Landlord's Liability for Water Damage by Sprinkler System

A broken sprinkler can cause considerable damage to a dwelling.
A broken sprinkler can cause considerable damage to a dwelling. (Image: Dick Luria/Photodisc/Getty Images)

When a sprinkler system in a rental property becomes damaged and floods a rental unit, the liability for incurred damages can fall to different parties, depending on several circumstances. These include the cause of the damage to the sprinklers; the extent of the damage; the tenant and landlord’s response to the issue; the terms of the rental agreement; and the existence of liability and/or renter’s insurance.

Cause of Damage

A landlord must be found negligent in his responsibilities of maintaining a safe and habitable rental property to be liable for most forms of water damage. For example, if tenants complained about faulty sprinkler systems and the landlord ignored the complaints, the tenants likely have a legitimate claim for damages. If, however, damage was caused by a natural disaster, through damage by another tenant or some cause other than a landlord’s negligence, he may not be responsible for damages.

Terms of the Lease

Some lease agreements spell out the specifics of damages for which a landlord is responsible. If a tenant reads and signs off on the document, he is typically viewed as understanding and accepting the terms of the contract. If the wording absolves a landlord from water damage, a tenant will typically have to abide by the terms of the agreement or secure legal representation to argue mitigating factors that dispute the terms of the lease contract.

Insurance Coverage

Many landlords are covered by insurance policies that cover claims for water damage. Policies typically cover damage caused by a faulty sprinkler system and pay for repairs such as new carpeting, clean-up and repair of structural elements in the rental unit. Many policies do not cover the damage or loss of personal contents, such as furniture, clothing and electronics. Tenants are expected to secure renters insurance to protect against these losses.

Landlord and Tenant Responsibilities

In an instance of water damage, the issue of the extent of responsibility is often determined by the actions of both parties during the incident. For example, a landlord is obligated by law to maintain rental properties in clean, safe, well-maintained properties free from defect. This includes properly working sprinkler systems. The tenant, however, if acting in good faith, is responsible for immediately reporting water damage and doing what he can to lessen damage, such as moving personal belongings and stopping the leak, if possible. Both of these areas can be subject to interpretation by an insurance company or legal representation.

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