Who is liable for a water leak?

Water leaks. An often unavoidable, but inconvenient nevertheless, fact of life.

When living in a house, especially one wholly detached from the surrounding properties, water leaks rarely cause concern to anyone but yourself. However, this is a different story when it comes to tenement properties: two or more related but separate flats that are divided horizontally.

The rules of tenements

It’s common for tenements to have rules within the title deeds, known as burdens, servitudes and conditions, that dictate the use and enjoyment of individual flats and communal areas. Modern developments often have a Deed of Conditions included in every title. This gives consistent and practical provisions to control the use of the flats. Of course, this will not always limit disruption, as unfortunately, some residents choose to live without regard for their neighbours.

The title deeds for an older tenement will likely be less detailed than more modern ones, but the law provides an alternative under the name of a Tenement Management Scheme. This is a default set of rules to govern the block by good practice and is available to individual owners who may need assistance stopping a neighbour from doing, or not doing, something wrong.

Although a lot of neighbour disputes can be avoided whilst inside your own home, a water leak from the residence above not only causes inconvenience and potential damage but is also often unsolvable without cooperation from the other party.

Who is liable?

Liability in these circumstances comes down to a few factors. If the flooding was intentional, an unlikely but not impossible scenario, the resident of the above flat would be liable to pay, regardless of whether they own the property or are renting it.

Of course, it is much more common for the leak to be accidental. The owner of the above flat would be liable to pay in this situation, be it the resident themselves, or the landlord if the property is rented. An individual in either circumstance should have a relevant insurance policy in place to cover accidental instances such as this, but if they don’t, they will need to pay out of pocket. Some tenements may require homeowners to have insurance in place, and others may have a block insurance policy for residents to report and make a claim of this nature.

If you find yourself falling victim to repeated leaks, or a series of avoidable incidents that arise due to a defect in the property, there may be grounds to claim compensation due to provable negligence on the part of the upstairs owner/resident. It’s unlikely that you will be able to take any higher action for a one-off accidental leak or breakage.

Prevention is better than cure

If you’re planning to purchase a tenement property, be sure to thoroughly check the deeds to be confident in any rules that are set in place. You can enlist the assistance of a solicitor to run you through the key rules so that you’re made aware of any obligations for insurance, and of any communal areas that have their own set of rules.

Also, as part of the conveyancing process, your solicitor will get a letter that outlines the costs of insurance and any outstanding works or bills for the property. The seller should be liable to pay anything up to the date you officially take over as the owner. Be aware that from then on, you are liable for new repairs and costs.

If you need legal advice or assistance related to any of the matters above contact our expert team today.

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