If you rent a property in a flood zone, you probably want to know about your landlord’s responsibility for flood damage. And if you own property, you need to know what you’ll be responsible for if the property ever floods in a storm or as a result of a plumbing leak.
What happens in your renter is displaced by a flood? Do you owe them compensation for having to find lodgings elsewhere, even if they are temporary? And, how long does a landlord have to clean up the flood?
Liability for Flood Damage
In general, landlords are responsible for floods that are caused by storms, or the plumbing of the home. Maintaining the plumbing is always considered the landlord’s responsibility. Further, as the landlord is the owner of the property, it’s exposure to storms, hurricanes, and other weather events are the landlord’s risk and responsibility.
A landlord may be able to hold their tenant liable for a flood if they can prove that the tenant caused the flood. If, for example, a tenant took an axe to the wall and burst a pipe, the landlord can have a plumber and restoration expert collect evidence the tenant did so. Then, the landlord may take the tenant to small claims court.
If a tenant did cause the damage, they are, usually, responsible for fixing that damage. However, the rules for flood liability vary from state to state. Some states require a landlord to fix all damage and allow a landlord to sue the tenant for the cost of repairs afterwards.
It’s also possible (although not always successful or cost-effective) to take a tenant to court if their negligence made a flood worse. If they didn’t inform you of the flood, refused to take reasonable precautions you suggested, or otherwise made a natural flood worse through irresponsible behavior, they may be ordered to cover part of the flood restoration.
However, be sure to seek legal advice before exploring this route, as tenants usually have to be grossly negligent to be held liable for flooding.
If the flood is so severe that the tenant can no longer stay on the property, they are usually responsible for paying for their temporary lodging. If the tenant can prove that the landlord caused the flood through negligence, they may take the landlord to small claims court for the cost of their temporary housing. Or, they may be awarded a rent reduction.
Cleaning Up a Flood
A landlord should respond to flooding as soon as they are made aware of it. This is in both the tenant and landlord’s best interests, as a quick flood response will get tenants back in their home, and reduce the damage to the landlord’s property.
However, the landlord is almost never responsible for any damage the flood inflicts to the tenant’s property. This is why all tenants should have renter’s insurance. A landlord can ask their flood restoration specialists to only recover items in the property that they own, perhaps including the appliances and furniture. The tenants are responsible for their own belongings and can use their renter’s insurance to have professionals restore the items and remove what cannot be salvaged.