Flooded House: What to Do When Your Rental Home Floods

by Lesly Gregory | Updated: Feb 25, 2021

A flooded house is one of those potential situations nobody likes to think about. Between bursting pipes, malfunctioning appliances and natural disasters, there are definite situations that can force too much water into your home.

Water damage from any level of flooding is costly to repair. From natural disasters alone in the U.S. each year, around 75,000 Americans get driven from their homes. Flood-related property damage can total up to $2 billion in a single year. And, these numbers don't take into account what happens when your home floods for other reasons.

There's also the fact that standard renters insurance doesn't typically cover water damage cleanup.

What you do have going for you is that flooding isn't that common.

However, as a renter, you should still know how to protect yourself and your property should you encounter a flooded house. Know what you can do to save your stuff, keep yourself safe and begin to address damages while working with your landlord.

First, get renters insurance

Even though it's unlikely, prepare yourself for a flooded house, as well as many other “what if" situations by getting renters insurance. Make this one of the first things you do after signing a lease. It's relatively affordable depending on your specific policy and covers many of the basic types of damage likely to happen at home (and in your car).

Flood insurance is usually an add-on, but basic coverage should include water damage from burst pipes or broken appliances that leak. It gets determined by a home's location, elevation and flood risk. Policies can get pricey, but when you weigh the cost of water damage cleanup and replacing all your stuff, it's worth the extra coverage.

Living in an area with a lot of rain, hurricanes or other types of watery weather makes adding flood insurance to your insurance policy a good idea.

What do you do if your house is flooded?

Flooded house with water, the couch and chairs are submerged.

Floods happen fast. Out in nature, a flash flood can sweep through in a matter of seconds. What's even scarier is they often happen at night when you're least prepared. Inside our own homes, a pipe can burst or a leak can occur while we're on vacation, leaving plenty of time for water to puddle exactly where you don't want it.

There's not always time to prevent a flooded house, so what do you do next?

Protect yourself

When water that doesn't belong in your house comes in, there's a chance it's contaminated. Regardless, it's not the same water that comes out of your sink, so taking proper precautions is important.

Definitely don't drink it, but also wear gloves, masks and waterproof boots to keep safe. If your skin comes into contact with potentially contaminated water, wash the area thoroughly with soap and clean water as soon as possible or use hand sanitizer.

Any clothing that comes into contact with contaminated water should go straight into the washing machine in a hot-water cycle before you wear it again.

Turn off water

If the cause of your flooded house is a leak of some kind, rather than an act of nature, you might have the ability to control the water flow. This can slow things down and possibly reduce the damage in your flooded home. All you have to do is turn off your water.

You'll need to locate the main water valve first. You can find it on the inside or outside of your home. Look for your water meter, as it's a dead giveaway for where your water main is.

To shut it off, turn the wheel valve clockwise two or more full revolutions. If the valve is a lever, turn until it's no longer parallel with the pipe. You can then turn on all your faucets to flush out any water remaining in the pipes.

Shut down and unplug electronics

Water and electricity don't mix, so remove your risk of dealing with a flood and electric shock by unplugging everything. Not only that, shut off the electricity at the source by flipping the main fuse in your fuse box.

Once that's done, you may also want to move your smaller electronics out of any standing water if possible.

Get what you can away from the water

The longer things sit in standing water, the more likely they are to get ruined. Try and save things like important papers, photographs, clothes and books.

If you can, carry things out of your house completely and store them in your car or at a neighbor or friend's house. At the very least, if you have a dry room, stash important items in there.

When in doubt, pile things up on the highest shelves to reduce the risk of them getting wet.

Evacuate

Leaving your home because of a flood doesn't necessarily mean taking off to find shelter elsewhere. But, don't stay if you have standing water in your home.

If your flood is the result of an internal issue in the home, simply go outside until you figure out the next steps. Make arrangements to have your pets stay with a friend or family member while your home gets repaired as well.

When there's a forced evacuation due to a natural disaster, you'll receive instructions on where to go to stay safe. When weather unexpectedly causes flooding, try to locate a temporary shelter, stay with someone or check into a hotel. Your expenses may end up getting covered by insurance if your home gets deemed unlivable.

