If you come across an unwanted water leak or damp stain, it can be a nightmare trying to find out how on earth it started and how to then stop it. This often all needs to happen straight away in order to stop things getting worse, and the culprit found to then pay for it.
This is when you can start asking around for help, but can often come up against blank walls and people passing the buck. Solicitors will just look at the theoretical lease, letting agents will pass onto the clients, and even managing agents can sometimes come up with just a general answer.
So you need a quick way to sift through the issues and get to the bottom line. Even if you have someone assisting you to resolve, this is helpful to make sure you understand what's happening, and help steer things where needed, whether a landlord, tenant, or, say, managing agent.
So here are the 5 key questions to ask for, which end up in a ‘Water-Leaks & Damp-Stains Checklist’ to refer to:
1. Where is the Water or Damp Coming From?
So begin with where the harm is, often a damp patch or water stain and leak on your inside walls or ceilings, possibly near dangerous services like electrics. Check everywhere, so even in other rooms or flats and areas below and either side of your property.
Then see any areas it might be coming from – this may appear obvious, but it will have to be coming from somewhere.
If it only appears or gets worse when it rains, then it's probably an outside rainwater leak through the roof, down pipe, or sills in a window. If you look outside you can hopefully spot a dripping pipe or damp area.
If not, then see if there's another nearby source of water, for example a possible leaking bath or shower if the damage is below a bathroom area, or near spilt liquids. It might also be a dripping over flow pipe that may be going outside but then causing damp back inside.
If you see a leak or stain in warm summer periods on a ceiling, this could be from an air conditioning unit leak - a popular problem in commercial office areas when everyone decides to switch the air conditioning on.
2. Why Did it Happen?
Linked with above, start seeing why the leak or damp has happened. So has the downpipe or gutter got a leak and can you see water oozing out when it rains, or has the seal gone around a bath or is there is a clear water patch around a pipe underneath?
If it's more of a damp patch, then if it's true damp through the main structure, it's often low down near the bottom near the ground level, and there should be other clear signs outside. A specialist damp company will probably be needed to then look into it.
Another popular cause, though, of damp is poor ventilation, particularly if you're near an en suite bathroom, or a kitchen or bathroom area with no extractor fan. Even any windows should have trickle vents that are kept open or windows left ajar for a while in order to clear the air, and not be keeping doors closed in order to keep out traffic noise or the cold weather, say, in winter.
3. What Can You Do to Stop it?
There may be an easy fix to get going with, maybe get the windows or vents open for air circulation, or at least stop the water supply to an area where running water is causing the problem.
You then have the bigger issues that can take time, whether a whole new ventilation system or series of damp proof works, external roof and gutter repairs, or a new bathroom suite.
Therefore think of these in two parts, the first is any emergency works to at least stop the problems getting worse. Although this ideally needs to happen quickly, you might still have to wait to do this correctly, so for example wait until the occupier of the flat above is available in order to gain access and stop the leak, rather than assume you can simply break in.
It can therefore be okay for the tenants themselves or an insurance claim to pick up the cost of extra damage because it was only right to give them a fair chance to respond before emergency access was needed.
Secondly, look at longer term solutions, which may take a while and need the specialists to get to the bottom of, and different quotes and specifications assembling together.
4. Who's Responsible For This?
This can unfortunately be misunderstood, and will need to involve any leases and titles to help clarify. If you own or occupy a building on its own it may be the occupier' s responsibility under the lease for all repairs, and not automatically the landlord’s insurance, although with cases like short-term residential lets the landlord will still be liable for fundamental parts like mains water services and roof areas.
If you're in a mixed-use property, for example a block of flats, then you may think it's the landlord if it's coming from outside your own flat, whereas it's actually the flat owner above from, for example, a washing machine leak. So in actual fact they’re the one you need to liaise with, and although the landlord or management company may be responsible for some of structure between these two areas, they can still only be the middle man to help resolve in this situation.
In other cases it might be border line, so a communal soil pipe down the building is causing the problem and therefore the landlord may have responsibility through a service charge. So in reality a landlord and management may need to get involved just in case they are liable, and be the needed middle-man to help organise people and contractors.
Whoever is ultimately responsible for the source of the water leak or damp spot, they often need to help resolve the aftermath repairs in other areas as well. So as well as fixing their own bath leak, repairing a damaged ceiling below, which may involve reimbursing this below owner for them organising in this area rather than automatically bringing in your own contractors.
5. How is it All Paid For?
In short, by the person who's responsible for the cause of it. As above, this might be another occupier and owner, or it could be a middle-man landlord or management company.
And as above, it may also involve resultant damage into another area, all as a consequence of the cause.
However, you may be able to cover some or all of the cost on an insurance claim, although this has to be looked into as a separate issue. If it does stem from an unforeseen event then it can often be covered ok, but the insurers will need to be informed about it straight away in order to see if a certain type and number of quotes are needed for this.
The 5 Key Questions to Damp and Water Problems
Going through these above 5 questions will help dig down into what the true situation is and how you can deal with any nasty damp and water stains and leaks you come across. Unfortunately there is often no standard answer to this, and you often need some good property management and detective skills to home in on the reality of the situation.
In order to go through these easily, here is our ‘Water-Leak & Damp-Stain Checklist’. Of course you will always need to bring in and inform others, but this will help you first correctly diagnose the problem and secondly make sure the right action is taken to resolve.
One of the keys then is working effectively with other people to get resolved, whether another landlord or tenant, managing agent, or insurance company. Tempers can be fraught when you are in the midst of such a crisis, but keep calm and don't automatically blame people, as it's in everyone's interests to work it out together as soon as possible.