Do I have to deal with this water leak?
November 24, 2006 9:59 AM   Subscribe

What constitutes normal water damage/leakage in an old house? Is there a way to convince my otherwise very responsive landlord that my flooded bedroom is not, in fact, normal?

Last night, my upstairs neighbor's bathroom flooded, and caused a lovely shower in my bedroom. Several buckets later, the problem has been contained and the landlord has been reached, but I can't help but feel that I'm being played for a fool, here.

My landlord is very responsive and nice, if a little flaky, and I don't really have a lot of complaints about him, nor do I want to be rude to him in any way. But when I explained to him what happened, he told me that there's really nothing he can do except to paint over the water stains on my bedroom ceiling. He told me that "water finds its own path," and that the flooding in my bedroom is just something I'm going to have to deal with if and when it happens. Yes, it's an old house, but is he right? Can't this sort of thing be caulked or fixed in SOME way? What can I reasonably demand from him?

Some of the information here helps, but I am not entirely sure that I am within legitimate rights to ask for repairs.
posted by timory to Home & Garden (14 answers total)
Why is it supposed to happen on an ongoing basis? What caused your upstairs neighbor's bathroom to flood?
posted by grouse at 10:11 AM on November 24, 2006

I live in an old industrial loft building. Pour a glass of water on the floor upstairs and I can fill a glass down here. Nothing can be done about stopping that without extensive and disruptive renovations.

We work it like this: try not to spill water. If you do, come over and clean it up. If something is damaged by flooding you caused, replace it, because a radiator was implicated.

I have replaced books downstairs and had my answering machine replaced by the upstairs neighbor. When my laptop was destroyed, the landlord applied his insurance to replace that.

I keep irreplaceable items like rare books in plastic bags. I keep my computer under the table. My neighbors have been informed of the price and location for particularly expensive items that I have. Written notification for these kinds of items would be a good precaution.

I just traded three days babysitting for for some ceiling stains I caused downstairs.

I have been informed that should I cause a leak that makes it down to the clothing store on the ground floor, I might be liable for $50,000 or more in damages.
posted by StickyCarpet at 10:13 AM on November 24, 2006

oops, that radiator had to do with the laptop.
posted by StickyCarpet at 10:14 AM on November 24, 2006

Of course something can and must be done to stop the leaks. There should not be one drop of water go to the floor below. The plumbing needs to be repaired, plain and simple. If it was an accident then the one causing the leak should clean it up or pay for it to be cleaned up. That is the most "lame" excuse I ever heard. "Water finds its own path." Duh! His job is to intercept the path and stop it from doing that.
StickyCarpet - that is ridiculous to be threatened with $50 grand for repairs. Who owns the place? Do you have renters insurance? To put things is plastic bags is beyond the pale. If you put up with it then you deserve it. You did not say how the water gets through the floor. Don't you have floor tile? Is there a vent in the floor? Do some detective work and find out what is causing it and fix it. There IS a fix.
posted by JayRwv at 10:31 AM on November 24, 2006

What constitutes normal water damage/leakage in an old house?

None. Zero. I'm with JqyRwv: if the owner of the building would prefer not to seal everything up tight, then that is their problem, not yours.
posted by solid-one-love at 10:38 AM on November 24, 2006

Response by poster: so if it's his problem and not mine, what is supposed to be getting done, here?
posted by timory at 10:52 AM on November 24, 2006

Response by poster: i'd also like to point out that the plumbing may be old, but it isn't the immediate cause of the ceiling shower. the toilet most likely overflowed. there aren't any leaks on a day to day basis.
posted by timory at 10:54 AM on November 24, 2006

Regardless of how it happened it is in his best interests to remove the wet plaster and replace it after letting the wood dry out. There is a very severe problem called MOLD that could easily destroy the building (by making it inhabitable)
posted by Gungho at 11:35 AM on November 24, 2006

The reason I am willing to work with the situation is because my rent is way under market. If the flooring was upgraded, along with a few other things that need it, my rent would likely more than double.

Renter's insurance is my option and a decison to be made after weighing my finances and risk tolerance.

Leaks happen beacuse a guest put something ridiculous in the toilet, or due to fish tank filling and plant watering mishaps.

The biggest risk of damage is posed by a rupture in the washing machine intake water hose. I really should put an emegency automatic shutoff on that, but again, it's time and money vs risk tolerance.
posted by StickyCarpet at 11:37 AM on November 24, 2006

UN inhabitable?
(Flammable or inflammable? Potato or potatoe?)
posted by Gungho at 11:37 AM on November 24, 2006

It would be possible (but take a lot of work and be expensive) to make a house water proof from floor to floor, but a huge majority of structures aren't built this way. What happened in your house is completely normal when there is a leak. When water starts pooling up on your upstairs neighbor's floor (your ceiling), it is going to seep between floor boards and where the wall meets the floor and onto your ceiling, then start flowing out any cracks or seeping through your ceiling.

If the leak is being caused by your upstairs neighbor (they overflowed the bathtub or something), there isn't much your landlord can do besides evicting them. If it was caused by something like a pipe bursting or your landlord's negligence, the landlord should probably try to compensate you for your inconvenience. It is just one of the negatives to having upstairs neighbors, but it should happen very rarely.
posted by Sirius at 12:50 PM on November 24, 2006

One of the easiest things you (or the landlord) can do to prevent the worst upper-story leaks is to purchase a washing machine drain pan. It's a shallow pan that is larger than the washing machine - the washer sits in it and there's a pvc drain line to the outflow pipe. If something goes horribly wrong (busted water hose, etc), the pan should contain the worst of the spillage.
posted by Aquaman at 2:25 PM on November 24, 2006

Get photos of the ceiling and any damage. Make duplicates. Send then, via registered mail, along with a letter elaborating the problems and why they affect the habitability of your apartment. Keep a copy of the letter. Registered mail is the best way to scare landlords into taking you seriously.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 4:47 PM on November 24, 2006 [1 favorite]

I don't understand. If this is an isolated incident (the toilet overflowing) what do you expect, long-term, from the landlord? He certainly could be expected to provide non-leaky pipes etc. but he can't protect against every single eventuality. Assuming that this doesn't happen again (in which case you should request he replace the upstairs toilet), what is the down side?

Buildings are not equipped with waterproof membranes between floors, so any large amount of water will cause a leak. It sounds to me like what your landlord was trying to say was "the water will find its way out--" thus implying that it's not going to be sitting in the ceiling causing mold. If you're concerned about that specifically, I'd ask him to have an inspection after a couple of months.
posted by miss tea at 5:31 AM on November 25, 2006

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