Plumbing Problems in Rental Properties and How to Handle Them

plumbing problems

Plumbing problems can quickly turn into a landlord’s worst nightmare, causing inconvenience, property damage, and potential tenant dissatisfaction. Whether you’re a seasoned property owner or a novice landlord, it’s essential to be prepared for common plumbing emergencies in rental properties and know how to handle them effectively.

Common Plumbing Problems in Rental Properties

Let’s take a look at a few plumbing issues that require immediate attention:

Clogged Drains and Toilets

One of the most frequent plumbing problems is clogged drains or toilets. Sinks may drain slowly or not at all, and toilets can overflow due to blockages, creating a messy situation for both you and your tenants.

Sewer Backup

Sewer backups can occur due to a broken sewer line or obstructions like roots or rocks in the sewer line. It’s a situation that demands immediate attention to prevent extensive damage.

Leaky Faucets

Leaky faucets, whether they constantly drip or spray water when turned on, can lead to wasted water and increased utility bills.

Broken or Leaky Pipes

Pipes under sinks are prone to breakage or leaks, which can cause water damage to cabinets and floors if left unattended.

Running Toilets

A running toilet can be a silent water waster, significantly increasing water bills. It may continue to flush repeatedly or allow water to flow continuously into the tank.

No Hot Water

Tenants rely on hot water for daily activities, and running out of it after only a few minutes can lead to tenant frustration.

Garbage Disposal Issues

A malfunctioning garbage disposal can disrupt kitchen functionality. Proper disposal of food waste is crucial to prevent clogs.

plumbing emergencies

How to Deal With a Plumbing Emergency

Plumbing emergencies can strike at any moment, causing inconvenience and potential property damage. Here are the essential steps to effectively handle plumbing problems in your rental property.

1. Start with Prevention

Prevention is the first line of defense against plumbing problems. Regular maintenance and educating tenants on proper drain use are crucial steps in avoiding emergencies. Tenants should know what not to put down drains or flush down toilets to prevent clogs.

Also, consider getting a water leak detection system. Place sensors anywhere there’s water (such as under sinks and next to water heaters). These sensors will alert the resident if a leak is detected. Some leak detection systems can send notifications to your phone so you can respond quickly and limit damage.

internal link Also Read: Avoid costly repairs with a rental property maintenance checklist

2. Call a Plumber

Certain plumbing emergencies may require the expertise of a professional plumber. These include:

  • Sewer Backup: When sewage backs up into sinks, toilets, or drains within the property, it’s a severe emergency that poses health risks and requires immediate attention.
  • Major Pipe Leak: A burst or severely damaged pipe can result in significant water damage, affecting walls, ceilings, and floors. This requires quick intervention to prevent further destruction.
  • Frozen or Burst Pipes: In cold climates, frozen pipes can burst, leading to water leakage and property damage. Thawing and repairing or replacing the affected pipes necessitate professional plumbing assistance.
  • Water Heater Malfunction: A malfunctioning or leaking water heater can result in a lack of hot water and potential water damage. Plumbers can diagnose and repair issues with water heaters, including gas or electric models.
  • Blocked Sewer Line: A blocked sewer line can cause sewage to back up into drains and toilets. It’s a severe issue that demands professional attention to clear the blockage and prevent further damage.
  • Persistent Clogs: If drains or toilets are consistently clogging despite attempts to clear them with household tools, there may be a more significant issue within the plumbing system that a plumber needs to assess.
  • No Water Supply: If there’s a sudden loss of water supply to the property, it could be due to various plumbing issues, such as a broken main water line or a shut-off valve problem, which requires a plumber’s expertise to resolve.
  • Backflow Prevention: To prevent contaminated water from flowing back into the property’s plumbing, professional plumbers can install and maintain backflow prevention devices, which are often required by local regulations.

However, keep in mind that emergency plumber services can be costly.

3. Fix It Yourself

In some cases, you may be able to handle plumbing emergencies yourself if you have the necessary tools, knowledge, and experience. You can often self-fix minor issues like the following:

  • Clogged Drains: Minor drain clogs, such as those in sinks, showers, or bathtubs, can often be cleared using a plunger or a drain snake. Basic clogs caused by hair or small debris can usually be resolved without professional assistance.
  • Running Toilets: A running toilet is often caused by a faulty flapper valve or float mechanism. Adjusting or replacing these components can sometimes stop the continuous flow of water into the toilet tank.
  • Leaky Faucets: If the source of the leak is a worn-out washer or seal, you may be able to repair or replace these components yourself to stop the leak. Be sure to turn off the water supply before attempting any faucet repairs.
  • Garbage Disposal Issues: Occasionally, a garbage disposal may jam due to foreign objects or food debris. If you can safely access and clear the obstruction, you may resolve the issue without professional help.
  • Minor Pipe Leaks: Sometimes, you can temporarily patch small, accessible pipe leaks, such as those under sinks, with pipe tape or epoxy putty. However, it’s essential to arrange for a permanent repair by a professional plumber.

