Is Your Basement Apartment Damaged After A Flood? What Are Your Options?

Posted on: 13 March 2017

If you rent an apartment or room below ground level, you may find yourself occasionally moving all your belongings off the floor (or even carrying them upstairs for temporary storage) to avoid water damage during a heavy storm. While homeowners with flooded basements or lower levels are free to seek restoration and remediation at their leisure, those who are renters rather than owners may have a more limited scope of options. Read on to learn more about your legal options when it comes to scheduling water damage restoration services in your rented lower-level unit.

Do you have the legal right to hire water restoration services for a building you don't own?

In general, it's the homeowner's duty (and right) to hire repair and maintenance personnel like water remediation companies; as a renter, you don't have the same ability to solicit service providers and provide permission to access the property.

However, each state does have minimum occupancy standards, so if water damage has been ignored by your landlord, you may have some self-help options. These can vary by state, but include withholding rent, making repairs yourself (after providing your landlord with notice and an opportunity to respond), or even prematurely terminating your lease without penalty. 

What are your options if your landlord refuses to make necessary repairs? 

Untreated water damage can have a number of structural and health-related consequences, from the weakening of wooden support beams or erosion of concrete to the growth of black mold, mildew, and other respiratory hazards. As a tenant, you should be protected against your landlord's violation of any habitability laws or regulations.

Your best bet for quick action may be to contact your renters' insurance company. Water damage must be tackled quickly to avoid much more expensive future repairs, and it is in your insurance company's best interest to prevent future water damage to your unit, so your insurer may be able to put some pressure on the homeowner to make these repairs. If you don't have renters' insurance, you may want to contact your landlord's homeowners' insurance company directly to report the damage; this can encourage the insurance company to force your landlord to make these repairs or risk a lapse in coverage. 

Absent any action from either insurance company, and if you can't afford to temporarily relocate, you may want to hire a remediation company -- after providing notice to your landlord of your intent to do so -- and indicate that your landlord's failure to take this step on his or her own has left you no other choice. As long as you provide proper notice of your intent, you may be able to deduct the cost of water remediation from your rent (or collect it from your landlord through a small claims action) at a later date.