As a renter, am I liable for a broken water pipe repair bill?

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As a renter, am I liable for a broken water pipe repair bill?

I live in a 1-bedroom apartment above a garage. The garage space is not included in the rent (it was offered as storage for me). I opted to go with electric vs. gas heat. My landlord slipped a note in my door that he would evict me if I didn’t turn on the gas due to the damage it would cause the water pipes below in the garage. I complied and the thermostat was at a constant 65. Then 2 months later the pipes broke. I was sent a $300 repair bill because “I did not have the gas on”. Am I liable for this? There is nothing in my lease that states I had to keep the rental property at a certain temperature.

Asked on June 30, 2011 under Real Estate Law, West Virginia

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 10 years ago | Contributor

If you did not keep the gas on when the landlord clearly indicated to you that the failure to do so would damage the pipes, then yes--you may be liable for the pipes bursting. That's because in that case, you were negligent, or unreasonably careless--a reasonable person would keep the heat on if he or she were told that it was necessary to do so to avoid pipes breaking.

That said, if in the lease you paid for heat, it would be reasonable to seek a credit or reimbursement from the landlord if you kept the heat on at his request, rather than at your own choice. However, whether or not you are due something for heating costs does not change the fact that IF you did not keep the heat at the called-for level, AND that failure caused the pipes to break, then you would be liable.

On the other hand, if you kept the heat on within the landlord's instructions--i.e. he or she just said keep the heat on, and you, setting the thermostat above the freezing mark--then you probably should not be liable; you would not have been negligent, because you did what was reasonably expected of you, even if it did not work out as hoped. Similarly, if the pipes burst for a reason unconnected to the heat or anything else under your control, you should not be liable.


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