How to Handle Dirty Tenants

Written on April 1, 2013 by , updated on December 3, 2019

Dirty Tenants

Dirty Tenants are Risky Business!

Dirty tenants can be landlord’s nightmare, and oh boy, are they expensive! They can bring down the real and perceived value of your rental property.

Unclean living conditions will not only damage the property, but they will attract bugs and rodents, and ultimately make it very difficult to re-rent. If you learn to spot a dirty tenant before they become your tenant, you will be able to save yourself a lot of grief.

If it’s already too late, and your property smells like a trash depot, then you’ll want to take action immediately.  If your lease allows it, mandate that they clean up.  If not, kick them out at the end of their lease.  If they fail to clean at lease termination, you can hire a cleaning company and deduct it from their deposit – again, if your lease allows it.

What is “Dirty”?

Generally speaking, Landlords cannot dictate the cleaning behavior of a tenant unless they have reason to believe the tenant is violating health or fire codes, or causing damage to themselves, the property, or other people.  With that said, if your lease states that the tenant must hire a monthly maid service, then that is a contractual expense which should hold up in court.


Examples of “Dirty Tenants”

  • Anything from the TV show Hoarders
  • Mold growing up the bathroom wall
  • Animal feces not in a litter box
  • Garbage in the house that is more than a week old
  • Signs of rodents or roaches (learn how to kill roaches)
  • A potent smell coming from the property
  • Unsafe chemicals lying around the property
  • Rotten food or dirty dishes that are never cleaned
  • Appliances that are “sticky” to the touch and their performance is affected
  • Junk piled up so that it blocks the furnace intake and prevents proper air circulation
  • Anything that looks dirty enough that it could start the Zombie Apocalypse

Have a Rock-Solid Lease

In the multifamily rental industry (such as high-rise apartments), it is just easier to let the tenant trash the unit, and then just completely renovate after the lease ends.  Large apartment buildings usually have on-site maintenance crews who can lay 2000 sq/ft of carpet before breakfast.

In my case, and most do-it-yourself landlords, money doesn’t grow on trees – therefore we cannot afford to replace the carpet after every tenant.

If the cost (consequence) of unclean habits is high enough, tenants will typically change their habits.

Lease Agreement Icon

My approach is to be tough up front (in the lease) and then be more lenient when it comes time to enforce the rules.  I’ve found that it’s impossible to force tenants to clean the carpets if you don’t have a clause in the lease that backs you up.

To help you, I’ve listed my favorite “cleaning” clauses at the end of this article.  If you need a complete lease, make sure to buy one that is written specifically for your state.

The US and UK Regulations Differ

To my knowledge the Uniform Residential Landlord and Tenant Act (URLTA) does not prohibit US Landlords from enforcing general cleanliness in the lease.  However, in the UK, the Unfair Terms of Consumer Contracts of 1999, says that a cleaning mandate is not “fair” to the tenant and creates a contractual “imbalance”.

Ignorant vs. Lazy Tenants

Ignorance can be Taught

Sometimes the issue is just that they don’t know how to keep a clean house.  Perhaps no one has ever showed them!  This is common with tenants who have just graduated college and are just learning how to live on their own.  In this case, I think it’s important for you to show them exactly what you want cleaned and to what degree.  Show them which cleaning brushes and chemicals work best for the various parts of the house.

When doing this, put aside any frustrations, and try to have a heart of a teacher.  If you don’t judge them, nor act condescending, your tenants will actually thank you (seriously) for the quick lesson in “shower cleaning 101“.

Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” – Lao Tzu

There is No Cure for Laziness

Other times, tenants don’t have the money to buy cleaning supplies, so they just don’t bother. If this is the case, they will be hardened to your help, nothing you do will motivate them to clean. You’ll just have to wait it out. At the end of their lease, you should refuse to renew their lease, hire a professional cleaning company, and then charge it back them.

Hopefully you wouldn’t rent to a flat-out-broke tenant in the first place, but it is indeed hard to screen a tenant for laziness.

Dirty Room

3 Ways to Help Your Tenants Clean

1. Hire Maids:

Maid ServiceEnsureI have a clause  in my lease that allows me to hire a maid service, at my discretion, and at my tenant’s expense. I have used this clause before, to hire a monthly maid service to clean a mistreated rental property. When enforcing this clause, tenants typically become annoyed and insulted. Because they are insulted, these tenants usually don’t opt to renew their lease at term end. Hiring a maid is a win-win for me – the property stays clean and the dirty tenants don’t renew their lease.

