Who’s responsible for water damage depends on cause and severity. Tenants are responsible for water damage they cause. Landlords are responsible otherwise, but they don’t usually have to act on minor damage. There has to be a threat to health and safety.
State Standards for Water Damage
Most states don’t cover water damage specifically in the law, with rare exceptions like New York and Texas. Landlord responsibility for leaks and water damage usually depends on how strict state plumbing requirements are.
Specific statewide plumbing requirements usually require plumbing in “good and safe working order.” This is a stricter standard than basic health and safety. In practice, however, water damage usually requires repairs long before any threat to the good working order of plumbing.
In general, landlords must fix water damage which affects multiple units or is otherwise not restricted to a single tenant’s misconduct. Landlords often can’t refuse to repair water damage. Moisture destabilizes structures and leads to serious habitability problems like mold or pest control issues.
Consequences for Failure To Fix Water Damage
Landlord failure to fix water damage as required is a housing violation. State laws vary widely, but if a landlord doesn’t fix water damage after proper notice from the tenant, the following remedies often are available:
- Forcing compliance via court order
- Suing the landlord for costs of the violation (monetary damages)
- Reporting the landlord to housing authorities
- Ending the lease and moving out (not an option in some states)
It’s often also legal for a tenant to contract for repairs and deduct from the rent, but the deductible amount may be too low to cover costs.