How to Handle Dirty Tenants

Last updated on May 13, 2016 by

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.

one-roach

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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110 CommentsLeave a Comment

  • Daisy

    Hi, I live in a residential street and just around the corner there is an apartment complex. The tenant’s are very dirty. They throw trash all over the streets! What can I do to rectify the problem? Should I go directly to the landlord or a city official? Please help :(

    Thank you
    -Daisy

  • Jamie

    Hi,

    My subletter has left my place in a despicably messy state. There were open trash bags and dirty utensils lying around the room when the subletter left. There are sticky stains on the shelves and doors. She ripped off posters I had up without my permission and it has left paint tear marks on the walls. Recently I found out that she somehow slipped cheese in my drawer which has attracted mice to the room, leaving droppings all around.

    I unfortunately did not read your article before subletting and didn’t enforce a lease. She agreed to pay for cleaning but the cleaner couldn’t solve all the problems. The mess has seriously devalued my place and my new subletter has requested a full refund.

    What is the best way to deal with this?

    Jamie

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Jamie

      It sounds like you have some pretty hefty damages. If you use up the tenants full deposit, and still have damages, you could pursue them in small claims court for the remaining amount. Be sure to take lots of pictures.

  • Michael Timm

    I’m currently trying to resolve an issue similar. I’m speaking with the mayor of the village an asking to define when it becomes a health issue. Mayor will speaks to village attorney.

  • Brandon

    A friend was remodeling his camping trailer on my property and he put all his wood in the city dumpster across the street but my landlord said that I’m responsible to get it out of the dumpster he can’t evict me for that because I didn’t put it in the trash dumpster

  • rehjanah fielies

    Desperate!!!

    I rented out my house to a older couple, with their two teenagers, and it’s been 6months pass. I’ve done my maintenance inspection and I was horrible horrified.

    The bathroom has molded, the teenagers room has black mold at the windows and slightly grey walls (previously white).

    I didn’t know how to react hence this. I just kept calm and told them they should keep the windows open. They want me to paint the toilet!?…. Help me.

    Their is no prove of the fantastic state I left the house in. To this horror I walked into.

    What is my steps to dealing with this matter.?

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi rehjanah

      I’m sorry to hear about this. The article above describes 3 things you can do.

      For the future, take amazing photos of the place before they move in, and put cleaning responsibilities in the lease.

  • rehjanah fielies

    Thank you very much for responding to my, cry out. And here is my biggest concern now.

    My tenants had a six month lease…. And I’m suppose to renew it for for a year. But when I saw the state of the house, I told them I will come back in this month… As I was in sock hence house’s conditions and I mean am I responsible for that devastation of an toilet?

    I need the money of tenants. Full time student. I’m not in means to have new tenant (s).

    Pleases advice me in leu, new contract? What do I demand of this mold problem, going into a new contract.

    Note :They have hammered into a side of the bathroom-tub too, fix the tap their teenager broke.. without my consent. They fixed it and told me wail I did the inspection.. I really need your advice please.

    Entirely great full. Thank you.

  • Jen Chapman

    I have tenants that are disgusting! There is trash everywhere and now there is cockroach infestation and there are 3 children living there. They are also behind on rent. I have given them ample time to fix these problems. What can I do?

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