2. Describe the Tenant’s Cleaning Responsibilities

Easy OffEnsure that your lease describes the proper cleaning practices that you expect.  I have some lengthy clauses that describe the cleaning tasks that my tenants are responsible for. You can enforce this clause under threat of eviction for a lease violation. I rarely ever want to evict a tenant, so I threaten to hire a maid service and bill the tenants for it. I even provide them with a checklist of common cleaning tasks – and which cleaning products work best.  Most tenants don’t know how to clean an oven – and that Easy Off makes it a walk in the park.

3. Show Tenants How to Clean

Clean this wayAt the beginning of the lease or whenever you have issues, tour the house with them and point out areas that will need regular cleaning. If they look confused, show them how to properly clean it. Remember, this is your property, and everything will last longer if it is cleaned regularly. I commonly show tenants how to use a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser. I know it’s simple (get wet, rub on wall), but they often don’t realize how easy cleaning can be.

Applicable Lease Clauses

I use the following clauses in my leases to identify with responsibilities and general cleanliness in my rental properties.  These clauses give me “teeth” in the fight against dirty tenants.

Download the Cleaning Guide

Update: so many people have asked for my cleaning guide in the comments below, so I’ve decided to post it here.  Enjoy!

Forums & Related Articles

Here are some quality forums and articles that talk about dealing with dirty tenants:

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168 CommentsLeave a Comment

  • Alex Wang

    Hello, I am a landlord who lives in the same house as tenants, and I am looking for opinions from Lucas Hall and other landlords.

    For one year, I have rarely complained about messes my tenants made. Also, the mess is usually small (a little spill of oil or sauce on counter, stove, other kitchen areas or a drop of rice or other foods here and there). I used to clean up after them. This year though I am trying to get them in the habit of cleaning up after themselves, even if it is as small as a grain of rice dropped on the floor. This is because the house has roach and mice infestation, something that never happened before anyone moved in. Do you think it is too much to ask them to clean up after very small minor messes? Thanks for feedback.

    • Renter

      No you dumbshit!

    • Teri Smith

      If you have a clause in your lease agreement regarding the tenant’s responsibility in keeping their area and common areas tidy then yes you can ask them to wipe up after themselves. If you do not and wish to incorporate something to that effect, you must in writing give a 30 day notice that as of such date not less than 30 days in advance what the rule change(s) will be. A Lease Addendum is not uncommon, just be sure when you create your “House Rules” that they fall within your state’s Fair Housing Laws.

  • Leah

    My property is not in the best of areas, I want to make some minor upgrades to make this place look cleaner, more appealing. I am frustrated as i spend so much money on fixing up (painting, new windows etc) for them to ruin. I then can not use the deposit as ransom as they hold out to move on that very last month, during an eviction process… and then its me shelling out the same money to fix again.Any advice is welcome. Do you feel making your presense more prominent on the property helps, or hard screening?

    • Jaye

      I am NOT the same landlord today as I was when I started down this road 5 years ago; I’ve learned so many lessons through naivety, trial and error. Most importantly I’ve gotten much better with the application and screening process which means I have fewer evictions. Fewer evictions means less walls that need to be repainted or floors needing new laminate, etc. So…the best advice I can offer is to ALWAYS run a background and/or credit check. Secondly – for many reasons – I installed a few motion-detect video cameras. Both the vids and a better application process have made my job so much better. Good luck!

  • Brenda

    Love the article, loved the photo!! So real!
    In NC there’s a maintenance addendum (Form 440T) I make every tenant sign with the rental agreement. If I notice something has not been done, I notify them immediately.

  • Linda

    A tenant such as seen on the show Hoarders was taken to the hospital and the police notified City Hall because the apt was so cluttered they couldn’t get the stretcher in.Plus it had a nasty odor, rodents,couldn’t get to the stove and bathroom was deplorable.They are blaming the landlord and said she is responsible for the clean up which will require people in hazmat suits, etc.How can the landlord be held responsible because of the way a tenant does or does not clean their apt?

  • Big jezz

    All landlords are bastards and leeches

  • Shari

    My ex boyfriend used to live in my house with me Appx. A year or so ago he moved out even gave me my key back. The problem is he didn’t move very far. In my back yard I have a large garage unit that is only used for either car parking or personal storage. Housing authority has made it clear to me if there was any sign whatsoever that anybody was living in there that I could be fined and indefinitely those living there are breaking the law. This garage is not coded, licensed, no electricity (without extensions), no kitchen, toilet. This ex boyfriend refuses to leave. I’ve legally had him restrained (only temp.) Now he’s saying I cannot touch his belongings or throw him out unless I evict him is this true? He moved out of my house?

