How to Deal With Water Damage in Your Apartment

By: Diana Rodriguez-Zaba
Updated on: November 14, 2023

You don’t own the apartment, but it is your home. Whether you drive to work or telecommute, the unit serves as your base. This is where you live, relax and enjoy leasing personal space.

It’s also where a burst pipe, appliance failure or upstairs neighbor can soak the rooms and ruin your belongings. Cleaning up the mess is just the beginning of dealing with a water-damaged apartment.

You have to address repairs, sort out responsibilities and protect your rights as a tenant. As Chicago’s leading water restoration pros, we can help.

Let’s take a close look at how to handle water damage in your apartment.

6 Common Causes of Water Damage in Apartments

Ceiling stains are a sure sign of water-damage in your apartment.

The worst water damage in an apartment usually starts while you’re asleep or away from home.

In just a few hours, carpets and walls become soaked, furniture wicks up moisture and the damp impacts all your belongings.

Most water damage in apartments originates from one of these six sources:

  1. Plumbing failures
  2. Burst water pipe
  3. Leaking appliances
  4. Toilet clogs and backups
  5. Flooding from upstairs units
  6. Faulty roof and gutter systems

Who Is Responsible for Water Damage in an Apartment?

You’re facing the aftermath of serious water damage in the apartment. Who is responsible for repairs, cleanup and reconstruction? Who pays for water-damaged items that you have to replace?

The answers depend on which state you live in. Laws vary, so check online for specifics that apply to your location.

Illinois landlord-tenant laws require building management to keep your unit safe and habitable. That includes general maintenance and system repairs. If a frozen pipe burst soaks the apartment, the landlord is responsible for water-damaged floors, walls and fixtures. You’re responsible for personal belongings.

If water damage results from your negligence, you’re considered the responsible party.

For example, if you ignore a clogged toilet or pipe leak, you can be held liable for damages. Always review lease details before signing so that you understand your responsibilities as a tenant.

Chicago Apartment Water Damage: Tenant’s Rights

Regardless of who’s responsible, you need to address another critical question after an apartment floods: “What are my rights?” Fortunately, most landlords operate within local ordinances that specifically cover Chicago tenant rights.

You can access detailed information through the city’s Chicago Rents Right Hot-line.

In general, your rights as a tenant include these options:

  • Deducting DIY repair costs from rent payments
  • Notification of rent payment suspension
  • Lease termination
  • Legal recourse through filing an injunction or lawsuit

How Long Does a Landlord Have to Fix Water Damage?

In general, landlords have from 3 to 7 days to take care of critical repairs and 30 days to fix non-critical repairs. Please be aware that details vary depending on your state’s landlord-tenant laws.

If you live in Illinois, your landlord is expected to take care of repairs within 14 days of first occurrence. If the building manager or landlord doesn’t make repairs within this time frame, you may be able to collect damages, move out temporarily or terminate the lease.

It’s important to document the process as your landlord makes repairs. Keep records of when the damage first occurred and all communication between you, building management and other affected tenants.

What If Neighbors Are Responsible for the Water Damage?

During a recent service call, our moisture camera detected significant water damage in an apartment caused by the neighbor above.

If your unit is soaked because of water damage from the upstairs apartment, find out right away what caused the problem. The same principles that apply to damage originating in your unit apply in this case.

For example, if water damage in your apartment ceiling is the result of an unattended bathtub overflow upstairs, the neighbor is liable for repairs and cleanup in both apartments. If the leak happened because of a plumbing failure between floors, building management is responsible.

What To Do If Your Apartment Has Water Damage: 5 Steps

Insist on bringing a water damage restoration company to take care of water damage right away.

In most cases, it’s easy to identify who’s responsible for the water-damaged apartment. Repairs get under way immediately, and you’re quickly moving toward full recovery and restoration.

However, it’s best to know now what steps you need to take right away.

  1. Sound the Alarm – Contact building management and affected neighbors as quickly as possible.
  2. Save What You Can – Get belongings off the floor and away from wet areas.
  3. Document Everything – Take pictures and video of all water damage in the apartment.
  4. Address Initial Damage – Mop up standing water, and set up fans and dehumidifiers.
  5. Insist on Restoration Pros – Make it clear that you expect water damage pros to handle cleanup and restoration.

What If Your Apartment Is Unlivable Due to Water Damage?

It doesn’t happen often, but water damage can leave an apartment uninhabitable. Structural problems, mold growth and general air contamination create an unhealthy environment. Most landlords start repairs and restoration as quickly as possible, but the process can take time.

If water damage prevents you from staying in the apartment, you do have rights that apply to the situation.

Check the ordinances that apply in your city. If you live in the Chicago area, take a look at the city’s Residential Landlord and Tenant Ordinance. It’s an excellent resource for details, including these options.

  • Landlord reimbursement for off-premise housing during repairs
  • Reductions in monthly rent payment to cover your out-of-pocket costs
  • Your written notice of lease termination due to negligent repairs
  • Legal action to recover out-of-pocket costs for relocation and loss of personal belongings

Dealing With Water Damage in Your Chicago Apartment? We Can Help!

It can seem overwhelming, but the aftermath of water damage in your apartment is manageable. We know because we take care of tenants and landlords dealing with water-damaged property in Chicago and the suburbs. We can help you.

ServiceMaster by Zaba handles everything from pipe repairs and ceiling replacements to mold remediation. Whether you rent the unit or own the building, we’re your one-stop shop for full-service water damage restoration.

Our teams are ready 24/7 and just a phone call away: 773-647-1985