Ceiling Leak From the Upstairs Apartment? Here’s What to Do

By: Diana Rodriguez-Zaba
Updated on: August 10, 2023

Dealing with water damage in your apartment isn’t easy. It’s even harder when the source of the water is a ceiling leak from the upstairs apartment. 

Our restoration teams take care of apartment ceiling leak restoration and repair in Chicago, IL and the suburbs every single day. 

Based on our years of experience, we offer this overview of the causes, do’s and don’ts and tips for handling everything.

What Causes Apartment Ceiling Leaks?

water damage upstairs apartment
Some of the most common causes of water damage in apartments include leaking washers (left) and backed-up toilets (right)

An upstairs unit is almost always the source of a leaking ceiling in the apartment below.

However, damage can sometimes result from building-wide plumbing issues.

Let’s take a look at the most common reasons for water leaking through your apartment ceiling.

Problems in the Upstairs Apartment

  1. Leaky refrigerator water lines
  2. Broken dishwashers or disposals
  3. Overflowing sinks or bathtubs
  4. Clogged or backed-up toilets
  5. Leaking washers

Problems in the Building

  1. Frozen burst pipes 
  2. Leaking air conditioning lines
  3. Broken fire sprinkler pipes
  4. Leaks in water heating systems
  5. General plumbing failures

What Are the Signs of Apartment Ceiling Water Damage?


Water dripping from the apartment ceiling is an obvious indication of trouble. 

However, the leak from upstairs may have started hours or even days earlier. 

There are clues that often show up before a ceiling begins leaking.

If you notice any of these signs of water damage overhead, it’s time to take action.

1. Sagging Ceiling Tiles

When the weight of accumulated water causes tiles to sag or buckle, the entire ceiling can collapse. Call a water damage professional immediately.

2. Hairline Cracks

Thin cracks in the ceiling can be the result of water-damaged materials expanding and contracting. Typically, the cracks are edged with pale yellow or brown stains.

3. Rings and Spots

These types of ceiling stains appear as rings that expand in oval or circular shapes. Their colors range from shades of dark brown to light yellow.

4. Paint Flaking

When a water leak damages a painted ceiling, the soaked materials cause the paint to lift from the ceiling surface. The results are patches of flaking, peeling or bubbling paint. 

5. Wall Stains

Overhead water damage can result in colored streaks running down walls from ceiling junctions. Damp cornice areas adjacent to the streaking often appear stained as well. 

6. Moldy Patches

When porous materials become wet, mold in the ceiling takes hold and quickly spreads. The fungus appears as dark patches and fills the area with a musty smell.

What Damage Does a Ceiling Leak from Another Unit Cause?

buckling apartment ceiling in chicago
Apartment ceilings with water damage can eventually buckle and collapse

A ceiling leak usually results in serious damage, including:

  • Water leaking from upstairs weakens the apartment ceiling.
  • Apartment ceilings with water damage can eventually buckle and collapse.
  • Damp settles deep into furniture cushions, padding and wood trim.
  • Moisture in carpets seeps into flooring, wicks into drywall and warps baseboards.
  • Mold growth takes hold and spreads within 24 hours of the initial damage.
  • Ceiling leaks through overhead light fixtures can create serious electrical hazards.

How Do I Deal With a Ceiling Leak From Upstairs?

renters insurance

When water from the upstairs unit leaks through your apartment ceiling, you need to take care of the situation and mitigate the water damage as quickly as possible. 

Dealing with a ceiling leak from the upstairs unit isn’t easy, so let’s take it step by step.

1. Check the Upstairs Apartment

Check in with your upstairs neighbors, and ask them if they’re aware of the problem.

Explain that your ceiling is dripping water directly beneath their unit. They may already be addressing the leak, but it might be the result of a breakdown in the building’s plumbing system.

2. Contact Property Management

Contact your landlord or management company, and explain the situation, including damages to your apartment and belongings. Ask how quickly they can stop the overhead leak.

If they can’t take care of it right away, let them know that you may have to relocate until the problem is fixed.

3. Clean What You Can

Move furniture and belongings out of the way. Set buckets underneath the ceiling leaks, and mop up standing water. Keep a close eye on your buckets.

Start the drying process by opening windows and running fans. Circulating fresh air through the apartment also helps reduce the musty odor of wet ceiling materials. 

Power Tip: As you work, take pictures of the water damage to your furniture and belongings. This documentation will help support your renter’s insurance claim.

4. Call Your Insurance Company

The water damages in your apartment may or may not be covered by the building owner’s insurance. The neighbors upstairs may or may not have renter’s insurance.

Don’t assume either one will take care of cleanup and restoration costs.

Call your insurance company. They’ll work with the other parties.

Power Tip: If you don’t have renter’s insurance, check online for information specific to your state. 

