Water damage problems

Question from d updated on 2nd March 2018:

I am currently living in a shared property. We suffered a flood which appears to have been caused by a burst pipe or a blocked toilet on the upper floor. My partner and I were the last using the shower, washing machine, etc but we did not leave on any taps, showers, etc. Nor did we notice the toilet being blocked.

Is there any scenario where we may be liable for any of the damage? We were genuinely unaware of any issue in the house.

Also, is the house deemed unsafe due to no water or electricity? Are we required to pay rent if there is no electricity or water ? Is the landlord liable for any costs of emergency accommodation?



Our expert Jennifer Sykes responded:

Tenant liability for damage depends on whether it was caused carelessly or intentionally, and whether or not the landlord has insurance. Tenants may be liable for damage that they cause intentionally, or where the damage is a criminal act that could result in imprisonment.

This applies whether or not the landlord holds insurance. If the damage was not caused carelessly by the tenants or their guests then the tenant will not normally be liable, for example if a pipe burst or a toilet blocked because of a maintenance issue.

Where the damage is careless and the landlord holds insurance a tenant may not be liable. More information about liability is available on our website here. To be certain, landlords should check their insurance policy documents and discuss the matter with their insurance company in advance of making any claim.

Check with your local council regarding what makes a house habitable or liveable, as they may be able to make this decision if there is a dispute with the landlord on the habitability of the rental property (or part of it).

If the house is fully or partially uninhabitable then the rent will be reduced or stopped accordingly to reflect the situation. If the premises are uninhabitable as a result of a breach, such as careless or intentional damage by the tenant, then the rent will continue. If the services to the property are interrupted through no fault of your own, then you may be eligible to seek a rent reduction or compensation even though the rental might still be wholly or partially habitable. 

While the landlord has a responsibility to restore the services as soon as reasonably possible, they may not be required to provide alternate accommodation if the situation was not caused by their breach.

If either party is unable to come to an agreement then they can apply to the Tenancy Tribunal to have the matter resolved. For more on the rights and responsibilities of landlords and tenants when it comes to damage, go to https://www.tenancy.govt.nz/maintenance-and-inspections/repairs-and-damages/

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment provides information and guidance on building law and compliance, services including weathertight homes, and advice for tenants and landlords.

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