Contact your landlord

It's hard to decide in which order all these things should get done once your home floods, but at the top of the list is to call your landlord. They need to know what's going on as soon as possible with complete details as to what caused the flood and how extensive the damage is.

Your landlord is responsible for anything that came with the rental. They're required to get the house repaired and back to being livable. Any structural damage, issues with utilities or similar problems are their responsibility.

The sooner you can communicate to your landlord what's going on, the sooner they can schedule professionals to come in and make necessary repairs to get your home back in top shape again.

Call your insurance agent

Since you were smart and got renters insurance, the next thing for you to do is give your insurance agent a call. Let them know immediately what happened to open a claim and have it processed quickly. This will get you your compensation faster if there is any.

To help out your agent, start taking pictures of everything in your home to document any and all damage. If the flooding is too severe to stay in the house, telling your agent what happened and the cause of the flood will get the ball rolling.

How do you clean a flooded house?

Woman on the phone in distress while holding a bucket as water pours from her ceiling.

After you make all the right calls, alert the proper people and spend time trying to protect your stuff, it's time to begin the arduous task of cleaning up. This means dealing with water damage as well as replacing ruined items, taking inventory of everything that needs your attention and more.

Some issues will fall to your landlord to handle, but making calls and scheduling repairs takes time. You don't have to sit and wait in the water while all this goes on. There are a few things you can do to move the water damage cleanup along.

Salvage personal items

Grab what you can save and get it out of the house. Focus on personal items and those you can't easily replace. Most furniture gets ruined in a flood because so much of it will sit on the floor, so focusing on the smaller items first may mean you can grab more before there's too much damage.

Throw out things you know won't come back from their watery interaction. This can include rugs, curtains and any number of items. Take pictures of everything for insurance purposes, even if you have to throw it away before your insurance agent makes a site visit.

Get rid of the water

Mold is your biggest enemy when flooding occurs, so getting rid of water as fast as possible is essential. Areas that stay wet or damp for more than 48 hours pose a big mold risk. Even if you can't pull the standing water out of your home right away, try and reduce the humidity in your house by keeping windows open. If you can run ceiling fans, pop those on as well.

Once it's safe to plug in electronics to wall outlets, consider getting some box fans or a dehumidifier.

If you notice any mold forming around your house, attack it fast with bleach, a guaranteed killer.

Disinfect everything

Unwanted water brings more than just mold — it also brings in germs. Cleaning all surfaces is essential, but make sure you use a disinfectant strong enough to take care of business.

Anything you can put in the washing machine to get clean, do so. Make sure you're using detergent with hot water. Dry everything thoroughly in the dryer as well.

Don't forget about walls and ceilings and everything in your drawers and cupboards. When we say you need to clean everything, we're not exaggerating.

Managing conflict around water damage cleanup

A clean, dry room inside a flooded house.

Getting your house back to normal as a renter means working with your landlord while taking steps to keep your stuff safe yourself. When in doubt as to who does what, refer to your lease. It should break down what responsibilities each party has.

If an issue related to flooding occurs and you find yourself in conflict with your landlord, you may want to seek legal help. Laws vary by state, county and even city, so being clear on your rights will inform how you handle a tough situation with your landlord.

It is important to remember that:

  • You probably can't legally withhold rent. Even if the house is in rough condition, you're still required to make rent payments.
  • If the flooded house is uninhabitable and there's no suitable alternative for you to live in, you may be within your rights to void the lease.
  • You may have the ability to contract repairs you make yourself and take that amount out of the rent, known as “repair and deduct."
  • If the flooding was due to something you informed the landlord about but they did nothing to fix it (such as a leaking pipe), they may become responsible for the damage done to your personal property.

A flooded house isn't the end of the world

Dealing with a flooded house is stressful, but the good news is it's manageable. Taking proper precautions, acting carefully and quickly and knowing what to do if your house floods means getting back on your feet that much faster.

Categories: Renters

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