    • Judy

      Who let him move in and was he paying you any rent? Also do you have a rental agreement with him to live out there?
      If you allowed him to physically move in and didn’t call the police then you have a problem.
      If he paid you to live out there then you have a problem.
      I am sure you have no rental agreement with him.
      He is actually “squatting in your garage” You need to call the police!!

  • jane p harper

    I have a tenant who has been living at my home for the past 6 months.He is a nice person however when I went upstairs to his room ensuite I found petrol candles and the most appalling sight.Filthy toilet, food stuffs ,unclean cutlery.
    How can I get him to move on?

    • Judy

      Who let him move in and was he paying you any rent? Also do you have a rental agreement with him to live out there?
      If you allowed him to physically move in and didn’t call the police then you have a problem.
      If he paid you to live out there then you have a problem.
      I am sure you have no rental agreement with him.
      He is actually “squatting in your garage” You need to call the police!!

  • Katie

    I know this is an old article, but I am hoping for some advice: my husband and I bought a duplex, live on one side and rent out the other. The renters know that we own the property. The renter’s side of the duplex has a really bad/funky smell that is starting to permeate our side. They’ve only been there 2 months and the place isn’t super dirty. I think all their stuff just smells (it smelled as soon as they moved in, but had not permeated to our side).

    If I could do it again, I would have a specific cleanliness clause in the lease and I would use a property management company (and not tell the renters that we were the owners). But it is too late for that at this point. Any recommendations on what I should do?

    • Julie Edwards

      I just bought two odor bombs off of Amazon. They worked great. Tell them its part of your Fall cleaning ritual and bomb their side too.

  • Isabel

    I am just a tenant but I live in an apartment complex and it’s like a block there is about eight units and we are having a roach problem and I recently found out that it is one of the tenants who are dirty dose not clean up and is causing the roach issue and their apartment is infested with roaches how can I get my apartment manager to evict him or do something about his unsanitary living.

  • tina johnson

    Can the landlord clean the place up and make a bill for returning the cost to the tenant from their deposit?
    Hard to find reliable cleaning people now days.

  • Kimberly Nixon

    My daughter and her boyfriend and 4 children live with me in my house. I made a verbal agreement with her to buy the house from me. She is now saying she doesn’t want this house but needs to stay until they can find or build something they like.
    My problem is their lack of cleaning. Dishes sit unwashed for days or even the whole week. I can not even use the kitchen. She says a “landlord” can not demand things like cleaning the dishes. There is no lease as this is my home, she does pay 2/3 of the bills (she has 6 bodies using utilities to my one body) and 1/2 the mortgage for rent. Can I demand the cleaning? As the homeowner without the lease, or do I need a lease to make myself the landlord in order to get them to clean?

    • Jb

      I am having a similar problem with the exfiance. In my state, I am considered a landlord with a month to month tenancy. This means that I need to give him notice to move out in 30 days. If He refuses, I have to start eviction proceedings. If your state is similar, what you might want to do is have them agree to house rules. If they don’t, then give a 30 day notice to vacate. Check with an attorney first though.

    • Jb

      Oh, one thing I did was pack away my real plates and silverware and force him to use plastic plates, cups, and silverware. I also have available one pot and one frying pan. If they aren’t washed, he doesn’t eat.

      That remark your daughter said about what a landlord can allow – tell her a landlord doesn’t have to provide food and a furnished home either. Seriously, you probably are going to have to evict them or move them to an extended stay hotel. You are not the maid and you should not be disrespected in your own home.

  • Lisa Lothridge

    I’m a tenant & our neighbor which is the landlord/owners brother, refuses to take out his trash for weekly pickups by waste management.
    We are all responsible for taking are own trash bins out for pick up. Now its been 3 weeks & his trash bins now have maggots & headed towards our porch. We’ve ask him several times to empty, he says ok & never does. The owner has told him numerous times to clean up because she let him lived here to take care of her property & instead has destroyed it inside & out w/trash & junk..
    Need advice on what to do?

  • TN-Landlord-059

    Dear Lucas,
    Lots of discussion. NO RESULTS no FACTS, just folks venting. . .

