Leaks in blocks of apartments are one of the most common repair issues. They can be challenging to fix and sometimes they can cause tension between flat owners. But who is responsible when there’s a leak and what happens to the damage that is sometimes caused as a result?

Let’s start by thinking about the different types of leak mostly commonly found in blocks of apartments.

Roof

If you live on the top floor of your block and you have water coming through your ceiling, then chances are the roof is leaking. Occasionally it could be faulty pipework running through the ceiling void or an issue with a water tank in the loft space could be the cause, but most often it’s because it has been pouring with rain and the roof or its drainage system has failed to work properly.

Depending on whether you have a flat roof system or a more traditional pitch roof, whoever looks after your block will almost certainly need to call out a professional contractor to inspect it. Ideally, it’ll be a quick fix, but roof repairs can be tricky and sometimes leaks can be really hard to find, even for the best roofers.

Identifying and fixing a roof can be a costly and time-consuming exercise. Scaffolding may be required to get up to the area and if the weather isn’t being kind there’s not always a lot that can be done, because it won’t be safe to work up there. Delays are really common, and they can be frustrating, but it’s important to remain calm and understand that it’s not usually as straightforward as it may seem.

Who is responsible?

Roof leaks are normally the management company’s responsibility to fix and the service charge contributions will usually include a sum for general repairs like this. If there’s enough money in the kitty to get the work done then, as a leaseholder, you shouldn’t expect to have to pay anything extra for it. If there aren’t sufficient funds your agent or the person looking after your block may have to ask you and your fellow leaseholders for more money.

It’s always worth checking your lease to see who is responsible for repairs to the roof first.

What to do…

It’s important that you inform whoever looks after your building as soon as possible. If the leak is happening at night or at the weekend it may not be feasible to have it looked at right away, but it should be considered a high priority.

If it’s raining heavily or the weather is very bad then it might not be safe for a contractor to go up on the roof, so these factors have to be taken into consideration too.

Do whatever you can to protect the inside of your property from suffering more damage. Perhaps you can collect water drips in a bucket or put towels down and move your furniture out of the way. All these things will help minimise the impact of the leak.

If you’re worried about water getting into your electrics, then you may want to switch the lighting circuit off until an electrician can tell you it’s safe. Most modern homes with up-to-date RCD protection will just ‘trip out’ themselves if there’s a problem, taking the worry out of it for you. Older systems may not have this function.

If the water seems to ‘pooling’ above your ceiling and you think it might collapse under the weight you can also make a small hole where you think the centre of the water puddle is most likely. Switch off the electrics and then do this with a plastic pen casing and be ready to catch the water as it exits through the hole you’ve made. This way the water has a way of escaping and reduces the chances of your ceiling collapsing. Only do this if you feel safe and confident to do so.

Plumbing

Arguably the most common type of leak is caused by water coming down from one apartment into another and faulty plumbing is often to blame.

Washing Machines

Washing machines are frequently the culprit because they have water connectors at the back of them which you can’t see. If they come loose or corrode, water can easily leak from them. Depending on the structure of the flooring where your machine sits, you may not even know it’s happened until the owner of the flat below yours comes knocking on your door!

Washing machine leaks usually happen very quickly and there’s often a lot of water in one go, because of how the machine runs in cycles. If you’re in the flat below when a washing machine leak happens, you’re likely to experience one big dump of water which will be clear and odourless.

Who is responsible?

Leaseholders are responsible to maintain and repair their own appliances and most leases require leaks like this to be fixed in a reasonable timeframe.

What to do…

It’s usually fairly easy to check if the connections behind your washing machine are leaking, but it may involve pulling the heavy appliance forward. You should make sure you do this carefully and safely. If you’re not confident then call a reputable plumber or domestics engineer who can help. If you see a leak, turn off your water supply until it’s repaired.

Bath and Sink Pipework

Underneath your bath and behind your sink are hot and cold pipes that supply water to your taps. Over time these can corrode and wear, which means they might leak. Pipes like these usually get worse over time so you’re more likely to find that water damage isn’t really noticeable to begin with but builds up slowly. You’re likely to see a tiny damp patch on your ceiling at first if you live below a leak like this.

Bath and sink pipework are usually quite well hidden, especially if the bath has a nice panel and is tiled all around, so it can be hard to know if your bath or sink is leaking. Look out for damp smells in the room and the floor becoming soft or ‘squishy’ underfoot, as that’s a key indicator that you’ve got a leak.

Who is responsible?

Leaseholders are responsible to maintain and repair the pipework within their own apartment and most leases require leaks like this to be fixed in a reasonable timeframe.

What to do…

If you can access the area beneath the bath, then you could check for any dampness or leaks. Shine a torch in hard to see areas and listen for drips or running water. Sinks are usually easier to inspect but sometimes pipework runs inside cupboard and can be difficult to get to. If you suspect a leak but cannot locate it or repair yourself then turn off your water supply and call a reputable plumber who can help.

