If my tenant did not report a leak, then what obligations do I have if the premise is uninhabitable?

I have a tenant that put a large armoire in front of the utility closet that houses the hot water heater. Today the hot water heater burst, but it appears to have been leaking for quite some time because the board under linoleum has rotted.

I have the following provisions in the lease:

Tenant responsibilities:

Promptly reporting any defect, damage, or breakage to the Landlord. Failure to report shall make the Tenant liable for the repair of any additional damages. This provision does not obligate the Landlord to repair or correct such defects, breakage, malfunction of damage.

Landlord responsibilities:

LANDLORD MAINTENANCE. Except as otherwise noted the Landlord shall maintain the Premises in good repair and tenantable condition and shall be responsible for repairs not due to the fault or negligence of the Tenant during this Lease.

My questions are:

1) Would putting the armoire in front of the utility closet and not reporting the leak be considered negligence?

2) I may need to open up a big section of the floor and let it dry out before I can put in a new hot water heater. What are my legal obligations to the tenants?

3) I know the dangerous mold is rare, but if the health department deems the premise uninhabitable, am I liable to provide them with alternative housing?

Update:

Oh, and I am in Virginia.

6 Answers

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  • Ms. E
    Lv 5
    7 years ago
    Favorite Answer

    Oh man, that's a tough one. Sorry for your troubles!

    I think you'd have to prove that the tenant knew about the leak and didn't report it. If the leak stayed inside the closet, even with the armoire there, they may not have known about it. Just the fact that there was something in front of the closet, I don't think is negligence in itself. There's no rule about looking in there to see if it's leaking on any regular basis.

    I think your best bet is to get out your landlord's rental insurance policy and just get it taken care of.

    I found the Virginia landlord/tenant handbook here. It's a PDF file. It's the law code, so it's cumbersome to read, but...Go to page 31 to the section on fire or casualty damage. It explains that if the work is so substantial that the tenant has to move out of the unit, either of you can break the lease.

    http://www.dhcd.virginia.gov/HomelessnesstoHomeown...

    That said, I've had to replace kitchen floors in studio apartments here that took a week, in fact it was because of a leaking hot water heater (she didn't realize it was leaking under the linoleum until the floor started squishing) and the tenant just lived through it. I would think that your tenants should be able to stay through the repairs, too.

    As far as mold, that is also mentioned in the handbook above. To search that document, click your curser anywhere on the document, then hit control F on your keyboard. A little search bar will pop up. Then put "mold" in the search bar and you can read what it says about mold. What I saw said something about they had 5 days from moving in to report mold they knew about. Other than that, what I saw by just skimming, was that you need to comply with any health depts, etc., to fix things if necessary.

    Anyway, my advice is to just fix it, as I doubt you can prove tenant negligence. And if they're good tenants, might as well keep them happy. Hopefully, your insurance will cover it - and maybe they'll even pay for a nice new floor or carpet :-)

    Source(s): Property manager in California. Virginia government website.
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  • Martin
    Lv 7
    7 years ago

    Not an attorney, and not in Virginia, but I owned a home repair remodeling business in two states (Oregon & California) and I did a lot of work on rentals, including for one of the top attorneys in OR., and I can tell you this-putting something in a rental agreement doesn't hold you harmless, particularly if it contradicts the law. Were you negligent? Did you conduct periodic inspections (as you're entitled to) to ensure the safety and condition of your property? Is the water heater past standard life expectancy? Putting an armoire in front of the heater closet might be silly, but it didn't make the heater fail, nor did you tell them to move it. What proof do you have that they knew it was leaking? That scenario doesn't constitute fault of negligence as far as I can tell. My guess is that you'll have to pay for a motel while repairs are completed, which you'll also be liable for. Sounds like the sub-floor will need to be replaced, so there won't be much delay for "drying out"-we use fans for that in either case, to speed up the process. I'd have it done in two days max.

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  • 7 years ago

    You can not have anyone sign their rights away, and no lease agreement can free you of your legal responsibilities as a landlord. You make and pay for this repair, period. You can not force them to pay for anything.

    Hot water heaters only last 15 or so years, so you should have seen this coming.

    For your list:

    1) No. I doubt they knew about the leak.

    2) You need to provide them with hot water or refund their rent for days they do not have it.

    3) No. You return their deposit (immediately), rent and you pay their moving costs (moving van).

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  • polka
    Lv 4
    4 years ago

    It is dependent upon why they're evicting you. If its due to the fact you are behind on your employ, triggered property damage, have had a couple of run ins with the law they have to provide you with two weeks become aware of in writing. If you don't go away inside two weeks they need to acquire a court order of posession to legally evict you. If you are served a court order of posession you need to leave by means of the date unique on the court docket order. If the owner is evicting you because they have got bought the property or want to use the property for some other intent they need to provide you with two months in writing.

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  • 7 years ago

    You will need to prove that the tenant knew about the leak.

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  • 7 years ago

    I would say the tenant was negligent.

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