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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Dec 2008
    Posts
    7

    Default Burst Pipes Tenant Liability

    State: Wisconsin

    The situation is as follows. I purchased a new home while renting in December. I moved out of the rented unit (2nd floor of old downtown building) in December but let the landlord know of my intentions beforehand, (that i was looking to have someone take over my lease, but would continue to pay until i found someone). The thermostat had a "cool" "off" and "heat" setting. We had not had to turn on the heat yet (chilly high 50's to 60's but livable, so what we're penny pinchers) so we left it in the "off" position. We still had cleaning supplies there, and went back once or twice. Two weeks later, the pipes froze, burst and the downstairs is damaged (garage). The land lord says I am liable.

    First off, I KNOW that my leaving the heat off was proabably a major factor in the pipes freezing, and will probably foot the bill. I am not asking about whose fault it is morally or ethically (everyone preaches, but no one acts). I am wondering strictly about my "LEGAL" responsibility in this matter.

    Facts:
    My lease has NO stipulation on minimum heat requirements, nor does it warn me of the possibility of frozen pipes (never owned a home, honestly didn;t know).

    Landlord NEVER advised me verbally or through writing regarding keeping the temperature up to avoid this situation.

    I kept the heat in the "off" position on the programmable thermostat.

    The water pipes below my unit froze and burst causing water damage to the first floor(im on the second floor).

    Assumptions:
    I have nothing "LEGALLY" which tells me I must keep the heat on (as far as I know, the only Wisconsin statutes are that the landlord MUST disclose if the unit CANNOT reach 67 degrees, nothing about the tenant being required to keep it at that temperature). Therefore, if something happens as a result of my heat not being on, it is the fault of the landlord for not keeping the pipe from freezing (for all the "how would they keep it from freezing if you turned the heat off questions, there devices which force the furnace to kick in at certain temps regardless of thermostat settings). Since they KNEW of the possibility of a pipe freezing without heat to the apt, and I DID NOT, THEY were negligent in not informing me of said possibility.

    Therefore, according to my above argument, I was not negligent in my keeping the heat off to save on heating costs. I am not "Legally" liable for ANY damage even though It was because I did not have the heat on. If anyone is liable it would be the landlord for 1) Failure to keep the pipes from freezing and 2) failure in "LEGALLY" transfering the responsibility of keeping the pipes from freezing to me, (Could have included a clause about minimum temp setting, keeping unit warm enough to keep pipes from freezing, etc )

    Questions:

    How sound is my argument? Is there something wrong with my logic? Any information regarding Specific WI laws regarding this or caselaws are appreciated. Again, I am not seeking moral or ethical lectures, but am questioning the legality of my argument. Thank you

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Sep 2005
    Location
    Behind a Desk
    Posts
    98,846

    Default Re: Burst Pipes Tenant Liability

    You have a duty to act with ordinary prudence in taking care of leased premises. That includes maintaining adequate heat to avoid freezing the pipes. If you were vacating and shutting off the heat in the winter, while your lease term continued, you should have told your landlord of your intentions. Your landlord doesn't have to spoon feed you basic information about caring for the premises.

    If you want to try to convince a court that this is all your landlord's fault, for not specifically telling you not to shut off the heat in the winter, that's your right.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Mar 2009
    Location
    Oregon now, but will probably end up back in Nevada someday
    Posts
    241

    Default Re: Burst Pipes Tenant Liability

    The water pipes below my unit froze and burst causing water damage to the first floor(im on the second floor).
    Are you saying that the pipes that burst are a part of the unit below you?

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Sep 2005
    Location
    Behind a Desk
    Posts
    98,846

    Default Re: Burst Pipes Tenant Liability

    Most likely the pipes at issue were running in the exterior walls of the unit. It doesn't seem likely that the break would have occurred solely beneath the floor of the unit; but if it were cold enough in the upper apartment that's possible.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Dec 2008
    Posts
    7

    Default Re: Burst Pipes Tenant Liability

    The pipes were UNDERNEATH my kitchen floor, not along the exterior walls. To my understanding, leased premises means wall to wall, nothing between (ie waterpipes) since I have no access to it and it is a shared area. I did take care of everything within my control. Heat RISES, so wouldn't my pipes be more affected by the heat settings of the unit below me (It was not extremely cold)?

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Sep 2005
    Location
    Behind a Desk
    Posts
    98,846

    Default Re: Burst Pipes Tenant Liability

    To your knowledge, which you've previously told us is none, right?

    As they say, you're free to tell it to the judge.

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