What to Do If Your Apartment Floods

After the flash floods tragedy from Tropical Storm Ida, many people in New York City and New Jersey had to deal with flooded apartments. Even after the water receded, many residents still had to worry about repairs and potentially replacing damaged items. Of course, it’s not just heavy rainfall that can cause apartment flooding. There are plenty of other emergencies that can potentially cause serious issues.

While there’s not much you can do to mitigate the stress once your apartment floods, there are luckily a few things you can do to prevent it from happening. If all else fails, at the very least you’ll be prepared.

Common Causes of Flooding

Flooding can happen anywhere whether from extreme weather conditions or faulty piping. Common sources include:

  • Heavy rain – the NYC flood that happened on September 1, 2021 dumped 10+ inches of water in New York City metro and New Jersey leading to heavy flooding. Rain at this rate can overflow streams, drains, and sewer systems sending water overflowing into homes and apartments.
  • Clogged pipes – more often than not, plumbing is often the internal culprit when it comes to flooding. Clogged pipes mean water can’t drain properly, so it comes back up in sinks, bathtubs, or toilets. In apartment buildings, a clog in the apartment below you could backup your plumbing.
  • Drainage basins – large cities like New York use concrete drainage basins, which don’t provide a place for groundwater to get absorbed. In heavy rains, the basins overflow, leading to street flooding which can spread to the first few floors of  buildings
  • Leaky roofs – A small crack in the roof can become an access point for water to drip down if it’s not addressed quickly. If you live on the top floor of your apartment building, be on the lookout for any signs of moisture or water damage on your ceiling. This could point to a much larger issue.

Pre-Flood Precautions

The best offense is a good defense. If you plan on moving to a new apartment, you should take the time to vet the areas where the potential apartments are located to see if it is known for flooding. Many low-lying areas in Queens and Brooklyn tend to flood even during normal rainfall! You can find maps of flood-prone areas online. Of course, there might be a reason why you want to move to that particular neighborhood. If you know you’re moving to a flood zone, avoid renting out basement and first-floor apartments.

When moving into a new place, ask the landlord if there have been any recent leaks in the building and what type. Many older buildings tend to have old, leaky pipes. Even if they choose not to answer, you should a close inspection of the apartment for tell-tale signs of water damage such as:

  • Dark or wet spots
  • Crackling, bubbling, or flaking drywall or paint
  • Damp, must, or moldy smell
  • Sagging ceilings and walls

You should actively avoid apartments with water damage as it can lead to serious issues like rotted wood and black mold.

If you have no plans on moving out of your apartment, you should at least have a plan in case your apartment floods. Find a spot where you can place important paperwork, electronics, and valuables to avoid potential water damage. For important documents, place them in a waterproof safety box or plastic sandwich bag. Keep electronics off the floor as much as possible and away from walls near the kitchen and bathroom.

Of course, you might not always be home when a flood starts which means you might not be able to move everything to a safe space. One of the best investments you can make is to purchase renter’s insurance. While you aren’t legally required to purchase a policy, it can add an extra layer of protection to your valuables in the case of certain weather situations and backup water damage. Unfortunately, it does not cover flood damage so if you live in a flood-prone area you should also purchase flood insurance.

During the Flood

Whether you’re dealing with leaking pipes, overflowing sinks, or flooding from the apartment above, your first step is to find out where the water is coming from. Once you’ve identified the source, it might be possible to turn off the water source especially if it’s a leaky toilet or sink. If you can, turn off the water immediately and call your landlord or super to inform them of the issue. If they don’t respond in a timely manner, you might have to call a plumber yourself.

Things get a bit trickier if the leak is not coming from your apartment. In these cases, you’ll have to wait until the super gets in touch with you. You’ll still want to move everything away from the path of the water. Depending on how heavy the water flow is, you can set up some buckets or large bowls to catch and water dripping from the ceiling. You could also use towels to soak water dripping from the walls. This only works for low water flow. For severe leaks, you should try to get in touch with your landlord, super, and building management as soon as possible.

If the flood is from a hurricane or other disaster, make sure to get somewhere safe as soon as possible. Salvage what you can such as important paperwork and essentials like your computer and evacuate the apartment if necessary. Once you’re somewhere safe, you can figure out the next steps.

After the Flood

The stress doesn’t end once the water subsides. You’ll need to pick up the pieces and get things repaired and try to get back to normal. This means looking through the terms of your lease as well as putting through insurance claims. In order to receive some compensation for repairs to your apartment and replacing items that were damaged by the water, you shouldn’t rush through this final step as it could mean losing out on thousands of dollars.

The first step after a flood is documenting all the damage that occurred. This is both for your insurance company and for your property manager. Take pictures of your damaged items as well as damage on any walls and ceilings. Be as thorough as possible as you don’t want to get stuck with the bill! Also, make sure you don’t throw out anything until an insurance adjuster comes out and documents the damage.

After that, you’ll need to establish responsibility. Damage to the building falls under the property owner’s insurance this includes the actual structure and anything that came with the unit such as appliances and carpets. In general, you are responsible for your personal property.

There are exceptions. If flooding happens because your property manager didn’t fix a known issue, they might be held liable for your personal property. You’ll have to prove that the property owner knew about this beforehand via emails, text messages, etc. Now, if you caused the flooding, you might have to pay for all the damage, including damage to the building. If you don’t think your actions caused the flood, you should consult a lawyer to avoid paying unnecessary damages.

If the damage to the flooded apartment makes it unlivable, you may be able to terminate the lease without any penalties. If the property owner has another, equivalent apartment, you could try and negotiate a move into that unit. You could also work out a temporary living situation until your apartment gets repaired. Just make sure to check your lease for the exact terms. If you can’t work something out with, you should find another place to live.

Conclusion

Flooded apartments can wreak havoc on your life and cost a lot of money. However, if you prepare yourself and have an action plan, you should be able to minimize damage. Whether you’re dealing with a leak or a deluge, some preparation can help you get ahead of potentially stressful situations.

FAQ

How much is renters insurance?

It depends on the amount you want to be insured and the insurance you use. In general, renters insurance can cost up to $200/year

Can I save water-damaged furniture?

It depends on the damage and what type of furniture. Solid wood furniture is more resistant to water damage. Just make sure to clean it thoroughly of dirt and mildew, then dry it completely.

How can I prevent my apartment from flooding?

As a renter, there isn’t too much you can do as you do not manage the entire building. However, there are a few things you can do:

  • Make sure all water faucets are turned off before leaving the house or going to bed
  • Unclog sinks, showers, and toilets consistently to avoid larger issues
  • Contact the landlord/property owner immediately when you notice potential water damage to get it fixed