Law Offices of Heist, Weisse, and Wolk, P.A.
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Each year millions of dollars are spent repairing water damage due to bursting toilet, dishwasher, sink, and ice maker supply lines, and washing machine hoses. The washing machine hose alone is one of the top five causes of water damage losses in a home, Oftentimes these losses are not covered by insurance and cost the property owner a significant amount of money in damage repair, and increase the possibility of moisture related problems such as mold and mildew. While there is little we can do about floods and water damage caused by acts of God, there is something we can do right now to minimize the possibility of damage due to the bursting of supply lines and washing machine hoses. The solution is a simple and inexpensive replacement of the cheap worn out supply line and hoses with steel reinforced flexible hoses.

Current Practices

The typical toilet supply line is either metal or plastic. The metal supply lines, while initially workable when installed, are usually made of thin brass tubing that is subject to corrosion over time. These cheaply made pipes are installed at the initial construction of the premises or when a toilet is replaced. Since toilets can last a significant amount of time with only the replacement of the “innards” necessary, the supply line can be extremely old and subject to failure. Due to the corrosion of these lines, they are often not replaced on a regular basis, as removal of the lines will result in a situation in which the valve must be replaced in addition to the lines. The corrosion often welds the cheap valve to the cheap supply line. The other common supply line is the cheap white or translucent plastic/rubber hose which has a fitting attached to each end that enters the valve and the tank. Over time these hoses deteriorate and eventually can fail. In addition to toilets, these cheap supply lines are also used for sinks and faucets, due to the ease of using a flexible line rather than soldering pipes in place. A typical wash tub type of sink will most likely have the plastic/rubber line, and most faucets now are made for the flexible hose, while in the past, they were made for the pipes to be soldered into place.

Washing machine hoses are almost always the standard black rubber type with a fitting on each end. Left untouched, they can last a long time. Some though will deteriorate, harden, or bubble out, and the fittings can corrode on each end. Often a washing machine is owned by the resident, purchased, used or moved from another location. In the process of cleaning or repair, the washing machine is pulled out from and pushed into the location, causing potentially damaging stress on the hose and fittings. In some cases the washing machine hose is a touch too short and is stretched to its maximum when attached.

A Recipe For Disaster

The bottom line is that the high pressure pipes in a house, condo or apartment all feed the weak links, those being the supply lines and washing machine hoses. A supply line or hose failure can and often does occur, with the potential to cause massive damage to the premises. If the problem is not detected immediately, the water will continue to run, cascading down the front steps or into the unit below, until such time as it is noticed. By that time it is simply too late.

Liability Issues

Can the resident be held liable in the event of a bursting supply line? In the case of the resident-owned washing machine, the resident would most likely be held liable. With that said, can you really collect from the resident? Will the resident be able to pay potentially thousands of dollars to repair the premises? It is extremely doubtful. If the resident has renter’s insurance with liability coverage for property damage, there may be some coverage, but the chances of having a covered resident is slim. Liability to the manager can be significant. In the event of damage to other premises owned by other parties, the manager could be held liable, even though there is no real “fault” involved. The interior plumbing, such as supply lines, are owned by the manager, and therefore the manager can be responsible for any damage caused to others when that plumbing is faulty.

Renter’s Insurance and the Resident’s Personal Property

While it is not clear that we can “require” a resident to purchase renter’s insurance, the manager should do whatever is possible to encourage the resident to get covered. While most leases contain a clause that states that the manager is not responsible for damage to the resident’s personal property, this clause may not protect the manager. The implied warranty of habitability can trump all of this, and it can be argued successfully that a resident is entitled to live in a place where the pipes do not break, creating that unwanted swimming pool inside the premises. Managers should never depend solely on a property damage disclaimer clause in the lease, but rather use it as a tool to encourage the renter’s insurance purchase.

Two Action Items

1. Reinforced hoses

As of this writing, a reinforced supply line for a toilet at your local building supply store retails at about $5.00. A washing machine hose, for which you will need two, run around $13.00 each. This is a small price to pay for the peace of mind and increased protection you will receive. Buy and install them now. It should be noted that a reinforced steel braided hose can fail and can be made cheaply as well. Other products are on the market that are even stronger but cost more.

2. Turn off the water!

If the rental premises are vacant, the water should be shut off if at all possible.

We would urge every property manager to take action immediately. Inspections of all hoses are a must. Locating a washing machine at least 4 inches away from a wall can help avoid stress on the hose. Knowing where the shut off valve for the premises is located, and showing the resident the location can prevent a lot of damage. There are further steps which can be taken, such as the installation of electronic water detection systems which alert the resident and/or shut off the water supplies in the event of a flooding situation, but at the bare minimum, replace those hoses and supply lines today with some quality hoses!


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