Here are several common plumbing emergencies in rental properties and what to do in each case.
By Phil Schaller
Plumbing issues can range from a rapidly flooding basement to a small leak. All of these issues should be addressed as a landlord, some more quickly than others. Be cognizant of your local landlord/tenant laws as water issues are typically a high priority and require a landlord to initiate a fix immediately.
Before we dive into the list of common plumbing emergencies in rental properties and what to do, there are a few items you should be familiar with at your property. The most important is the location of the main water supply. This is critical to know if there’s ever a plumbing emergency (and helpful for other plumbing issues as well). We always advise landlords to inform their tenants of the location of the main water supply (one of the first steps we take with customers is to make sure tenants, owners, and property specialists know where this is).
It’s also important to know the basics of your water heater: how to turn it on and off, how to increase the water temperature, where the pilot light is – basic troubleshooting.
A pipe can burst when too much water pressure builds up at a weakened joint. Pipes also burst in the winter when leftover water expands when frozen, hence the importance of insulating exterior pipes and interior pipes that are exposed to the cold. More likely than not you will know when a pipe has burst – it can make a loud popping noise – otherwise, there will be significant leaking.
Burst pipes need to be addressed immediately. Turn the main water line off to stop the leak and call a plumber as soon as possible. After the water has been shut off it’s best to drain all the faucets and do your best to clean up the water. Let in as much warm air as possible to dry out the area around the leak.
No Hot Water
A lack of hot water is a little trickier to diagnose – many things can cause this. Here are a few items to look at:
- What is your water temperature set to? If it’s below 120 degrees F you may want to turn up the heat – temps below that 120-degrees F mark can also cause bacterial growth in your tank. Don’t go above 140 degrees F for the risk of burning.
- Check the pilot light. If you have a gas water heater, it will have a pilot light – if it’s out, it will need to be re-lit. New heaters will have an ignition switch, older models may require you to light manually. Reference the user manual when relighting the pilot.
- Flush the water heater. Over time, sediment and other buildups can cause your water heater to not be effective. Again, take a look at the user manual on directions for flushing your tank – this may or not be a job a landlord is up to.
- Water pooling around the heater. If you can see a leak or determine that the pooled water is coming from your heater, this should be fixed. We recommend calling a plumber – the leak will get worse and worse with time.
Broken Water Line
A busted water line is a major headache for a landlord. These are not easy fixes and are typically quite expensive. Here are some indicators that your water line needs repair:
- Poor water pressure. If your tenants notice the water pressure is lower than normal, it could be because there’s a leak. If there are no other signs of water damage or a leak on the property, it may be the water line. Bringing out a pro to scope your line is the next step to take.
- Increasing water bills. If you or your tenants notice the water bill going up, it’s because water may be leaking into the ground. Hopefully, the city can alert you/your tenants of any significant changes but, again, bring out a plumber to look at your water line.
- Soggy ground. If the tenants notice soft spots or water build-up in the front lawn, for example, the water line may be broken. Water can be one of the most damaging elements on any property. Make sure to keep a close eye on your plumbing systems and check for signs of malfunction often.
About the author:
Phil Schaller is an experienced landlord and the founder/CEO of RentalRiff – an alternative service to traditional property management. With RentalRiff, landlords can hire a dedicated “property specialist” (licensed/insured general contractor or handyman) who will provide ongoing support and upkeep of rental properties, while serving as the main point of contact for tenants. Maintenance and repair costs are included in the monthly fee. Phil is a Pacific Northwest native, father of two, and fly-fishing addict. You can reach RentalRiff at 541-600-3200.
Ask The Property Maintenance Expert
Phil Schaller, the property maintenance expert, answers rental property maintenance questions each week. Enter your question below.