits from a tenants rights organization and intervention from the city in order to get the landlord to fix it.
posted by straw at 8:01 AM on June 29 [3 favorites]

Another thing would be to try your water in the middle of the night, or some time when you think your neighbors would be asleep and not using any water. If it's still bad, you should take a video and show your landlord.
posted by The_Vegetables at 8:57 AM on June 29 [1 favorite]

Part of being in a desirable area is the density of services. If I were in this situation and looking to avoid rocking the boat I would look into pricing out bottled water delivery, or a local gym.
posted by zenon at 11:10 AM on June 29 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Any new tenant is going to have the same problem, so it is in their interest to fix this. It is also a code violation to not have running water in most places. I think you are letting your fear of the power imbalance talk you out of making a simple request. Even a shitty landlord probably won't retaliate just for asking for a repair.

We can't know for sure how this absentee landlord will react, but not asking for repairs isn't the right way to stay off their radar. If you don't feel secure enough now, start saving up money to cushion the blow of a rent increase or move and then ask for a fix. You deserve running water.
posted by soelo at 11:26 AM on June 29 [1 favorite]

Also there are some honest and forward thinking landlords who want to be notified of problems if only because repairs can prevent further damage (like if your pressure problem is a pressure valve that is about to blow spending $500 now could save the building being flooded).
posted by Mitheral at 5:34 PM on June 29

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