    Can you provide definitive recommendations on how to secure regular (periodic, for example 18 months) carpet cleaning to be required for long term tenants. . . to prevent carpets getting worn out in 3 years or less.. .

    • Naomi

      The IRS considers 2 years the lifespan of paint (for depreciating), and 5 years for carpet in the US. If your long-term renters trash the carpets that were brand-new upon move in, depreciate accordingly up to 5 years. After that, consider it the cost of doing business. And be grateful for the 100% occupancy, and the money it saved you.

      If they stay longer than 5 years, and ask you to replace them, consider doing it if they are a good tenant. Or, consider installing laminate flooring for cleanliness.

  • magnesium mamma

    Dear Lucas
    I live on a one lot with two house that belong to my uncle. He is disabled and I take care of him. He lives in one house and my brother (older) my son and I live in the other house next door. My brother whom is a mama’s boy has never been the man of the house, and since my mom is gone, he has let his room become a pig sty. The property has been paid for and my mom’s brother is the sole owner. he has no children and no wife. His room is a walk~in dumpster. How can I legally remove him from the property. I have been fighting with him about it for 7 years. He doesn’t do any chores around the place and refuses to help me with my uncle. please help.

  • Hipolito Wenig

    Thanks for spreading these records about this incredible blog. let me discuss this information on my facebook be the reason for my local freinds

  • Scott

    I rent a room from someone and he rents out to others. Well I clean up after myself but him, his friends and his other tenants dont. He yells and belittles us for not cleaning up after other people. My question is can he force me to clean up after his other tenants and friends? Plus can he kick me out for not cleaning up after them? If I clean up after myself thats all he can really ask for isnt it?No lease or anything ether. This is his business and I see it as his job to maintain his business if he cant get them to do it. He punishes us by taking our internet. He even has 4 dogs that crap and pee all over the place and yells at us for not cleaning it or even telling him about it even though it happens everyday.

  • Matthew Shults

    Hi there!

    I have a live-in landlord…(he claims he is the assistant landlord)– He verbally told me upon arriving the toilet had been fixed when I asked him–it was not, and has not been fixed in 3 months—there is a sign above the toilet to basically not flush anything, even toilet paper, down the toilet.
    I tried cleaning the carpet, ripe with what I believe to be animals stains…He told me to use a carpet shampooer, and then said I didn’t get the water up and ruined the carpet, and we agreed on $400, and then he requested more, and did not provide receipt upon request, and is demanding $100 more. He did not provide copy of lease either. There are many other issues here, but from this, what are my options? in Texas btw.

    • Matt

      There are resources available, however, sometimes get muddied and confusing and it would be difficult to tell who would be responsible for some things depending on the issue.
      However, with some due diligence, you can (and SHOULD) protect yourself and be a snob about your legal rights, such as recording a move-in, getting written receipts for rent payments in cash, etc. If a landlord asks you to stop recording…run for the hills.
      I had a great relationship with my previous landlord for 10+ years no issues, and in a new place, 3 months in and already sketchy.
      Generally, imo female landlords are more cleanly.

  • Angel

    Hi all,
    I have a tenant that lives with 2 big dogs inside the property, odors are very bad, trash all over, parked non running cars in the back yard, house seems it’s never been cleaned for years now she is an elderly lady with 1 30year old son that doesn’t help her, I’ve been trying to have her leave to smaller apartment just for her since she cant not keep up with single home upkeeping.
    Flooring is all dog pee even floor joist got penetrated its bad!! I dont know what to do.
    Plus the biggest problem is there is NO lease contract nothing g in writing. The biggest mistake of my life.
    Thank you for reading.
    Los Angeles Ca

  • Cindy Mullenix

    Hi, I have a friend who’s boyfriend is a slob! They live in an apartment and she can’t seem to have him clean up after himself! What can she do to make him wake up and keep the place clean..without having the manager involved?

  • ella seneres

    I am a landlord. I expect my tenants to keep up their animals maintenance. But it rarely happens. I now have a situation that three tenants have allowed their dogs to crap so much, piles on piles and the whole place is a pit of stench you can smell all around the unit. See there are also good tenants in a small studio with no animals, I have given three day notices to pick up within one day, no response, then I did get a chance to smell the stench when I was picking up my small dogs dropping, my eyes watered, and this means that the good tenants cannot live in the unit, it permeates all over. Then the ban on evictions because of the virus, has caused these 3 stooges to do what they want, amazingly they seem oblivious to other peoples rights

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