If you rent your home or an apartment, you may think that your landlord is responsible for any plumbing problems that arise and will foot the bill if a plumbing contractor is called. Under many circumstances, you would be correct. But there are some instances when you can be held responsible for the cost of plumbing repairs. Understanding your obligations will prevent unpleasant surprises when a plumbing problem occurs.
Your landlord is responsible to provide you with an inhabitable rental unit. As far as the plumbing goes, this means providing a working toilet, a sink and tub or shower. It also means your plumbing should not cause health issues. Some health issues that can be caused by faulty or poor plumbing are leaky areas where mold and mildew grow or leaks in the sewer vent system that allow sewer gases to back up in your home. Your landlord is also responsible for repairing the plumbing when issues arise, as long as the problem is not caused by your or your guest's actions.
You are responsible for taking proper care of the plumbing in your rental unit. This includes monitoring what goes down your drains. If you are responsible for the heat, or control the thermostat in your rental unit, you are also responsible for preventing the pipes from freezing during the winter. Pipes that freeze in areas beyond your unit, such as in unheated areas like crawl spaces and basements, may be an exception. In other words, if you keep the thermostat too low to save energy or you run out of fuel and your pipes freeze, you are responsible for thawing the pipes and making any necessary plumbing repairs. If you are renting a heated unit and the pipes freeze through no fault of yours, your landlord is responsible for repairs.
What about clogged drains and toilets?
Clogs in drains and toilets caused by you or someone in your home are your responsibility. This includes toilet clogs from too much toilet paper, clogs from pouring grease down the sink, bathroom clogs as the result of hair in the drain or tiny toys lodged in the drain by your little ones. This will likely account for the majority of clogs and problems with sluggish drains. You will either need to take care of the issue yourself or call in a plumber at your expense.
However, some clogs fall under your landlord's responsibility. If tree roots enter the sewer system and cause the toilet to back up or your pipes clog easily because of faulty plumbing in the building, your landlord is responsible to take care of the problem.
What should you do if you have a plumbing problem?
If the issue falls under your responsibility, you can either take care of the problem yourself or call in a plumbing contractor. While you can typically handle slow or sluggish drains on your own, you will probably need to call a plumber to repair or replace the pipes if your pipes freeze and burst during the winter.
If the problem falls within your landlord's responsibilities, notify your landlord immediately. While you will want to call him in an emergency, follow up with a written report. You can do this via email or text, but always keep a copy of correspondence. Should your landlord fail to correct the issue in a timely fashion, you may need to document when you notified him of the problem. The amount of time your landlord has to correct the problem varies according to state landlord and tenant regulations, but in general he is required to respond in "a reasonable amount of time". The amount of time considered reasonable depends on the circumstances, such as if the problem causes a threat to your health and safety and how involved the repair is.
If you have questions about your responsibility regarding plumbing issues in your rental unit, check your lease for any mention of plumbing issues. You can also contact your local housing authority or check with your state's landlord tenant regulations to find specific information about your state's regulations.