You can live in a city with perfectly safe drinking water and still find that the water coming from the taps in your apartment isn’t safe to drink. Maybe the pipes are old and contain lead; maybe there is bacteria in your water. No matter what the problem is, though, your first point of contact should be your landlord.
Your landlord’s responsibility to provide you with clean drinking water varies from state to state. In the Commonwealth of Virginia, for instance, a landlord must ‘maintain in good and safe working condition all plumbing’ as well as ‘supply running water’. At least in that state, that requirement is generally interpreted to mean that tenants have a right to safe drinking water.
Even in situations where a landlord might be able to legally get out of fixing pipes or taking other actions to ensure that tenants have clean drinking water, many apartment building owners will take the necessary steps to improve drinking water if only to guarantee that tenants won’t want to break their leases.
When you approach your landlord about a water problem, it’s important to be clear on exactly what you want. While you may simply want the problem resolved, plumbing matters are not always that simple. There are any number of reasons that replacing old pipes might legitimately be delayed and you should ask your landlord to help you find clean water during that time.
You can ask your landlord to provide you some sort of filtration device or bottled water — or you can provide such items for yourself and request that your landlord reduce your rent during that time. You should be aware that not all drinking water issues may be considered your landlord’s concern. If, for instance, a local gas station’s underground fuel tank has contaminated your drinking water, your landlord is unlikely to be considered at fault.
If your landlord refuses to take action on your water problem, you may have grounds to break your lease or take legal action. There is likely a local tenants’ rights group in your city; you can often find them through the mayor’s office or the local housing department. Those groups can advise you on the actions you can take under your state’s laws.
You should also make sure that you have a thorough record of the situation: water test results, a written request for your landlord to fix the problem and any other paperwork your lack of clean water has generated.
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