Leak Detection Tips for Property Management Companies

It’s the middle of winter, and the tenants are calling the owner of their apartment over and over to complain about a leak. They swear up and down that there’s a leak on the property, and not only is it driving up the utility bill, but the leak is also causing mold and making the tenants sick.

As a licensed real estate broker operating as a property manager for an owner, it is up to you to prevent such maintenance issues from becoming disasters. By using a few basic tips for detecting leaks and other issues early, you can prevent even more serious problems such as mold, wood rot, and increased utility bills from occurring.

Here are a few things you can do to find leaks before they cause other problems:

Inspect the toilet. The toilet is a common problem area for leaks, so it should be regularly inspected when examining the owner’s property. Check the water in the bowl, does it appear to be flowing despite not having been recently flushed? Take off the top of the tank (assuming the toilet uses a tank), can you hear a hissing noise? If you do notice flowing water or hear a noise, then you probably have a leak. If you do not hear the noise emanating from the tank, there is another way to check for a leak. Some websites recommend that you place a few drops of food coloring into the tank. If after a few minutes the coloring shows up in the bowl without you flushing the toilet, then your toilet’s flapper (the plug that prevents water from flowing into the bowl from the tank, you can identify it by tracing the flush lever’s chain to it) is leaking.

Once you have determined the presence of a leak, try to identify the source, if it is the flapper, you can replace it fairly easily with a part you can locate at your local hardware store. If the leak is originating from elsewhere in the toilet, and you either cannot identify the source or are unable to repair it, you may wish to contact a plumber.

It is important that you do NOT remove the toilet from its mounting on the floor. This will break the seal on the underside of the toilet and actually cause a leak.

Inspect the faucets in the property and the underside of any and all sinks. Turn the faucets on and off. Is there a persistent drip after the water is shut off? Does the area under the sink have signs of standing water or discoloration? If so, then you have a leak in either the faucet itself or the pipes leading to or from the faucet. If the leak is in the faucet itself, you will want to check the manufacturer’s website to verify the specific type of faucet (compression, cartridge, ceramic disk, or ball-type), and look for detailed repair instructions. If the pipes underneath the sink are leaky, check for signs of corrosion or damage. In many cases, the pipe connections are simply loose and can be fixed by tightening the connections. If the pipes are cracked or damaged, however, then you will need to replace them, make sure to check for the exact size and dimensions of your pipe before obtaining a replacement.

Also, make sure to check the shower heads in the bathroom for leaks as well. If the shower head is the culprit of a persistent leak, it can be a quick and easy repair or replacement.

Check the water heater. Are the pipes leading to or from the tank corroded? Is the tank itself in good condition? Do you hear a distinct hissing sound? Are there deposits of minerals in the tank of the water heater? Any of these issues can impair the function of the water heater, leaving the tenants of the property without hot water. Worse yet, damaged water heaters can be hazardous to the safety of tenants. If you can identify and repair a leak in the water heater, it can save the property owner time and money. If the water heater is too damaged or corroded, however, it may become necessary to replace the potentially hazardous object.

Check your water meter. Here is an easy way to see if there is a leak in the home itself or if the leak originates somewhere between the meter and the property. Hit the property’s shut-off valve and wait for a minute, then check the meter. Is the meter still turning? If it is, then you have a leak somewhere between the home and the meter.
Should this be the case, inspect the area between the meter and the home for signs of a leak. Look out for ground that is muddy or grass that is growing thicker and greener than the rest. In Florida, this can be difficult during the rainy season, as the ground between homes can stay wet well into midday or the evening. Even if you cannot find the source of the leak, just knowing that a leak is present in that area between the property and the meter can help a plumber save time looking for it, which can help reduce the cost of repairs.

Check your hose-bibs (the connectors you attach a water hose to) throughout the property. In most homes, there will be two of these hose-bibs on the exterior of the property, one for front-yard access and one for the backyard. Some sites recommend using a screwdriver as a stethoscope to check for noise, but if your hose-bib is not made of metal, or you have damage to your hearing, you may wish to acquire assistance in finding out if there is a leak in the water pipes connecting to your hose-bib.

If you live in an area that experiences regular cold weather, you may have a frost-free hose bib. As pointed out on sites such as icreatables.com, there are usually four places that a frost-free hose bib can experience a leak, including:
The vacuum breaker (when on)
The handle (when on)
The faucet spout (when off)
The stem tube inside the wall (caused by freezing water in the interior bursting the interior of the pipe)
Check your garden hoses and sprinklers. If there is an automated sprinkler system on the property, inspect the timing mechanism to ensure that it is working as it should and not causing the sprinklers to activate more often than they should. Holes in hoses and sprinkler heads only leak when in use, so they do not pose a severe risk of causing noticeable increases in the utility bill. However, a hole in the pipes of a sprinkler system can leak constantly even if the system is not in use. Also, leaky sprinklers cannot water the grass as efficiently, so they should be maintained in order to preserve the appeal of the property at any rate.

Is there a pool on the property? If so, then check it as well. If the pool has an automated water filler system, then it can malfunction, causing it to overfill the pool and waste water. Check to see if the pool is filled to the edge or has water spilling over the edge on a calm day when no one is using it.

By performing regular maintenance and inspecting a property for leaks before the leaks can cause mold and other hazards, you can reduce the chances for severe damage to occur to the home, as well as spare the tenants severe inconvenience or injury from mold and weakened flooring.

As a property manager for a homeowner, you are the one who will be held responsible for ensuring that the property is safe and up to code for the homeowner. Be a better property manager by being informed and prepared for whatever may happen to the property you are taking care of.