Water damage can be catastrophic to your rental property. Small water leaks can turn into major damage if they’re not handled immediately. Unfortunately, tenants don’t always report small leaks when they first happen. Sometimes they’re hard to spot, but other times, tenants are afraid of getting in trouble when they’ve caused the problem.
Are you dealing with water damage to your investment property in Houston? Here’s some advice for how to deal with the damage and your tenants.
Give your tenant the benefit of the doubt in terms of motive
Not all water damage is intentional. Tenants are human and make mistakes. Your tenant might have caused the damage, but in most cases, it’s not intentional.
Don’t take financial responsibility for damage you haven’t caused
Although you’re responsible for maintaining a habitable rental property, you’re not financially responsible for water damage caused by your tenants’ negligence. You are, however, financially responsible for water damage caused by your own negligence or a natural disaster.
Hopefully, you’ve got adequate insurance that will cover water damage from a natural disaster. Check your policy to see what’s covered so you’re not shocked if your claim gets denied.
Before accepting financial responsibility for water damage, fully investigate the situation to figure out what happened. Did your tenants leave the sink running accidentally? Does it look like the water damage came from an object like a water balloon, a water gun, a water bed, or a garden hose?
If your tenant clearly caused the problem, hold them accountable for every penny.
Hire a professional to investigate the cause
Always verify the cause of common problems when possible. For instance, if a pipe burst, have a professional plumber check things out to identify the cause of the burst. Sometimes pipes burst from old age or cold weather, but sometimes tenants damage pipes by performing their own repairs improperly.
Either way, you’ll have to fix the problem, but you can charge your tenant the full cost of repairs when it’s their fault.
Hire a professional to clean up the mess
You can clean up just about any mess on your own, but water often requires special equipment. If you’re dealing with flooding, for example, you’ll need to suck out the water.
Once the water has been removed, the next step is drying the carpet. If the damage was caused by dirty water, like water from the toilet, you might need to replace the carpet.
Drying the carpet will require renting large fans that get placed under the carpet. You can rent these fans yourself, or you can call a professional. It’s easier to go with a professional because they’ll know exactly how to get the job done fast.
Document the damage
Most likely, you’ll need to file a claim with your insurance company to cover the cost of cleanup. To win your claim, you’ll need to prove your damages. Document the full extent of the damage with a video walkthrough and photos. Take as many photos as possible, including:
- Closeups of the damage
- Overall photos from far away
- Photos from every angle
- Photos of the suspected source, for instance, a broken pipe
- Property damage
- Photos with the flash on and off (using a flash can distort some details while highlighting others better)
- Evidence that your tenant may have caused the damage, like evidence of a DIY repair job
In addition to visually documenting the damage, take notes and write down the date and time of the incident, what your tenant told you, the cost of repairs, and the company you’ve hired to perform those repairs.
Educate your tenants
If your tenants did something to cause the water damage, take some time to educate them about how to prevent future incidents. For example, advise them to drip the faucets when temperatures drop to 32 degrees Fahrenheit or below to prevent a burst pipe.
If a pipe burst, show your tenants how to shut off the main source of water and remind them to quickly move things out of the way if it ever happens again. Depending on how much water is present and where it’s flowing, they may need to flip the breakers to avoid electrical problems.
Also, advise your tenants not to use household drain cleaners because they eat away at the pipes. This can make your plumbing more susceptible to damage.
Bill your tenant
Hopefully you collected a security deposit when your tenant moved into the unit. If so, you can use their deposit to cover the cost of fixing the water damage. You can also bill your tenant for the cost if their deposit won’t cover the total or if you never collected a deposit.
Most tenants will expect you to take the cost out of their security deposit, but some tenants prefer to pay for damages out of pocket when the expense isn’t that great.
While you don’t have to give your tenants a choice, asking them how they’d like to cover the damages might help you maintain your relationship. Your tenant will probably feel bad about the damage, and giving them a choice can make them feel a little better.
Whether you bill your tenant or deduct the repairs from their security deposit, document the cost with a copy of all receipts related to the cleanup.
If you plan to deduct the cost from their deposit, create a file folder specifically for the incident and store copies of all documents and receipts in that folder. You’ll want to give your tenant a copy of your deductions when they move out.
Stay on top of regular inspections
The best thing you can do after dealing with water damage is to stay on top of regular inspections. Water damage isn’t always immediately noticeable; it can take months to become visible. For instance, water trickling into the walls can create a mold problem that goes unseen for months.
Some tenants become aware of small problems and don’t bother telling their landlord about the issue. If your tenant notices signs of water damage and doesn’t tell you, a small problem could turn into a gigantic problem.
Routine maintenance and inspections are the best way to get a handle on preventable damage.
Hire a property management team
Working alone as a landlord is tough. Dealing with regular maintenance and repairs can be exhausting. When you hire a property management team, you won’t have to worry about any of that.
If you love being a property investor, but don’t like being a landlord, Green Residential can help. Whether you need someone to find and screen tenants, manage repairs, or deal with water damage, we’ve got you covered.
To learn more about our property management services, contact us for a free rental property analysis. Our team of expert property managers would love to partner with you.