5. Bring in Water Damage Professionals

You can take care of basic cleanup, but the unit still needs deep cleaning, structural drying and ceiling repairs. Call an industry-certified company that specializes in apartment water damage restoration.

If you’re in the Chicago area, our teams here at ServiceMaster by Zaba are available 24/7.

6. Review Your Lease Details

Review the lease to your apartment, and check it for details about any type of damage to the unit.

It should spell out responsibility for most situations, but make notes about points that may apply to water damage from the upstairs apartment or damages resulting from problems with the building’s plumbing system.

Power Tip: The legal terms in a lease agreement can seem complicated. Your insurance agent or your restoration professional can help you understand the details.

7. Know Your Tenant’s Rights

In most cases, building management wants the ceiling water damage problem solved quickly. They should be transparent about their responsibilities, but you want to be sure you’re on solid legal ground.

Check online for government resources that provide detailed information about your legal rights as a tenant.

Who Is Responsible for an Apartment Ceiling Leak?


How do you handle damages from an overhead water leak in the apartment? Who is responsible? 

Sorting everything out is similar to resolving water damages in a condo with several important differences.

Under most state laws, the apartment property manager is obligated to maintain individual units and keep the building’s plumbing system in good working condition.

For example, if your water-damaged ceiling is the result of a frozen burst pipe, the property owner’s insurance should cover the cost of cleanup and restoration. 

If the water dripping through your apartment ceiling is coming from the unit over yours, the neighbors upstairs may be responsible. Their liability depends on multiple factors, including any neglect on their part.

Keep in mind that if the neighbors are responsible for your water damage, they may not carry renter’s insurance.

Sorting it all out can get complicated.

When there doesn’t seem to be a straightforward solution, it’s best to let your insurance company work out the details. If determining final responsibility results in litigation, your insurance company’s legal branch will handle it.

It’s important to understand that the laws covering this type of situation vary depending on where you live. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development provides online access to state-by-state tenant rights.

Does Renters Insurance Cover the Damage?

Talk to your insurance agent about water damage coverage details. Your belongings and furnishings should be covered by your policy.

If the damages will take weeks or months to repair, renters insurance covers temporary living, so discuss this with your agent. The neighbors upstairs may or may not be responsible for the leak, but that shouldn’t affect your coverage.

Your insurance carrier has the legal right to subrogation. This means that the company can seek to recoup its loss if the upstairs tenants or building owners are determined liable for damages. Once your claim is approved, your insurance carrier might take this additional course of action.

In the rare case of an apartment ceiling leaking from rain, traditional renters insurance doesn’t cover your loss.

Water damage caused by a natural flooding event can be covered by purchasing a separate flood insurance policy.

Should I Call a Professional Water Damage Restoration Company?

water damage restoration professional in chicago
Water restoration technicians can pinpoint the exact cause of the leak and repair the damages

When your apartment is flooded from upstairs, the damage drips down on everything. A ceiling leak can soak furniture, clothes, electronics and appliances.

Even belongings like photos, books and important papers are at risk.

It’s important to know that restoration companies don’t provide services to rental properties until contacted by the legal property owner. Only he or she can authorize work like removing structural materials from the affected unit.

If your landlord approves the restoration company in writing, then you’re ready to go. If you hire the restoration company on your own, you may be responsible for emergency services.

Don’t assume the landlord will cover expenses. Be prepared to pay for these services up front. Also, have a copy of your lease handy for the restoration company’s verification.

Maximize your recovery by bringing in a water damage contractor. These are just a few of the benefits of letting industry-certified technicians take care of the job.

  • Technicians clean, sanitize and restore everything, including carpets, furniture and personal belongings.
  • A specialized drying process ensures your apartment doesn’t develop future moisture-related problems.
  • Mold removal and remediation eliminates the threat of unhealthy fungal growth in affected materials.
  • Restoration staff sorts through insurance details and assists in determining responsibility and filing your claim.

Dealing With a Ceiling Water Leak in Your Chicago Apartment? We Can Help

Water leaking from the upstairs apartment always means trouble. We’re always here for you 24/7 with a complete line of remediation and restoration services.

Our teams specialize in ceiling water damage repair for Chicago residents, and we cover the suburbs too.

When you need expert help right away, call us first here at ServiceMaster Restoration by Zaba: 773-647-1985.

Does mold grow in a leaking ceiling?

Yes. Mold begins to grow in ceiling tiles and surrounding materials within 24 hours of initial damage. It quickly spreads even after the leak is repaired.

Can a water leak in a ceiling be dangerous?

Yes. Water in the ceiling can cause it to collapse. It can also damage surrounding supporting structure. A ceiling leak can cause serious problems with wiring and light fixtures.

How much does it cost to repair a leaking ceiling?

It depends on the work involved in fixing the leak, restoring damaged materials and remediating mold growth.