Poopdrops keep fallin' on my head...
April 26, 2008 6:51 PM   Subscribe

What can I do to prevent a toilet falling through my ceiling and crushing me, and how do I finagle the end of this (literal) mess?

For the past six years, I've lived in a medium-sized apartment building owned by the most wonderful family of landlords ever. They are very responsive, see me often, and do everything themselves. As they built the building themselves 50 years ago, they are very close with all of their tenants, some of whom are older and have lived here for many years. The building is in very good condition for its age.

The lady upstairs from me apparently has some unspecified... problems... going to the bathroom, and she has made various mechanical modifications to her toilet to make it run in a way more suited to her needs. This means that the bathroom ceiling above MY toilet cracks and leaks. It hasn't been a huge deal thus far, but it certainly looks bad, and so I tell my landlords about it so I won't get charged myself. They very kindly come in and plaster over it, thank me profusely for letting them know, and very kindly ask the lady to quit doing whatever she's doing, whether it's messing with the tank or simply gripping the toilet so hard while she goes. (I can only imagine how embarrassing it must be for both her and the landlords to have a pooping problem affect an apartment. Yikes.)

And she says she's sorry, and she stops doing it.

And then she starts again, and it gets worse, and they have to come over and plaster it again. Which they did maybe three weeks ago.

And ten minutes ago I was sitting on the loo reading my New Yorker and felt drops on my shoulders, and here we are again with a cracking, bubbling, brown, blistering, DRIPPING ceiling. It was perfectly fine yesterday apart from a few minor cracks, but I shouldn't have to deal with that shit. In fact, if nothing is done about this, literal shit will probably come through my ceiling.

I know that it is my landlords' responsibility to deal with this lady, but this is getting ridiculous. I can't help but think that the structural integrity of the ceiling can't be that great if it is continually subject to water damage and replastering. Furthermore, this lady is clearly not listening to them, as the problem only seems to be getting worse.

I really, really, really don't want it to get worse.

Any ideas as to ways I could get away from this situation or at least maybe have some leverage? I don't want to exploit their niceness, but I also don't want a ceiling that drips bathroom water on me.
posted by Madamina to Human Relations (21 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
First, you probably don't need to worry about the structural integrity of the ceiling just from this. Even if all the plaster washed away in a flood you still should be looking at a wood joist ceiling with a wood subfloor on top of it.

Second, this needs to be resolved at the apartment above. If you're getting leaking water it probably means the plumbing itself needs to be looked at - either the drain or something as simple as the toilet valve. The landlords need to get up there and figure out what she's doing and the problem it's causing and come up with a solution.

Third, just because it's brown doesn't mean much - pretty much any water coming through an old ceiling is going to be brown just due to the dirt and old materials in the ceiling.

Lastly, perphaps you should wear a hat in the bathroom from now on.
posted by true at 6:57 PM on April 26, 2008

I think you should alert tour landlords in the same spirit of cooperativeness that you've expressed here. I once had something similar happen, except I'd made no modificatios and my tolit floor prety much collapsed on the tenant below me. It ended up in court (me against the landlord) and was just an ugly mess all around that could have been, probably, avoided.
Bottom line, it won't go away, it will almost surely get worse. So with charity towards the lady above you, deal with it soon.
posted by dawson at 6:58 PM on April 26, 2008

I'd demand the landlords to get a professional plumber to look at the state of the upstairs toilet, and even a general contractor to pull-down the ceiling drywall and assess the integrity of the floor/ceiling joists. You literally shouldn't have to put up with that sh*t. Check your lease for the landlord responsibility as well.
posted by hungrysquirrels at 6:59 PM on April 26, 2008

on non-preview, what true said above is...true. The floor won't collapse and the building won't fall. But the ceiling will easily collapse. And everyone will be w/o a toilet for a bit. Sounds like her toilet is leaking, which is not her fault. Faulty pluming after 50 years can be expected.
posted by dawson at 7:01 PM on April 26, 2008

Point out to the landlords that the plastering is not solving your problem and that you need this situation to stop. Then you might go on to suggest that the woman upstairs also seems to have an ongoing problem that's not being solved and suggest that there must be a way to give her facilities that meet her needs without causing leaks.

You may also want to suggest/request that the next time they fix your ceiling, they first make a hole big enough to inspect for water damage up there. If there is a problem there, they will be much more motivated to put a stop to this.
posted by winston at 7:03 PM on April 26, 2008

Any ideas as to ways I could get away from this situation or at least maybe have some leverage?

