Apartment floods are a renter's and landlord's worst nightmare. Whether the flood comes from a natural disaster or leaking pipes, it can wreak havoc on your personal belongings and the apartment itself.
Everyone wants to avoid water damage and structural damage, but what steps do you need to take to prevent an apartment flood or address an apartment flood that has already happened? We're going to walk you through the causes of flooded apartments, teach you what to do when apartment flooding happens and discuss when you're held liable or when the landlord is legally required to step in and help.
So, put on your waterproof shoes and let's get going!
Simply put, a flood is an overflow of water. An overflowing sink, a burst pipe or even Mother Nature herself could cause a flood. When you have a water source rise significantly, it can overflow and cause severe water damage.
These are some of the most common causes of flooding:
Heavy rain is three or more inches of rain in a 12-hour period. Rain at this rate can overflow streams, drains and even entire sewer systems. This backs everything up, sending water overflowing into homes and apartment buildings.
Plumbing is often the internal culprit when it comes to flooding. Clogged pipes mean water can't drain properly, so it comes back up into sinks, bathtubs or toilets. During times of extremely cold weather, your pipes can freeze, as well. When they thaw, they can end up bursting, sending water spraying everywhere throughout your apartment.
You may see apartment floods if you have a broken pipe in the kitchen or bathroom. Likewise, if your upstairs neighbor has a problem with broken pipes, then the water damage may seep through their floor and appear on your ceiling.
Large cities like New York and Los Angeles use concrete drainage basins, which don't provide a place for groundwater to get absorbed. In heavy rains, these basins can overflow, creating street flooding that can spread into the first few floors of buildings.
What may start out as a small crack in the ceiling can quickly become an access point for water to drip down if it's not addressed. You should immediately report any small imperfection in your ceiling to your property manager for repairs. In most cases, it will be part of the landlord's responsibility to ensure the roofs on the property are not damaged. Landlords are responsible for structural repairs and likely have their own insurance company to help cover the cost of damages caused by flooding.
If you live in a city or state that's prone to natural disasters, like hurricanes or heavy rainfall, you may experience severe weather that causes your apartment to flood. You can check flood-prone areas online to see if your city is flood-prone or if there's an impending storm ahead. Knowing about possible emergencies can help you prepare in advance and stay safe.
Flooding is, to put it mildly, no fun. Between the amount of damage typically done, the stress of dealing with repairs and trying to get back to normal, there's a lot to cover.
While we can't help you deal with the stress directly, these precautions and this additional information should give you a better idea of what you'd need to do before, during and after you have a flooded apartment.
Prevention is the first step to avoiding severe water damage in your apartment. From securing your belongings to investing in insurance, you can take steps to mitigate damage caused by water.
The first thing to do is to prepare for the possibility of any kind of damage by getting renters insurance that includes a flood policy covered under the National Flood Insurance Program. If you live in a flood-prone state, you may even consider getting a flood insurance policy specifically.
Rental insurance is relatively inexpensive — usually a few hundred dollars per year — and it covers you from floods, fire and theft. It isn't a legal requirement, but some property managers will ask you to get it. Considering the low cost for the level of coverage you'll get, it's worthwhile.
To address the possibility of water damage and flooded apartments more directly, keep an eye out for drips and leaks. You also want to watch for the appearance of water stains or mold growth, which are signs of a previous water leak. This includes checking the walls and ceiling when it rains and periodically looking at faucets and pipes in the kitchen and bathrooms.
Report anything you see to your property manager since these are issues they'll need to repair. Make sure you have the emergency phone number for your building saved and easily accessible. It's smart to have on hand for apartment floods and anything else that happens unexpectedly and needs immediate attention.
While the likelihood of a flood is low, it's still a good idea to keep valuable items in a safe space and away from the most obvious places they'd get wet.
Properly storing your important paperwork and meaningful items is one of the best ways to secure your belongings before water begins to flood your apartment. You may consider a waterproof safety box for small valuables in your apartment.
“The easiest way to keep smaller items safe is with a waterproof and fireproof box. These safes come in a variety of sizes. You will want to consider what items are most important to you before deciding on the size," says Soil-Away, a disaster restoration company.
Keep items like electronics off the floor if they're near the kitchen or bathroom, as well. These strategies both protect your valuables and also give you more time to get to things out of your apartment if the water is rising and you need to grab and go.
When the flooding starts, the first thing you need to do is assess if it's safe to stay in the apartment. If the apartment flooded due to some overflowing sinks, you're probably safe to stay put. If the flooding is from a natural disaster, your things don't matter as much as your safety.
During a flood caused by nature, make sure you're staying tuned to local news and following proper safety protocols to keep yourself safe.
If you've assessed the situation and it's safe to stay in your apartment, then get everything you can away from the path of the water. Take what valuables you can and move them into your car, into another room or into a neighbor's apartment — anything to keep them dry.
Next, call that emergency maintenance number you've saved, as well as the management company itself. They should respond immediately, but if not, you may have to take matters into your own hands, contacting a plumber or other repair person.
While you wait for help to arrive, try to get things under control. Attempt to seal the leak if you can reach it and have the right materials on hand to stop the flooding. Use plastic bins or any other containers you have to contain as much water as possible.
Unfortunately, the stress of a flooded apartment doesn't end once you fix the leak. Now you have to start the restoration process, get things repaired and get back to life as normal. Sorting this out involves insurance claims and a close review of the terms of your lease.
It's important to know your local laws, determine who handles what repairs and understand what insurance will cover.
The first step after a flood is documenting all the damage that occurred. This is both for your insurance company and for your property manager to have. Take photos of both your damaged items and visible damage on walls, floors or ceilings. Save all damaged property until an insurance adjuster is able to come out and document the severely damaged item. Don't throw anything away until they give you the all-clear.
Damage to the building itself normally falls under the property owner's insurance. The actual structure and anything that comes with the unit like carpet or appliances are also covered. You're responsible for your personal property. Having flood damage as part of your renter's insurance should make dealing with that easier.
Exceptions to this breakdown occur when flooding happens because your property manager didn't fix a known issue. In that case, they may end up paying to replace your own property. The opposite is also true if something you did causes the flooding in the apartments. You might have to pay for all the damage, including damage to the building itself. If there's any conflict, don't hesitate to consult a lawyer.
If the flooded apartment ends up with too much damage to remain livable, you may have the right to terminate your lease without penalty. If your property owner has another, equivalent apartment available, you could try to negotiate a move into that unit, signing a new lease. You could also try to work out a temporary living situation while the apartments are getting repaired.
Your lease should have a section on termination, but you can also research the local renter laws in your area to get a better idea of what your rights are. If you can't work out a deal with your current property owner, it's best to find a new place to live altogether.
Nobody likes to think about the particular types of damage a disaster or flood could cause in their home, but it's a risk to think it could never happen to you. In fact, 14,000 people in the U.S. experience some kind of water damage at home or at work every day according to Water Damage Defense.
Whether it's a little leak or a full-on deluge, some planning and a deeper understanding of how easy it is to prepare can help you can get ahead of the stressful situation that's possible from a flooded apartment.