Q. I just had a leak into my unit from the unit above me. The owner wants to have a company come in to dry my unit. I have guests right now. Can I refuse to have the company come in until after my guests leave in a week? What are my rights? Can I terminate my lease? What should I expect will happen for clean-up of the unit and how long will it take?
A. This is a situation that happens quite frequently and I know will cause a great deal of inconvenience. However, water leaks can cause a great deal of damage to the walls, cabinets, flooring, and ceiling, not to mention your belongings. It is imperative that the drying of the unit begin immediately. It cannot wait a few weeks or even a few days. A professional water remediation company should be sent to the unit immediately. They have the proper equipment to test for the presence of moisture in the walls, to dry quickly and effectively, and to treat to prevent the growth of mold.
Not all mold is toxic, but moisture and mold may cause odors and in large quantities can cause some health problems such as headaches, allergies, breathing difficulties, and skin reactions. Mold is present everywhere in small amounts but moisture can cause it to grow very quickly and almost anywhere. If the moisture from the leak is not addressed right away, it may cause secondary damage for which the tenant will be liable if they refuse to allow access. Like any other repair, you must give your landlord a chance to resolve the problem and cannot terminate your lease, unless the problem cannot be resolved in a reasonable amount of time.
It has to be determined what type of water is involved. Clean water from a broken pipe, rainwater, or overflow from the toilet tank without contaminants is easier to handle. However, clean water will mix or dissolve with any soil or contaminants in the wall cavities or in the unit and can become a problem if not addressed. Contaminated water from a washing machine, dishwasher, toilet, or floodwaters from overflowing streams or rivers is more difficult to clean up and will involve the use of more disinfectants.
The source of the water should be identified and stopped. The damage to the unit will be assessed, pictures taken, and the walls checked for moisture. There will probably be damage to the unit that you cannot see but which must be addressed to prevent the growth of mold. If your books, furniture, electronics, or clothes got wet, there will be a plan for drying and restoration or disposal. All wet areas will be dried and disinfected if needed. Removal of any building materials containing asbestos should be done by a licensed professional.
The water in the carpets will be extracted and the carpets cleaned. Other flooring material needs to be analyzed to determine if they are porous, still intact and able to be salvaged, or must be replaced. Holes will be made in the affected walls and tubes placed in the holes. A dryer unit will be attached to dry out the walls. Depending on the amount of water involved, there may be multiple dryers working around the clock for at least several days. There will be a considerable amount of noise from the dryers and there will be hot, humid air coming from the units. Depending on where the dryers are located, it may be uncomfortable staying in the unit, so you may want to stay elsewhere. Once the drying is complete, the holes and other damage will need to be repaired and the unit restored to its original condition.