Turning on your shower for your morning wake-up ritual and discovering nothing but icy cold water flowing from the tap is extremely disconcerting, even earth-shattering to those who rely on that stimulus to jump-start their day.
You contact the landlord, who may not yet be aware of the problem, and realize this isn’t something that’s easily fixable. But before you start heating water on the stove and preparing for a sponge bath, you’ll probably want to read through these tips for surviving your apartment without hot water.
Is the Landlord Responsible?
First thing’s first here. Whether or not it’s specifically stated in your lease or rental agreement, management is required by law to provide tenants with a safe and healthy space to live in. And lucky for us all, hot water is one of the services considered vital to health and safety.
What Happens Next
If you live in an apartment complex that has a single hot water heater for all tenants, the landlord will typically check with your neighbors to determine if the problem is affecting everyone or just you. If you are the only renter with no hot water, a plumber or other professional water line specialist will be summoned to check the pipes and other water-related apparatuses in your home to find the problem. If, however, no one in the building has hot water, the problem usually lies with the community water heater.
In either case, it’s a good idea to submit your complaint in writing after verbally reporting it.
Why Do Water Heaters Fail?
There are two common reasons why water heaters fail. They’re either so old that they’re simply worn out, or the thermostat on them is malfunctioning. The former can only be fixed by installing a new water heater. If the problem is the thermostat, however, then that part is the only thing that needs to be replaced to properly regulate the temperature and alleviate the crisis.
In some cases, the solution to your hot water problem might be even simpler. With gas-powered water heaters especially, you’ll often find it’s usually just the pilot light that needs to be relit. A leak in the gas line could also be the culprit. In both gas and electric water heaters, the heating element may also need replacement. Sediment buildup in the tank can also deter the heater’s ability to heat water to an acceptable temperature.
How Long Does It Take to Fix The Problem?
Regardless of the cause of the problem, it should pretty much always take 24 hours or less to get resolved. Again, the landlord is obligated to either have a competent professional fix the problem or replace the water heater with one that works properly.
What Can I Do If The Landlord Doesn’t Fix The Water Heater?
Tenants of rented houses and apartments with individual water heaters have three options if repairs are not made within 24 hours. You can:
- Pay out-of-pocket for repairs or replacement. If you can afford the expense, this is the most efficient way to get your hot water back. Simply present the invoice to the landlord for reimbursement. Just remember to contact a tenant support agency if your landlord doesn’t pay you back, and they’ll help you recoup your money through legal channels, sometimes going so far as to having you sue the landlord for damages in small claims court.
- Refuse to pay rent. Since your landlord is defaulting on their agreement with you to provide a safe and healthy living environment, withholding rent is acceptable in this scenario. Talk to a tenant support agency for more advice on how to take this action legally.
- Break your lease agreement entirely. Again, if the landlord defaults on his obligations to you as a tenant, this is a legit option.
Water heaters are expensive, so it’s wise to have a reputable technician assess the problem before buying a new one flat-out. The average national cost in 2019 to replace a residential water heater for a single home or apartment (typically one with a 50-gallon capacity) ranges between $650 and $1800, including parts and labor. Choose a technician that does free estimates or agrees in writing to apply the cost of the estimate to the heater itself if deemed necessary.
You should also weigh the cost of repairs against that of replacement, especially if the water heater is old. The average lifespan of a gas water heater is eight to 12 years, while an electric one typically lasts between 10 and 15. Paying for repairs on a unit that is reaching its expiration date is risky to say the least.
Tenants who live in duplexes, triplexes, or quadplexes often find it more cost-effective to pool their resources and share a water heater. A larger-capacity water heater should be considered if there are multiple occupants in the units, or if the apartments are each equipped with clothes washers.
Having no hot water is much like losing electricity. You don’t realize how much you depend on it until it’s gone. And although it seems unthinkable right now, you may actually miss the task of washing dishes when it disappears!