Plugs and Drains

Faulty plugs and drains in baths and sinks are also a common cause of leaks. Hoses that connect to the drain can perish and the sealant that holds a plug fixing in place can also fail, meaning water that’s meant to drain away into pipework either drips or pours straight down instead.

Bath drains are a particular problem because they can be hard to reach. If yours is the bath that’s leaking, there’s a good chance you won’t even know about it if you’ve got a panel on the bath and it’s tiled all around. Builders sometimes run bath waste pipework under your floor too which means that any water leaking away from your drain will go straight down into the flat below!

Who is responsible?

Leaseholders are responsible to maintain and repair their own fixtures and fittings and most leases require leaks like this to be fixed in a reasonable timeframe.

What to do…

Similarly, to the bath and sink pipework you should be able to see if your plug and drains are leaking but it’s not always straightforward. If you suspect a leak but cannot locate it or repair yourself then turn off your water supply and call a reputable plumber who can help.

Sealant & Grout

Maintaining the silicone sealant that runs around your bath or shower and keeping the grout between tiles in good repair is essential if you want to avoid water leaking into the flat below. Water can easily get behind defective sealant and penetrate through old porous grout, usually causing costly damage to both yours and the flat below, over a long period of time.

If your sealant and grout is turning black or orange, then think carefully about replacing it. Mould build-up will cause sealant and grout to deteriorate more quickly so clean it regularly with a special mould killing product to keep it in the best condition you can. If you’re a landlord then make sure you, or whomever inspects your property, regularly checks the sealant and grout. If it looks tired or loose then replace it immediately.

Who is responsible?

Leaseholders are responsible to maintain and repair their own fixtures and fittings and most leases require leaks like this to be fixed in a reasonable timeframe.

What to do…

If your grout or sealant is in poor condition, then you can either attempt to repair this yourself or call in a tradesperson or plumber to help. Before proceeding check how bad the damage might be, because if water has penetrated through tiles or into plasterwork and timber then the problem might be greater than you think.

Shower Screen Doors and Shower Curtains

“Leak? What leak?”… This is often the response from a flat owner when faced with an angry neighbour who claims they’ve been visited by water from above!

You’ve inspected the pipework inside your apartment but can see no signs of leaky pipes, so it can’t be you, or can it?

Shower screens are notorious for not providing a good enough seal to stop water from leaking through them and bath screens are the worst culprit for this. A slow hard-to-spot drip of water at the corner of a bath or where the screen hinges can often mask a leak which, over time, will ruin fixtures and fittings and eventually cause damage to the flat below.

Similarly shower curtains can be very poor at keeping water into the bath area, where it belongs. The curtain can flap onto the outside of the bath and it doesn’t usually create a very good seal at all where it meets the wall. Many a leak is caused by the sub-par performance of a shower curtain!

Who is responsible?

Leaseholders are responsible to maintain and repair their own fixtures and fittings and most leases require leaks like this to be fixed in a reasonable timeframe.

What to do…

Replace defective seals immediately and avoid using showers until you can be sure the water will stay in the bath. If a shower curtain isn’t working, then consider replacing it with a good quality screen and keep an eye on the seal to make sure it doesn’t leak in future.

Radiators

It is rare but pipework can sometimes burst, usually as a result of temperature, pressure build-up and a weakness in the pipe itself.


Depending on the age of the building and what materials it’s constructed from, pipework may run beneath floorboards or through concrete. When a pipe bursts it’s usually quite a messy problem until the mains water can be isolated and the flow of water stopped.

One of the most challenging things about a burst pipe is locating the source of the leak, accessing it and repairing it. If the water is turned off quickly then damage can be minimised.

Who is responsible?

Leaseholders are responsible to maintain and repair their radiator pipework and most leases require leaks like this to be fixed in a reasonable timeframe.

What to do…

Turn of your water supply as quickly as possible and call out a plumber. You’ll need to understand what’s caused the pipework to burst and how serious the damage is. Then you can get to work repairing it.

Soil Pipes

Wastewater from toilets and sinks will flow from pipework in your apartment into a communal waste pipe, which usually connects all the other apartments above and below yours. The communal pipe is a much larger one that you have inside your property because it has to carry a lot more waste. It’s sometimes referred to as the soil pipe or ‘stack’ and it will normally run the full height of the building. It commonly has a vent on the top that goes out through the roof and a connection into the main sewer as it goes down under the ground of the lowest flat in the building.

Soil pipe leaks are rare, thankfully, but when they do leak or ‘back up’, it can be a very unpleasant experience because the water is not clean.

Sometimes a joint that connects the soil pipe with the pipework from your apartment can be the cause of a leak, but it’s rare. The most common cause of a soil pipe leak is when the drain backs up as a result of things like nappies and sanitary towels being flushed down toilets.

