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Maverick, Attorney
Category: Landlord-Tenant
Satisfied Customers: 5735
Experience:  20 years experience as a civil trial and appellate lawyer
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I was renting a townhouse in Burtonsville Maryland. After

Customer Question

I was renting a townhouse in Burtonsville Maryland. After being there for about five months, (January 2015) we had an extremely cold week of weather where temperatures fell below freezing. A pipe that leads to the outside water source in the backyard froze and burst. Water was coming into the basement from everywhere. The carpet was destroyed and the walls needed to be replaced. I immediately contacted the landlord and he used his home insurance to have all the repairs done.
Now, fast forward a year and a half later. I have moved out of the townhouse and when I inquired about my security deposit being returned back to me, he notified me that I was responsible for the $500 deductible he had to pay for the water damages, stating that I was negligent by not turning off the water supply for that pipe.
I reviewed my lease carefully and sure enough there is a paragraph that states the tenant is responsible for all damages done to the home that happened out of negligence. My question is, how do you define or prove negligence? I had no idea that I was supposed to turn off the water source. I didn't even know where the shut off valve was located (it happened to be high up in the ceiling of the laundry room which I later found out.)
Does my landlord have a right to make me responsible for that deductible? And shouldn't he have told me about this back when it happened instead of waiting almost 2 years later when I moved out? Isn't negligence when you know better and you choose to ignore something?
Submitted: 3 months ago.
Category: Landlord-Tenant
Expert:  Maverick replied 3 months ago.

Welcome to Just Answer (“JA”)! My name is Maverick.

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Expert:  Maverick replied 3 months ago.

Maryland's definition of negligence is that the person claiming it must prove by a greater weight of the evidence the following:

See Moscarillo v. Professional Risk Management Services, Inc., 398 Md. 529, 921 A.2d 245 (2007);Muthukumarana v. Montgomery County, 370 Md. 447, 805 A.2d 372 (2002).


  • A duty recognized by the law which requires conformance to a certain standard of conduct;
  • A breach of that duty;
  • A causal connection between the breach of that duty and the resulting injury; and
  • Actual damage suffered.
Expert:  Maverick replied 3 months ago.

Under Maryland law a plaintiff's contributory negligence is a complete bar to recovery as the trier of fact is not permitted to apportion fault between a plaintiff and a defendant on a percentage basis. Harrison v. Montgomery County Bd. of Educ., 195 Md. 442, 456 A.2d 894 (1983). The standard of care imposed on a person in a contributory negligence analysis is that of a reasonable person under similar circumstances. Kassoma v. Magot, 368 Md. 113, 792 A.2d 1102 (2002).

SO, yes, what you may argue is that when you contacted the LL, if you told him that the water was still running, then he should have told you where the shut off valve was and how to use it. In other words, he was contributed to the problem by remaining silent.

Expert:  Maverick replied 3 months ago.

By the way, if you go to small claims court to recover the security deposit, you just have to show that the LL was 1% at fault even if you were 99% at fault. You would sue for civil conversion and show the following:

In a suit for conversion, the person sues to retrieve the value of the property taken. To make a case for conversion, the suing person must show

  1. Legal title to property;
  2. Possession or right to possession
  3. When property was taken

See Lawrence v. Graham, 349 A.2d 271, 274 (Md. 1975).

The landlord will counter sue for negligence and you would defend against that by pleading contributory negligence. The negligence claim should then fall out leaving only your conversion claim.

Expert:  Maverick replied 3 months ago.

Are you still online with me? Did you have any other questions?

Customer: replied 3 months ago.
Thank you for your quick response Maverick.You stated that...when you contacted the LL, if you told him that the water was still running, then he should have told you where the shut off valve was and how to use it.When the pipe burst and water was gushing into the basement - that is when I contacted the landlord and he told me where to turn off the valve. I couldn't find it so he rushed over and turned it off himself.Prior to this incident, we had never had a discussion about where the valve is located and when it should be turned off (when temps reach below freezing.)I feel like the LL assumed I was knowledgable about these things, and I wasn't.Just wondering how strong my case is. $500 is a lot to lose when you were anticipating getting that money back.
Expert:  Maverick replied 3 months ago.

Okay so the goal here is to prove that the LL was at least 1% negligent. I would say that the LL should have shown you where the shut off valve was at the time you signed the lease.

That said, it is general knowledge that there is a shut off valve somewhere; but where that valve is located may differ from neighborhood to neighborhood. For example, where we live it is usually located near the street curb and in the ground where the water meter is. Because of this variance, I feel that the LL had a duty to inform you of where it was located in the town home.

This is what we call an "issue of fact" for the jury to decide. You can see how two different juries might come up with two different answers here. The question is whether the LL could reasonably expect for a tenant in your shoes to know where the shut-off valve was so as to avoid having to discuss it with you in advance of an emergency.

For example, if you look at the bottom of a toilet fitting, you can see there is a shut off valve there. If you had failed to shut that off due to a toilet malfunction, I think there would be no question of your negligence even if a LL did not discuss it with you.

Customer: replied 3 months ago.
Excellent response! Looks like I have a 50/50 chance. I think I'm going to take this to small claims court and see what happens. Thank you!
Expert:  Maverick replied 3 months ago.

Your welcome.

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