4. Ensure That You Are Communicating With Your Tenants

Whether you choose to call a plumber or fix issues yourself, ensure that you communicate with your tenants about what to do in a plumbing emergency.

Here are some things you should consider when it comes to communication:

  • Should they call you directly in an emergency?
  • Should they call the plumber directly?
  • What is considered a plumbing emergency? Are you leaving this decision up to them?
  • Do you have a service besides a plumber that they should call (such as Hemlane or RentRedi)?

Both Hemlane and RentRedi provide a repair tracking feature that alerts you with maintenance requests. You can also upload photo and video documentation.

Hemlane provides an efficient process to communicate effectively with service professionals and renters. You can self-manage your local professionals all within the platform. Hemlane has subscription tiers where they will handle anything from repair tracking and communication to full 24/7 repair coordination and support.

RentRedi also has a premium maintenance add-on where they will handle all maintenance requests and repairs for you.

internal link Also Read: Hemlane Overview & RentRedi Overview

5. Document Everything

Effective documentation is essential in the management of rental property maintenance, especially during emergencies. While routine requests are typically recorded through formal channels, emergencies often commence with a frantic phone call. To prevent disputes and ensure clarity, landlords should diligently document these urgent situations.

Start by recording the details of emergency conversations, noting dates, times, and specifics discussed. Document the repairs or solutions implemented, including service provider information and repair timelines. Outline agreed-upon next steps and responsibilities, facilitating effective follow-up.

After resolving the emergency, communicate with the tenant, summarizing the actions taken and addressing their satisfaction. Follow up in writing, even with a brief email, to maintain transparency and accountability. This meticulous documentation not only provides a comprehensive record but also demonstrates a commitment to tenant well-being and property maintenance, reducing potential disputes and keeping everyone informed.

Plumbing Problems: Landlord Gurus Takeaway

Preparing for plumbing problems in rental properties is essential for landlords. By focusing on prevention, clear communication, and timely action, you can navigate plumbing emergencies efficiently and maintain a positive landlord-tenant relationship. Remember, a proactive approach is the key to keeping your rental property’s plumbing in top shape and your tenants happy.

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links and Landlord Gurus may earn a commission. Our mission remains to provide valuable resources and information that helps landlords manage their rental properties efficiently and profitably. We link to these companies and their products because of their quality, not because of the commission.

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About Eli Secor

Eli Secor, Co-Founder, Landlord Gurus

Eli purchased his first rental property at the age of 20, a fourplex in Gold Canyon, Arizona. He was lucky to have the advice of a shrewd real estate investing grandmother, as well as special incentives for first time buyers following the savings and loan meltdown in the late ‘80’s.

In 2004 Eli and his wife purchased their first property together, a triplex in Portland, Oregon. The neighborhood was improving, light rail was coming in, and the property needed a significant rehab. They traveled back and forth from their then home in California, improving and managing the property. Eli did a full remodel on the biggest unit, living in the construction zone while doing so. The property has been cashflow positive since day one, and is now worth 3-4 times its original purchase price.

Eli has been involved in residential construction since 2001, having remodeled several houses from top to bottom, rehabbed or improved rental units, and built his family’s primary residence. He leverages his knowledge of buildings to improve and maintain rental properties cost and time-effectively.

Since 2007 Eli has been managing property in Seattle for family members, and now oversees 20 apartments and 3 commercial spaces. He has a great handyman, who helps make repairs, maintenance, and improvement smooth and easy. Otherwise Eli is a DIY landlord, and single contact for all of his tenants.

When Eli isn’t managing rental property he is working on home projects, sailing, mountain biking, skiing, or spending time with friends and family. Once or twice a week Chris and Eli get together to run their dogs, Lola & Peanut. These meetings do double duty as Landlord Gurus planning sessions!

- BA in History from Whitman College
- General Contractor (Ex)
- USCG Licensed Captain (UOPV Six-Pack)

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