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Residents question their rights as pipe, sprinkler systems fail in freezing weather

Hundreds in Metro Atlanta have experienced weather woes when it comes to burst pipes due to the Arctic Blast.

DEKALB COUNTY, Ga. — Hundreds of Metro Atlanta residents continue to struggle with the aftermath of the Arctic Blast. One woman living at the Decatur Highlands apartments is now staying with a friend, three days after she said the complex's sprinklers system froze, causing pipes to burst and flood her apartment. 

"The water was coming down all sides of my building like a waterfall," the resident described of the mess. "It’s clear they didn’t have a process in place to deal with this.”

The resident did not want her name released, but she said a maintenance worker tried to vacuum up some of the water. Still, in her mind, more could be done. 

"I just want to leave," she told 11Alive. "My stuff is gone, and I just want to move on. Please release me from my lease and return my deposit so I can just go."

But before breaking her lease, the resident said the apartment complex told her to sign a statement releasing them of liability. 

Attorney Scott Campbell said leases can typically be one-sided and filled with protections that favor the management company.

"What it really comes down to, was the apartment complex acting reasonably?" Campbell posed. "Were they taking reasonable action to try and anticipate or guard against the hazard that occurred? Sometimes, you take appropriate measures and still, things happen. So, by no means is an apartment complex, landlord or property management company is a guarantor…responsible for everything across the board. But they’ve got to take reasonable action to address the hazards they know and anticipate.”

11Alive reached out to the apartment complex' management company, which said it was "aware of the burst pipes in a limited number of apartment homes due to the extreme weather."

The complex, in a statement, said that immediately after being notified, "we addressed the situation, including engaging third-party vendors to mitigate the damage." 

"We understand the impact this has had on some of our residents adjacent to the apartment homes in question," the statement from the complex reps continued, insisting that its team "took the necessary precautions to prevent this incident, but despite our efforts, the freezing weather caused issues with frozen pipes throughout the city, including in our community."

"Our residents’ safety is our priority, and we are working to resolve the issues as quickly as possible,” the statement closed. 

Meantime, Adam Heiser, the director of revenue with Fire Protection Services, is sounding the alarm about frequently failing sprinkler systems and pipes. He said the company, which services North and Middle Georgia, has averaged about 200 calls per 24 hours since the deep freeze set in.

“The one challenge we’ve had is that we’ve been cold for about four or five days, and the ice stays in the system," Heiser said. "We’ve had to wait for warmer weather to come, which it is, thankfully. There’s a process involved and we’ve experienced a lot of calls, just like everybody in the industry.”

Heiser said wet fire sprinkler systems are common in apartment complexes and can't typically withstand long-term freezing temperatures.

"It does take time to evaluate what's wrong with the system, how much ice is in the pipes, and how far and how many floors – that's not easily done," Heiser admitted, while urging for everybody to "be patient, understand what’s going on and that this is unprecedented times for the sprinkler industry in the state of Georgia."

While the Decatur resident continues to wait, she did say she is hopeful to figure out her next steps, even if they're less than ideal.

"This is pretty tough, but so am I," she said.

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