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Rental Property Water Damage - Seeking assistance

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Rental Property Water Damage - Seeking assistance

Postby darius1212 » Wed Jan 17, 2018 5:03 pm

Hi everyone,

​seeking assistance on the following matter:
I stay in a high-rise apartment in New Jersey. In the month of July'17, there was shower clogging in my bathroom which resulted in water overflow. We seen that the water did not travel from shower area -> bathroom floor -> living room but it happened internally beneath the walls / floor to the living room. There was water damage to the parquet wooden floor in the living room where the tiles had buckling but returned back to original state in 2-3 weeks. Management for the building came in and fixed the shower area clogging saying that shower clogging is our responsibility. Now per recent checks from a repair company there is mold on the living room floor and needs to be replaced to the amount for $XX,XXX for which the landlord is holding us responsible.
We have repeatedly told the landlord that shower clogging may be our responsibility, but the subsequent damage to the living room floor tiles is more of a construction defect that allowed water to travel internally and cause the damage. Landlord disagrees and says he has a legal right to hold us responsible for the damage and that we will have to pay for it

​Please provide me some guidance how to go about this issue.
​- What are my rights in this matter? How do I prove that the water has traveled internally due to some defect and not traveled from the bathroom floor onto living room?
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Re: Rental Property Water Damage - Seeking assistance

Postby TenantNet » Wed Jan 17, 2018 5:07 pm

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Re: Rental Property Water Damage - Seeking assistance

Postby darius1212 » Thu Jan 18, 2018 12:43 am

Thanks.. Changes made
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Re: Rental Property Water Damage - Seeking assistance

Postby TenantNet » Thu Jan 18, 2018 2:08 am

A few questions first... are you a tenant on a lease in this apartment? Do you have a current lease? Is this a regular rental, or is this a coop or condo? Is the apartment under any sort of rent regulation like rent stabilization?

What does the lease say about internal damages, or tenant-caused damages? Read the entire lease; it might be buried in fine print. When a landlord says something is the tenant's responsibility, in our experience and in many cases, it's simply not true. They might just want you to think that.

Do you know what caused the shower to clog in the first place? Was it simply some hair blocking the drain, or was it something in the drain pipes?

When did you take occupancy of the apartment? Do you think the problem might have started to form before you moved in?

Why are you telling the landlord that damages to the living room floor is a construction defect? Water traveling in a horizontal fashion is not necessarily a defect in construction. You don't know that unless you have had an engineer look at it. But also, the landlord does not know it either.

You need to assess the problem before jumping to any conclusions. Have you spoken to an attorney familiar with New Jersey LL-tenant law?
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Re: Rental Property Water Damage - Seeking assistance

Postby darius1212 » Thu Jan 18, 2018 9:08 pm

Thank you very much for your time and consideration

Are you a tenant on a lease in this apartment?
- Yes

Do you have a current lease?
- Yes

Is this a regular rental, or is this a coop or condo?
- Rental lease agreement of 1 year in a condo

Is the apartment under any sort of rent regulation like rent stabilization?
- I dont think so

What does the lease say about internal damages, or tenant-caused damages? Read the entire lease; it might be buried in fine print. When a landlord says something is the tenant's responsibility, in our experience and in many cases, it's simply not true. They might just want you to think that.
- This is an NJ Residential Lease Agreement and the part that relates to our issue states as follows:
"Keep all lavatories, sinks, toilets, and all other water and plumbing apparatus in good order and repair and shall use same only for the purposes for which they were constructed. Lessee shall not allow any sweepings, rubbish, sand, rags, ashes or other substances to be thrown or deposited therein. Any damage to any such apparatus and the cost of clearing stopped plumbing shall be borne by Lessee"

Do you know what caused the shower to clog in the first place? Was it simply some hair blocking the drain, or was it something in the drain pipes?
- Yes I think it was hair that caused the shower clogging.

When did you take occupancy of the apartment? Do you think the problem might have started to form before you moved in?
- No dont think that the problem may have happened from before but unsure

Why are you telling the landlord that damages to the living room floor is a construction defect? Water traveling in a horizontal fashion is not necessarily a defect in construction. You don't know that unless you have had an engineer look at it. But also, the landlord does not know it either.
- When the shower clogging took place, we did not see water escape from shower area onto bathroom floor and then to living room but water escaped internally underneath the floor and started bubbling out in the living room which made us think that there's either some issue with construction or drain leak.
We explained many times to the landlord that water from shower clogging has leaked internally and did not overflow onto bathroom floor to living room. Landlord got back with a report from a repair company saying repair company seen a few damaged tiles in front of the bathroom on corner of the wall. Based on that report landlord concluded that water traveled through the bathroom floor, its our fault and we have to pay for it. (We noticed a few tiles on the corner of the wall having mold but we aren't even sure if this was from before the incident or may have also been affected internally)

You need to assess the problem before jumping to any conclusions. Have you spoken to an attorney familiar with New Jersey LL-tenant law?
Please request you to advise on how to further assess the problem and other steps that I could take
- who do I contact to investigate the drain leak and prove it since I'm pretty sure there is an issue internally? is this possible ? will a plumber's investigation be advisable?
- we haven't spoken to any attorney yet. we are trying to avoid any legal issue but recently landlord said that he has the legal right to charge us the amount for the repair thats needed.
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Re: Rental Property Water Damage - Seeking assistance

Postby TenantNet » Fri Jan 19, 2018 6:29 am

Condo, OK that's the problem. If you're a person renting in a condo, then the owner of the apartment (not necessarily the owner of the building) is the actual landlord. That person or company is your real landlord. (the owner of the building - the sponsor - might also own the apartment, which if that's the case the building owner would be your landlord).

To whom do you pay rent?

First understand that we deal mostly with regular rental tenants, not coop/condo situations, so our knowledge of those rules is limited. Also, as you're in NJ, the rules might differ. You would be better served by consulting with a legal professional or tenant advocate in NJ.

Having said that, as a tenant the LL is most always responsible for damages, not you, unless in some situations they can claim tenant negligence. What you describe is a grey area. But a clogged drain is not necessarily tenant negligence unless you were aware of it and did nothing. If you notified the LL and they did nothing, in out opinion the burden shifts to them.

Hair in a drain is common. Most of the time you just pick it up after taking a shower and toss it. But over time some might find its way into the pipes. So when the tub drainage becomes slow as molasses, then it's time to deal with the problem.

No one expects that you keep accurate documentation of the time it takes to drain a shower, but at a certain time you should be aware of the problem. It happens over time, and in the course of usage of the shower for it's intended purpose. In other words, you don't need to prove anything as to when it started.

There might be a leak in the pipe under the floor. Obviously that's not your fault as a tenant, but it might be the owner of the unit's responsibility to repair.

First thing is to get it repaired. If they have to open up the floor, make sure you are there taking photos of the pipes under the floor. Document as much as possible. Do not let the repair men try to intimidate you. It's your apartment ... you can control what happens.

Second, it sounds to us that it's the LL's responsibility (again, that might not be the building owner). In out view they would need to show tenant negligence. As you explained to the LL many times (and I assume you kept a log of each time you did that), it would be hard to show your negligence. But when you did complain, did the LL jump to action? It might be the LL's negligence.

If the LL tries to charge you, or puts a charge on your bill, that does not mean you have to pay it. Of course if you don't, then they might take you to court, or take it out of your rent deposit. That is why it would be good for you to consult with a tenant advocate in NJ where they know the local laws.
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