Guest Authored by Alexander Krasuski
Freezing temperatures across the country have caused extensive damage this winter. Landlords and tenants alike need to know: who is responsible for the loss?
Check Your Lease Agreement
Frozen pipes destroy not only tenant personal property, but also the landlord's flooring, walls, and other areas of the leased premises.
Tenant Personal Property.
A professionally prepared lease agreement will often provide that the tenant is responsible for damage to the tenant's property, no matter how the damage is caused. Although state law varies, there is generally an exception to this contract provision when the landlord is legally negligent. One way a landlord could be negligent is if, after the landlord was notified about the frozen pipe, the landlord failed to take reasonable steps within a reasonable timeframe to prevent further damage.
If the lease does not provide who is responsible for damage to tenant personal property, then state-specific negligence and Landlord/Tenant law will apply.
Damage to the Leased Premises.
A professionally prepared lease agreement will often require the tenant to keep the unit heated to 60 degrees. If the pipes freeze, then under this lease agreement, the tenant may be responsible not only for their personal property but also the damage to the leased premises.
Even without a minimum heat provision, the lease may require the tenant to mitigate damage to the unit in the event of an accident. Under this type of lease, the tenant is required to take reasonable steps to prevent damage to the leased premises. This places the responsibility and liability on the tenant in the event of water damage from a burst pipe.
If the lease does not require the tenant to keep the heat to 60 degrees or mitigate damages to the premises, then state-specific negligence and Landlord/Tenant law will apply.
Check Your Renter's Insurance
If a tenant is liable under the lease, then their Renter's Insurance should kick in. Renter's Insurance not only covers tenant personal property, but also damage to the leased premises. Hopefully it doesn't take a frozen pipe to highlight the importance of Renter's Insurance. Proactive tenants should obtain a policy if they do not already have one. Similarly, prudent landlords will require in their lease that tenants carry Renter's Insurance.
If you are a landlord of a condo unit, check with your Association. Your building may have specific procedures for repairing damage in the common space between units.
Before the Next Freeze, Here's What You Can Do
You are not at the mercy of extreme cold weather events. Take these 3 steps to prevent burst pipes.
- Keep the heat set to 60 degrees, even if you will not be home.
- Turn your faucets on to a slow drip. Running water through the pipe will help prevent freezing.
- Open the cabinet doors under your sink. The residual heat of your home will warm the cavity.
Conclusion: If you need a professional to review your lease agreement, prospectively or during an evolving dispute, contact a member of Taylor English's Real Estate Group.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.