What true said. There's nothing that can be done from your apartment. Repeated re-plastering is a cosmetic fix. The problem is water, and the water is coming from upstairs. I can't imagine that your upstairs neighbor is actually the cause of the problem, unless she floods the bathroom every time she flushes. It's a plumbing problem, not a human relations one.

As for leverage -- your landlords sound very reasonable. Why do you need leverage? Explain to them that you're calling about this problem for the third (?) time, that it's not getting better, and that it's in EVERYONE'S best interests to fix it NOW, not later. I can't imagine that they won't understand that.

The only problem, it sounds like, is that they want to do everything themselves. My landlord is like this too. I find that it's much easier to get a professional in to fix something if I do the legwork for the landlord. Call around to some plumbers and get some quotes, then provide the landlords with some options. Maybe they have one they like to use, or maybe not. If they don't, you've cut out a lot of work for them and they'll appreciate it.
posted by mudpuppie at 7:06 PM on April 26, 2008

As above...but, in the meantime, ask if they could move you to another unit, if a space is available, and perhaps move your stuff for you...so that they can deal with whatever they need to do and not have you living in the middle of it.
posted by acoutu at 7:08 PM on April 26, 2008

what true said above is...true. The floor won't collapse and the building won't fall.

Not to be a fear-monger, but I am going to disagree with this; the floor not falling part, anyway. This is an old building, and if there has been constant water damage, the subfloor and joists could indeed be rotting to the point that there is an issue with structural integrity. And it could be compounded depending on the upstairs tenants weight.

I bought an older home that had this very problem in an upstairs bathroom. Things always felt a little wobbly, so I remodeled, and when I saw the amount of damage to the subfloor and joists, I was grateful that no one was hurt.

Now, is it likely that the toilet and occupant will crash down, cartoon-style, into your bathroom? No. But is it possible that something could give way, causing considerable damage and possible injury? Yes.

Your landlords are nice, and so are you. But this doesn't mean either of you are doing the right thing. In your case, the right thing is to make sure they know, in no uncertain terms, that you are living in an untenable situation. It may even be a violation of local health and safety codes. You can't live this way, and no one should have to. Tell them. The landlords are not doing the right thing, because they are not fixing the problem. If the upstairs tenant has special needs, they need to address it properly by making structural changes, not by putting a band-aid on it in the form of plaster and paint on your ceiling.

As a (hopefully) nice guy myself, I know how terribly intimidating and terrifying it can be to have to actually confront someone about an unpleasant matter. But sometimes, it just has to be done. There is no other way. Be bold. Be firm. You don't have to be "not nice." Just be polite and let them know you can't possibly live like this any more. Perhaps you can request they move you to another apartment in the building if they can't fix the problem satisfactorily.
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 7:17 PM on April 26, 2008

My girlfriend's been going through something similar for over a year now, and has had the bathroom redecorated once already after the entire ceiling caved in. Four months later, the mould reappeared. She's had the local council serve repair orders on the landlord upstairs to force him to repair the bathroom. Are similar options available in the US? They were certainly the most effective route here.
posted by bonaldi at 7:29 PM on April 26, 2008

We had a situation where this happened to us, but we were the upstairs neighbor (though with no known toilet usage weirdnesses). The wax disk had decayed in our case and when we had a party or when the toilet was flushed more than usual, it would overwhelm the remnants and leak into the downstairs neighbor's.

It was toilet water and it was brown. Nasty for everyone involved, but after it happened more then once the landlord called a better plumber than he usually uses who fixed it right away.
posted by bottlebrushtree at 7:31 PM on April 26, 2008

it probably isn't so much your upstairs neighbor's fault as it is the pipes. tell your landlords that they will have to get a plumber in. document the problem, and (expressing tremendous regret) let them know that if it doesn't get fixed soon, you'll have to take legal measures and/or request their financial assistance in breaking your lease and finding other housing.
posted by thinkingwoman at 7:39 PM on April 26, 2008

Just from personal experience, I might be hesitant to believe that landlords if they blamed the lady above. Demand a plumber inspect it.
posted by melissam at 7:59 PM on April 26, 2008

I'll second bottlebrushtree's experience with the wax ring. It's a very cheap fix, it just takes a little work as the toilet has to be removed to replace the ring.
posted by Yorrick at 8:50 PM on April 26, 2008

It's more than likely the wax flange that the seals the tiolet to the drain. This is literally a $3.00 part and about half an hours labor. It's not fun, but it is VERY easy. Tell them to replace this right away, replastering without address the problem is a waste of time and money

all they need to do is unbolt turn off the valve and disconnect the plumbing, losen the two flange bolts that hold tiolet to floor and lift the tiolet off. scrape off the old remaining wax from tiolet and flange, press the now one in place, and put the toilet back on flange. then snug up the bolts, and reconnect the plumbing . it really is that easy !

good luck
posted by Mr_Chips at 8:57 PM on April 26, 2008

Mr_Chips: it's not quite that easy IF the subfloor and possibly joists are wet rotted and need replacing.
posted by artdrectr at 12:13 AM on April 27, 2008

I agree with bottlebrushtree and MrChips.
I replaced the wax ring myself recently and I do not consider myself a do-it-yourselfer.

