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Dear Landlord Hank: My Tenants Have Frozen Pipes So Do I Have To Pay To Fix This?


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If a tenant has frozen pipes and calls the landlord or property manager to come fix the issue, who is supposed to pay for the maintenance? Each week veteran landlord and property manager Hank Rossi answers questions from other landlords and property managers around the country about their rentals. Here is this week’s question
 
Dear Landlord Hank:
We just had pipes freeze for the first time in one of our rentals this week. Tenants called to report, so I sent guy who handles our maintenance out to thaw the pipes, but who should pay for this maintenance call? Seems tenants should have been proactive but we had nothing in the lease saying so. Whose fault is this? How do you handle this issue?
-Landlady Eileen
Dear Landlady Eileen,
This is a tricky one.
 I don't know where your rental property is located. Do you have severe winters every year or is this a freezing weather unusual? 
Are the tenants warm weather transplants that have no knowledge of cold weather problems or should they be expected to know how to handle these temps and effects on water and pipes?
Where did the freeze occur and could it have been avoided if tenants kept heat on and water dripping with cabinet doors open (so warm air can circulate more easily to pipes under sinks)?
Notes on tenants’ doors about avoiding freezing pipes
 We don't have this situation occur in Florida but we do every winter in Georgia.
I make sure tenants are aware of freezing weather and put notes on doors with instructions to keep heat on, drip water and keep kitchen base cabinet and vanity cabinet door open.
I also go through those instructions with tenants upon move in.
 I want them to understand that dripping the water doesn't mean turning it on full force.
If tenants knew of potential freezing they should bear cost of freezing pipes
In my opinion, if tenants should have known of potential for freezing pipes and how to handle this situation and chose not to do so or did so inadequately, then they should bear the cost of repair.    
About the author:
“I started in real estate as a child watching my father take care of our family rentals- maintenance, tenant relations, etc , in small town Ohio. As I grew, I was occasionally Dad’s assistant. In the mid-90s I decided to get into the rental business on my own, as a sideline. In 2001, I retired from my profession and only managed my own investments, for the next 10 years. Six years ago, my sister, working as a rental agent/property manager in Sarasota, Florida convinced me to try the Florida lifestyle. I gave it a try and never looked back. A few years ago we started our own real estate brokerage. We focus on property management and leasing. I continue to manage my real estate portfolio here in Florida and Atlanta. ”  Visit Hank’s website here.

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Perhaps some common sense should apply here. Tenants who live where it gets really cold should be aware of extremely cold temperatures - there is lots of information out there about it - and take some action (common sense like running faucets and opening cabinet doors) to protect their rental home. After all, if a frozen pipe bursts and floods the apartment, any damage to tenant belongings are the tenant's responsibility unless they buy renters insurance to cover it. That is why many landlords require renters insurance in leases. 

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