Sounds like you have a good case for a small claims complaint.
READ THIS BEFORE CALLING OR EMAILING ME: I am licensed to practice before the state and federal courts in Virginia. We have not established an attorney-client relationship unless we have a signed representation agreement and you have paid me. I do five my 100% effort to get you on the right track with your issue. Sometimes that means legal educational information, sometimes that means counseling and non-legal guidance. You should speak with an attorney to whom you have provided all the facts, before you take steps that may impact your legal rights. I am not obligated to answer subsequent emails or phone calls unless you have hired me. I wish you the best of luck with your situation.
Your landlord is only responsible if there was something wrong with the water heater and was told that there was a problem with the water heater. The landlord may also be responsible it the overflow pipe was not working properly. There should be a ‘tub” underneath your water heater with a drain for situations such as yours. If there was no tub and/or the drain pipe was clogged you should be able to get damages. DO NOT WITHHOLD RENT. Withholding rent requires a very specific notice and you must give the landlord a chance to correct the problem. Furthermore, rent withholding is ONLY for maintenance problems such as a leaky faucet your landlord refuses to fix. Take photos of all the damages items and inventory them and put the cost of the item when it was new next to each item on the list, the age of the item and the value of the item in its current condition. Ask you landlord for the name of their insurance carrier and file a claim. You will only get the value of the item when it was destroyed not the replacement value. Be sure to document everything by photo and date. If you get an attorney your attorney’s fee will probably get paid by the landlord. You should call your local legal aid office. You should look into purchasing “renter insurance”. It is usually very inexpensive and may have covered your damages. Also be skeptical with advice like “sounds like you have a good case for a small claims complaint”. It’s really not good advice.