Background: I am a college student in South Carolina, USA.
I'm currently in a dispute with my landlord, over what I think is an unfair assumption of negligence about a plumbing leak. Our water bill last month was ~$400+ dollars due to a leaky toilet. The problem is that only 1 of my roommates was living in the apartment at the time, and did not equate the sound of a running toilet with wasting water.
I received a call from the city water department midway through the month claiming that our water meter was off the charts, and that we had a leak somewhere. We called maintenance, and they came to fix it, citing a broken water pump in the toilet. He also stated over the phone that we should not have to pay for it, and that either the town or the landlord should have to.
Now, both the city and the landlord is pointing at the other one claiming that the other side should have to pay.
Below are the relevant lease portions from the lease I signed with the landlord, which seem specific in what they cover, but are pretty vague in what "tenant negligence" is. They are claiming a running toilet is common knowledge of something broken, however I don't think that's the case. The toilet was not broken due to negligence and was broken due to reasonable wear and tear.
Furthermore, I think it's important to note the this landlord company is infamous for being absolute crooks. They control a construction company that owns ~50% of the housing in my college town, and have their tenants sign outrageous leases and charge absurd rent because they have a monopoly on the nicest locations in town. They are also currently in a legal battle because they were caught artificially inflating repair costs to make more money off of their tenants.
f. Plumbing & Appliances
TENANT is responsible for reporting leaks and stoppages immediately to LANDLORD. It is recommended that TENANT have their own plunger. Misuse or carelessness of drains , toilets, dishwashers, or garbage disposals will not be tolerated. Stoppages and repairs that result from TENANT negligence or placing items* not meant for garbage disposal, toilet, dishwasher, or drains will be charged at a minimum of sixty U.S. dollars ($60.00) to TENANT. * Do not pour grease down drain, flush paper towels or feminine products in toilet, or put foreign objects in disposal. Food items not meant for disposals include without limitation banana peels, corn shucks, egg shells, onion, and celery. Use only detergent intended for dishwashers when operating dishwasher.
Malfunctions or repairs that occur to the PREMISES must be reported within twenty‐four (24) hours of the incident in writing through the Tenant Portal or such maintenance will be considered to have been caused by the TENANT. TENANT agrees to keep and maintain the PREMISES in a good, clean condition and to make no alterations or additions thereon without prior written consent from LANDLORD. LANDLORD will do inspections as needed. Repair costs necessitated because of the neglect of TENANT or their guests are the responsibility of the TENANT.
What is my possible course of action here? Clearly the toilet had been broken for more than 24 hours, but I've read that normal wear and tear cannot be assigned to the tenant? Every other time I've complained about anything regarding the apartment they've been either dismissive or extremely rude, and I'm tired of being taken advantage of since I have already signed a lease here.