Before we go any further, we need to establish something real quick: We are not lawyers. Nothing in this blog article is meant to be a replacement for real advice from a real attorney, nor is it meant to be an authoritative substitute to simply reading your rental agreement. When it comes down to the rules for your specific situation – which can vary wildly by location – you need to break out the lease agreement and read it thoroughly.

Done? Good.

That said, there are some general principles that apply to most scenarios when it comes to your basic plumbing responsibilities. In its easiest form however, it goes something like this: If it’s your fault, you fix it; if it’s the house’s fault, the landlord fixes it.

Two Scenarios

Exhibit A is a clogged toilet – one of the most common household plumbing issues around. A standard clog is most likely the result of something the tenant has done, such as overloading the drain or throwing something in the tank that isn’t meant to be flushed, like a Q-tip. In these cases, it’s on the tenant to unclog the toilet, since it was their fault and not due to a failure in the piping of the house itself.

However, what if the drain was already plugged from poor maintenance or previous tenants, and the toilet needed to be removed completely before it could be fixed? Here, it’s most likely the responsibility of the landlord, since the problems didn’t involve the tenant whatsoever. In a similar situation, a pipe bursting in the walls is handled by the landlord, but if it occurs because the tenant didn’t cover the faucets during winter time, they can generally expect to foot most, if not all, of the bill.

Communication is Key

Regardless of who’s at fault, a good relationship between tenant and landlord is a must. Any problems that are perceived by the tenant needs to be communicated to the landlord as soon as possible so that it can be resolved; wait too long, and the landlord may be able to blame the resulting damage on the tenant.

Moreover, be sure to go over your specific rental agreement before you move in and check to see which repairs you’ll be responsible for, plumbing or otherwise. Most landlords have major issues already built into the contract, but yours may not, so it’ll behoove you to do a once-over on the fine print. Check for any problems when you move in also so that you can get those fixed. The last thing you want is to have to pay for a previous tenant’s neglect.