Who Is Responsible For Plumbing Repairs In A Rental?

Tom Gaffey
by Tom Gaffey

A major plumbing issue can come out of nowhere and completely derail your day. It’s often bad enough that the issue even exists. If you are renting your apartment and a plumbing issue happens, you may have an even larger headache. You might be confused about what you are supposed to do when you are not the owner. Some might even wonder who exactly is responsible for the plumbing repairs in your rental?

The landlord is normally responsible for all plumbing repairs in a rental unit. There are laws that require a landlord to provide a habitable dwelling for tenants, which includes running water and operational plumbing. It is the tenants’ responsibility, however, to report any plumbing issues as soon as they arise. This helps prevent further damage to the dwelling.

There are a variety of plumbing issues that can arise in a home. The landlord is responsible for many of them, but not necessarily all. It is important to know the difference between necessary repairs and desired repairs. You also should know the tenant’s role and responsibility when plumbing issues arise.

When a Landlord Is Responsible for Plumbing Repairs

More often than not, the landlord is responsible for plumbing repairs in a living situation. The main reason for this is that it is a law. In all states, the landlord is required by law to provide a habitable living situation for all tenants.

Habitable living situations must include access to working water and plumbing and the house must have sound structural integrity. This means if the plumbing is out of whack or the water is not running properly, the landlord is legally obligated to fix the issue.

Laws are different, and often the landlord has up to 30 days to reply to a request. If it is an emergency or a health/safety issue, however, the issue should be handled immediately.

When A Renter Is Responsible for Plumbing Issues

Your landlord is typically responsible for most plumbing repairs in your rental. There are, however, some notable exceptions to this rule. A renter may be responsible for paying for some repairs, and is almost always responsible for alerting the landlord about any plumbing issues. Here are some common examples of when a renter is responsible for plumbing repairs.

The Renter Caused The Plumbing Issue

Clogged toilets happen. But there are some plumbing issues that can easily be avoided. If, for example, you haphazardly deposit trash into the toilet and flush it, you may be held liable for the repair. The same goes for pouring damaging chemicals down a drain that can ruin pipes. Being careless can end up being costly, so do your best to be mindful.

The Tenant Neglected To Report The Issue

There are many instances where a plumbing issue started as a landlord’s responsibility, but then the blame shifts. Normal and emergency plumbing issues are the landlord’s issues to fix. These problems can only be fixed when they are aware of the problems.

Renters are quick to tell a landlord about emergency problems like a flood or a terrible clogged toilet. Other problems can often go unreported for a long time. Take a small pipe leak as an example. The pipe may only slowly drip and cause little puddles. Over time, this little drip can get larger and can cause rot and mold.

What began as a very small problem can quickly become very expensive. You can be held responsible for some or all the repair costs if you neglect to inform your landlord of these major issues. Remember, plumbing repairs and damage caused by plumbing issues are not the same thing.

The Lease Says Otherwise

While your landlord must maintain a habitable environment for you, there may be specifics in the lease in regards to plumbing that you should be aware of. Such issues may include if the septic system must be pumped more than normal, or if a shower or toilet is damaged.

Necessary Repairs vs. Desired Repairs

Your landlord is responsible for maintaining working and safe plumbing in your home. This does not mean, however, that your landlord is required to perform every repair you instruct him or her to do.

For example, a toilet that is clogged and overflowing is a necessary repair. This issue prevents you from using the bathroom. It is also a sanitation issue that can cause disease-inducing bacteria. Lastly, it is a safety issue as flooding can occur.

Any time a plumbing issue can involve bodily harm, can affect safety or wellbeing it is a necessary repair. Not all repairs that tenants request are seen as necessary.

Perhaps a toilet makes a noise for a very long time after it flushes, or it has a weak flush. It is within the tenant’s rights to request that the toilet be improved. The landlord, however, may see this issue as non-essential.

The noise or the weak flush does not change your ability to use the restroom or affect safety, so it is more a “cosmetic” desire than a necessary repair. This is why you often hear of landlords putting “band-aid” solutions on problems. They make it work in the eyes of the law, while buying as much time as possible before having to fork out a lot of money for a major repair.

Know The Laws In Your State

Every state requires that a landlord provide a habitable dwelling for tenants. The definition of “habitable,” however, can vary significantly from state to state. If you are wondering if a specific issue is your landlord’s responsibility, look up your local laws.

You can also reach out to your local housing authority. If you live in a large city where these problems are more common, you may have more options. Many cities have specific organizations designed to guide renters in these exact circumstances.

What To Do When Your Landlord Won’t Fix A Plumbing Issue

It is your landlord’s duty to maintain a habitable living environment. This includes running water and plumbing that works and does not cause any potential harm to the tenant. These facts are laws your landlord should abide by. Getting your landlord to follow the law, however, may be more difficult than simply identifying the problem.

If you believe your landlord is responsible for a plumbing repair it is critical you take the correct steps and create documentation along the way.

  • Document The Plumbing Issue. Photo evidence and recorded dates and times of plumbing issues are critical. Showing when a problem started and the fact that you addressed it right away help limit your liability and move the process along quicker.
  • Send A Certified Letter. Certified letters, or even a professionally written email is helpful. Your landlord has a certain amount of time (often 30 days) to respond to your requests. Sending a time-stamped document holds the landlord accountable. 
  • Follow-Up. If the problem is not addressed in the appropriate window of time you should send a follow-up. The follow-up should list possible alternative solutions, which can include repairing it yourself and deducting it from your rent, or other options. 

Consult Higher Authority

You always have the option of contacting the department of housing or the department of health. If you go this route, be sure you have ample evidence. Also, be aware that this outcome may be favorable at first, but your landlord may not be keen to renew your lease.

You can also contact a lawyer if you think the issue requires one. Keep in mind that while the landlord may be responsible for the plumbing, it is not ideal to have lawyers involved. Not only will this create an adversarial relationship between the renter and landlord, but it can become unnecessarily costly.

Summing Up Who Is Responsible For Plumbing Repair

If you have a plumbing issue, the odds are the landlord should fix it. The renter should report any plumbing problems as soon as possible. This prevents them from having to pay for the problem. These fixes may take some time, but be sure to document and report any issues as soon as they happen.

Tom Gaffey
Tom Gaffey

Tom Gaffey is an expert writer who currently resides in Washington D.C. Tom has a passion for real estate and home improvement writing, as well as travel and lifestyle writing. He lived the last twelve years in Hawaii where he worked closely with luxury resorts and event planners, mastering his knowledge of aesthetics and luxury products. This is where he found his passion for home improvement and a keen interest in DIY projects. Currently, Tom resides in Washington D.C, and also working on his debut fiction novel.

More by Tom Gaffey