When a Pipe Bursts in an Apartment Who is Responsible?

It’s that time of year again, and for much of the U.S. the freezing weather has set in and many renters flock to warmer destinations to soak up some warmth. Some renters may unplug appliances and turn off the heat when they leave, but the latter could cause major issues if the temperature plunges while the renters are away. If a pipe bursts it’s a very real issue this time of year, and renters can take some simple precautions so they’re not left footing a very large repair bill. That’s right, the property manager will most likely bill the renter or take the repair expense out of the security deposit.

Why is a renter responsible when a pipe bursts? While the landlord must provide tenants with housing in habitable conditions, the tenant has an obligation to use electrical, plumbing, and ventilation facilities in a reasonable manner, and to neither deliberately nor negligently damage any part of the premises. If a tenant leaves the heating off during a cold spell it could be argued the renter did not take reasonable precautions against freezing pipes. Likewise if the renters don’t fill the tank with gas or oil and they run out, that too could qualify and cause a freeze.

Renters may expect that it is the responsibility of the property manager to pay for expenses due to fixing a burst pipe or for damages to the property, so it’s important that renters review contracts before a problem occurs. Remember that frozen pipes are not just a cold-climate issue. Homes that are in areas that are typically warmer may have pipes that aren’t properly insulated against frigid temperatures. And the weather, it is a changin’.

Property owners and managers should help educate tenants on the importance of preventing freezing pipes and how to mitigate the risk by following these three steps:

How to Prevent Frozen Pipes:

  1. Keep the heat on.If you or your tenant is leaving during the colder months set the thermostat above 50 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Allow faucets to drip.Allowing the faucet to drip can alleviate the pressure that can cause a pipe to burst.
  3. Keep the cabinets and interior doors open.This may sound odd, but pipes are often located in cabinets. With the cabinet doors open, heat from the rest of the house can better reach the pipes. Leaving interior doors open lets the heat flow better throughout the home, too!

Additional preventative measures that can be taken by property owners include the following:

Seal up cracks and holes. Make sure you seal up any interior or exterior holes located near pipes to keep the cold air out.

Add extra insulation. Pipes located in areas such as basements or attics may not have proper insulation. Pipes can be fitted with foam rubber or fiberglass sleeves to help decrease the chance of freezing pipes.

Apply heating tape. As a last ditch resort you can apply electrical heating tape to keep pipes from freezing. These products can be dangerous so make sure to follow the products’ directions and safety procedures.