If you live in the ground or basement flat, then you’re much more likely to be affected by a soil pipe blockage. Although not strictly a leak you may find wastewater ‘backing up’ from the main drain and coming up through your toilet or bath drain.

Who is responsible?

Communal soil pipes are normally the management company’s responsibility to fix and the service charge contributions will usually include a sum for general repairs like this. If there’s enough money in the kitty to get the work done then, as a leaseholder, you shouldn’t expect to have to pay anything extra for it. If there aren’t sufficient funds your agent or the person looking after your block may have to ask you and your fellow leaseholders for more money.

What to do…

Inform whoever looks after your building as soon as possible because this issue needs to be addressed urgently.

In most cases a 24-hour drains specialist will need to come to the property to clear, or ‘jet’, the drains.

Backed up drains can be incredibly unpleasant and cause a lot of damage, so If you cannot reach the building managers immediately you should consider calling out a drain specialist yourself, even if it means you have to pay them now and try to reclaim the money back from your management company later.  

Accidents

Accidents sometimes happen and if you’re the unfortunate person who experiences a leak from above it could be because the resident upstairs has left a tap running with the plug in the sink or bath. Alternatively, they may have knocked over a bucket or some other kind of container full of water!

Who is responsible?

Accidents happen and whilst nobody has meant to cause harm, they can be frustrating and result in damage to other people’s property.

What to do…

If you have an accident and spill water, then it’s important to own up and take responsibility. Apologising to the tenant of the flat below you is a great start!

A note about Insurance

All blocks of apartments should have an insurance policy in place that covers certain risks. This means that in the event of an insurable risk occurring, there is a degree of financial cover to anybody who needs to make a claim.

Escape of water is a recognised risk and depending on the level of cover your block has you may be able to make an insurance claim for any damage you’ve experienced as a result of a leak.

It’s important to note that most insurance policies do not cover the cost of the actual repair of the leak itself, only the damage the leak has caused.

If a leak has caused damage in your apartment you should speak to whomever manages the insurance for your block and find out if you can make a claim.

Whether or not you have to pay an excess on the claim will depend on your management company policy, so it’s a good idea to check this first.

What’s Covered?

Damage caused to your apartment by a leak can range from mild staining on the ceiling to saturated walls and rotten timbers and flooring.

Replacing plasterwork, decorating walls and ceilings and renewing hardwood flooring are commonly covered by an escape of water claim.

What’s covered will depend on your block insurance policy, but as a general rule of thumb if you imagine tipping your apartment upside down and giving it a good shake, anything that falls out (i.e., is not fixed down), is unlikely to be covered.

Carpets and Personal Belongings

It’s uncommon nowadays for a buildings insurance policy to cover your carpets, so if you experience a leak and your carpet is saturated and needs to be lifted and replaced then you may have pay for this personally or claim for it on your own contents insurance.

Similarly, personal possessions are rarely covered on a block buildings insurance policy which means that clothing, furniture, soft furnishings and other items you own that are not fixed down could be excluded from any claim.

Before making a claim it’s worth checking with the insurance broker what’s covered.

There’s water coming into my flat!

Throughout this guide we’ve focused mainly on the source of the leak and who is responsible for its repair. But what if you’re the resident who sees a leak entering your apartment from the flat above?

First Step

If you suspect the flat above yours is causing water to enter your flat, then it’s really important that you bring it to their attention straight away. That means popping upstairs and informing the resident there’s an issue so that they can investigate it and get it fixed quickly.

You may need to work together to identify the location of the leak and this might mean showing others where the leak is appearing in your apartment. It’s often easier to trace the source of a leak by looking up than down!

Shutting off the Water

If the leak is serious then you should ask the owner of the flat upstairs to consider shutting off their water supply until the problem has been rectified. This will minimise damage to your apartment.

Notify the Building Managers

As soon as it is reasonably practicable you should inform whoever manages your building that there is a leak. You should inform them of the steps you’ve taken so far and ask that they advise you what next you should take in accordance with their management policy.

Expect a Little Work

If your property has been damaged by a leak it usually means that you need to have some work done in your apartment to bring it back to a reasonable standard. You will be responsible for this whether you’re making a claim on the block insurance policy or just undertaking the work at your own cost.

Decorating might be necessary, but you’ll want to make sure that your walls and ceilings are completely dry after the leak. This can take a few weeks, even in a well ventilated and heated apartment.

Finding tradespeople, you trust will mean that you’re likely to get the work completed to a satisfactory standard.

Once it’s all done you can get back to living normally again, free of leaks… for the time being!

If in Doubt…

If you’re causing a leak, don’t delay. Investigate it immediately and take action.

If in doubt; shut off your water supply, notify whoever manages your block and call in a professional.