See http://www.ronhazelton.com/howto/Toilet_Replacement.htm

Unless the floor structure needs renovating, this should do the trick. A wax ring is $6.00 at Home Depot or Lowes.

Good luck!
posted by lungtaworld at 5:47 AM on April 27, 2008

Having rebuilt two bathrooms in a house that had this problem when we bought it, it is almost certainly caused by the seal, and folks are right--it _might_ be a simple fix for anyone who's handy at all, or for a plumber/handyman. That's really the first step they should take, right away, and there's a good chance that will stop the leakage.

A word of caution, though. If the leak is as bad as this sounds, it's also possible that the top of the "soil" pipe has rotted out. Taking the toilet off may mean that the damaged pipe needs be addressed before it can all be put together, and it may be why they're reluctant to address. It can definitely be done--there are PVC replacement rings that you can basically jam into the top of the pipe and get a clean fit--but that can mean that the toilet sits an inch higher off the floor, and you need to build up the floor underneath it.

The possibility of structural damage to the building, though, is totally separate. When we moved into our house, we took out the entire sub-floor and ceiling sections under both bathrooms, so there was nothing but the joists. The joists themselves were in OK shape--you could see where they had been affected a bit, but they were sound. The floor itself, though, was completely rotted through. Between the joists and the standpipe, there wasn't much chance of the toilet falling through the floor, but the toilet was never going to form a good seal with the wax ring again until the floor was re-built.
posted by LairBob at 6:51 AM on April 27, 2008

All good advice here but I just want to thank you that I cannot get the song "Poopdrops keep fallin' on my head" out of MY head. :)
posted by monarch75 at 12:28 PM on April 27, 2008

They just plaster over it and they blame it on the lady's unspecified pooping problem? Okay, they may be nice people, but they're either remarkably naive about owning property, or they're more pleasant than they are actually nice. Because this is a stupid way to maintain property. They need to call a plumber. Start nagging.
posted by desuetude at 6:27 PM on April 27, 2008

This sounds like a wax ring problem to me, too. Unfortunately, it sounds like an ongoing problem so you could be looking at some rotting subfloor. Your landlords need to take care of the heart of the problem ASAP before the floor joists themselves start to get mushy because, if you think replacing subfloor sucks, try reinforcing bad joists. They need to get a plumber or a general contractor in there to take a look upstairs. I think a general contractor might be a better bet as they are more likely to take action on problems beyond plumbing. It's highly unlikely that the toilet is going to come down on you, joists and the plumbing would stop the toilet, but having waste water coming down is so flippin' gross I have to go wash my hands to set my mind at ease.
posted by Foam Pants at 6:57 PM on April 27, 2008

there may also be a leak (if the upstairs toilet is a 'two piece' meaning the tank is a separate piece from the bowl) between the cistern (where the clean water sits prior to a flush) and the bowl. the cistern usually sits on a gasket made of rubber (or similar material) and that may have failed.

i speak from experience as a property manager and from dealing with bathrooms on upper floors. the bathroom i had to repair was a problem inherited when i bought the building and i didn't notice it until i was working on something else and noticed the subfloor had been severely damaged by water. it is likely that if the upstairs toilet leaks in the fashion you describe, that not only is the toilet leaking but the subfloor (the boards under the tile or vinyl flooring you see) is rotten or water damaged enough that water flows through.

kindly suggest that your landlord start by following the excellent instructions given above about replacing the wax seal. while the toilet is out of service for that, they should then inspect all parts of the toilet, and while the toilet is up, they should inspect the surrounding flooring underneath it. you can phrase it to them as "i want to help insure the integrity of your building because I know you take good care of problems" as a way to have them put their energy into truly solving the problem, not just patching the end result of a potentially much bigger problem.

good luck!!
posted by kuppajava at 8:56 AM on April 28, 2008

« Older alarmclock calendar   |   Where's my disk space? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.