Here’s a common scenario: during a storm, rainwater seeps up through the floor of a garden apartment, crests at two inches and eventually subsides. Flooding seems to be a hot topic in northern Illinois this week. Even our firm has been “evicted” from our usual place of business in Chicago and we are running a “virtual office” thanks to this past weekend’s floods. What is a tenant to do when there is a flood and what are the landlord’s obligations in a flood situation?
First, landlords and tenants need to look at their lease to determine their rights and obligations with respect to a flood. A well crafted lease will contain a clause addressing situations involving fire, floods, or other casualties. If the lease is silent on the issue, a landlord generally has an obligation, within a reasonable time, to make repairs to the condition causing the flooding (sometimes there is no correctable condition, like in the event of a “100 year flood”). The landlord also has the obligation to repair or restore the rental property to the condition it was in at the start of the lease, ordinary wear and tear excepted (ie. replace or clean the carpet, drywall, baseboards, etc.). In doing so, a landlord should have the repair or replacement work done in a workmanlike fashion so that there are no residual side effects of the flooding such as mold.
What about the tenant’s personal property? Again, the lease is the first place to look. Most leases will clarify that the landlord is not responsible for the tenant’s possessions. Absent some form of negligence on the part of the landlord, the tenant will be responsible for the repair and replacement of the tenant’s personal property. This exposure to damage is one of the best reasons for tenants, especially those in garden or first floor units, to get renter’s insurance that includes appropriate coverage for events such as this past weekend’s flooding in Chicago and the suburbs.
Please note, this is not a discussion of untenantability for cases involving severe flooding or where a property cannot be inhabited. Those rules are different.