Ask Rentable: The Leaky Pipe Gets the Patch

At Rentable, we’re committed to helping you find the perfect apartment. But we also care about what happens once you’ve moved in. We started Dear Rentable to help you navigate the renter life, from rental agreements to roommates. Each week, we’ll answer a new user-submitted question.
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This week’s question comes from a renter in Milwaukee.


Dear Rentable,

I live in a really old house. It’s got its fair share of issues: sloping floors, windows that rattle during storms, a refrigerator that dates to the Eisenhower administration. Still, I love it — and the rent, which is low.

My problem has to do with some leaky pipes. Last month, a pipe in the ceiling over my closet burst, soaking a box filled with my winter clothes. I was out of town for the week when it happened, and by the time I got home the pipe had been fixed. Still, my clothes were wet for a week in a dark closet, so they were all moldy and ruined by the time I saw them.

What do I do? Can I make my landlord pay me for the damages? There was some really nice stuff in that box, and it’s starting to get cold.

My Only Longjohns Dried Yesterday

Dear MOLDY in Milwaukee,

My first question is: Do you have renter’s insurance?

If you do, your policy probably covers damage to your belongings due to burst pipes. You just need to file a claim, and your coverage will pay you for the damages.

If you don’t have renter’s insurance, you should really get it. It’s cheap, and it can save you a lot of money.

But hindsight is twenty-twenty, right?

Bad news: Unless you can prove that the pipe burst as a result of negligence on your landlord’s part, he or she is not on the hook for property damage.  So, if you could tell that the pipe was in trouble, and alerted your landlord to that fact, and he didn’t do anything, then you might have a case. Otherwise, you’re out of luck.

My advice? Bring it up with your landlord anyway. You live in a small house, and you clearly like it there. My guess is that up until this point, you’ve been on good terms with the landlord. Let them know what happened to your clothes, and see what they say: They might offer to replace the clothes, or take a bit off your rent this month.

If they don’t, you haven’t lost anything. (Except your longjohns.)