Czechia: Tenant’s liability for flooded apartment as per a recent Supreme Court decision

The Supreme Court has dealt with the case of a tenant who was held liable for the damage caused to an apartment because of a burst washbasin valve.

Tenants are obliged by law to take care of standard maintenance and minor repairs in connection with their use of the apartment. The details are set out in government decree No. 308/2015 Coll., whereas the scope of tenants’ obligations is in fact comparatively broad. For instance, the tenant must procure the repair and replacement of electric end devices and wiring appliances (i.e., in particular, switches and sockets), but must also see to repairs, regular inspections, and cleaning of extractor hoods, cookers and stoves, showers, washbasins, water outlets, taps and fittings. Neglecting these duties means that the tenant becomes liable for any damage caused.

One of the potential threats of neglecting maintenance and repairs is that the rental apartment – or the apartment below it – is flooded. This unpleasant outcome was at the heart of a case recently heard by the Supreme Court which, in its judgment of 27 March 2023 (AZ 25 Cdo 1999/2022), took a closer look at the conditions which must be satisfied before the tenant can be said to be liable for the damage. In the case at hand, the apartment just below the tenant’s apartment became waterlogged because of a sudden burst of one of the tenant’s washbasin valves.

The Supreme Court found that (subject to such different arrangements as may have been agreed between the landlord and the tenant in the lease agreement), tenants are generally liable for the damage caused to lower-floor apartments in the following cases: they neglected their duty of prevention (ex.: the tenant forgot to turn off their faucet, causing the sink or basin to overflow); the damage was caused by the tenant’s own equipment placed and installed in the rental apartment (ex.: a defective washing machine in the ownership of the tenant); or the tenants neglected compulsory (standard) maintenance of the apartment within the meaning of Sec. 2257 of the Czech Civil Code and the above-cited government decree. Tenants may relieve themselves from liability if they demonstrate that the damage was caused for no fault of their own, i.e., in the case at hand, that they were not in breach of their obligation to regularly inspect all faucets and valves.

In this particular case, the tenant was able to prove that the washbasin valve had burst because a poor-quality (non-standard grade) valve had been installed before the commencement of the lease, moreover without following the proper standards for workmanlike plumbing installations. The court found that the tenant had not been in a position to foresee the sudden malfunctioning of the valve, proper regular inspections of all taps notwithstanding, and was thus not liable for the damage caused to the waterlogged apartment below.

Given the voluminous catalogue of duties imposed on tenants in statutory regulations, and given further the major potential consequences of failure to observe these duties, our strong recommendation for all tenants is to familiarize yourselves with those duties and to always follow them with due care.

Judgment 25 Cdo 1999/2022 of the Czech Supreme Court of 27 March 2023

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