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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167 CommentsLeave a Comment

  • Michelle Clark

    The tenant next to me has the smell of feces coming into the hall and into my apartment. I am losing sleep and peace of mind with this health hazard. mC

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Michelle,

      I would lose sleep too in that situation. I would suggest informing the landlord and/or health dept. of the situation. It’s a sad truth, but potent smells are sometimes the sign that someone has died in their unit.

  • Laurie

    There is this tenant that never takes out his dogs and his apartment smells of dog urine. He opens the window and the smell is horrible. Also the smell is going into the neighboring units. How do I, as the office manager, write a letter to him to notify him that there have been several complaints?

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Laurie,
      It sounds like this tenants is not only messy, but is creating an unsanitary situation for other tenants. He is probably in violation of a health code by allowing the animals to use the bathroom in the unit.

      If you are sure that the unit is exactly how the neighbors are describing, I would send a very stern letter, giving him notice to remedy the situation or he will have to vacate.

      Check your state laws:, to see how much notice to you have to give him.

      If he were my tenant, I wouldn’t tolerate this. He’s destroying your property, and causing issues with other tenants. He is effecting your ability to rent multiple units, and he either needs to clean up, or move out.

      If he does neither, I would wait until the notice period is over, then terminate the lease and file for an eviction, Also, notify your local health and housing department to perform an inspection. They will create a report that you can use as evidence in the eviction. Remember to take lots of pictures when you go to inspect the unit.

      Good luck!

  • Gpq

    My landlord uses the same entrance as me it is a double gated one . anyway to cut to the chase he has lots of wood and metal and gas bottles laying around with old boxes and broken refrigeration units . my kids use this area to play what are the legal standings on an issue like this as i have asked him to remove it but he tells me i have only rented the house an not the area i have to walk through to get to the house . If my kids injury themselves in this area can i sue him ?

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi there,

      Yes, the landlord is responsible for making the premise safe, which includes all entrances and parking spaces. Considering that is your main entrance, he needs to make it safe. If your kids hurt themselves, I think you could sue for damages.

      With that said, I’m not a lawyer nor is this legal advice. I’m just an experienced landlord.

      • Gpq

        Hi lucas , Thank you for your reply i must admit i was thinking i could but with his answers i was rethinking to myself that’s why i had to post . As his answer to me is all the time tell them not to play there ” its an area where they cycle up an down on the bicycles ” and also gives me his other answer that i dont rent that area only the house an garden but i have to pass through this area to get to the house i rent which he says we both have access to.

  • Jolene

    Need some advice, I have a tenant that does not clean the house, they have two small children living in the mess. I recently went into the home to do repairs to a water line and noticed that they have the back door completely blocked with dirty clothes and trash bags, I could hardly get to breaker box, I’ve asked them gentley to please clean the house but need further advice on legally what to do

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Jolene,

      For starters, if you have a clause in your lease (like the one above) that mandates cleaning, then everything gets really simple from here on out. Then, you are just enforcing the lease, and can hire maids at their expense, or even terminate the lease for the violation.

      But if you don’t have any sort of promise or agreement from the tenant to clean in the lease, then you are left to go by the county or city habitation ordinances. If you feel that the lack of cleaning is causing a housing or fire code violation, then you should contact the authorities and report the case. They will send out an inspector, who will issue a warning or force the tenant to move out.

      I can’t tell you what you should “legally” do, since I’m not a lawyer, but a phone call to the county/city would be a great place to start if your lease doesn’t give you any leverage.

  • Maurice Eddy

    I agree with having a cleaning clause in the agreement. I have a supplementary page of conditions to go with the standard Rental Agreement used in New Zealand. It covers car parking, noise, cooking strong odoriferous food, cleaning carried out before the tenancy started and carpet cleaning on tenants exit etc. At an inspection 6 weeks ago I was very disappointed with several issues of cleanliness. The tenants didn’t stay so we went ahead, as we are allowed to, and wrote a duplicate copy of concerns and labelled most of them as “Health Risks” and photographed them. I offered to go through each point with the tenants and offer advice of what products to use and how mould and sticky surfaces could be avoided. The young lady was very thankful but her male flatmate doesn’t talk to us. I also have them a page of things to help keep them get their bond back when they do vacate.

  • Jenn

    Hi I am a first time landlord. I bought a landlord package at office depot because I wasn’t quite sure what to put in it. I had a good feeling about the tenants when interviewing them, but each month I’ve had to text/call them on the 3rd of each month because I hadn’t heard from them. This is frustrating, but today I had to go over with a repairman because the washer wouldn’t work. I decided to buy a new washing machine because of the price of repair, but am reluctant to put it in there because they are not taking care of the current machines. When I got there, they were filthy dirty and it looked like a dust storm had gone through there and left dirt everywhere. I want to talk to them about it, but worry that they may do more damage if they feel embarrassed or upset by me saying something about about their cleanliness. I just don’t want any damage to my home. Any advice?????

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Jenn,

      My non-legal advice is to have a serious conversation with your tenants. Don’t try to be their friend. You have to accept the fact that they might not like you. If they damage the home, you can withhold their deposit to make repairs.

      It’s important for them to know that you take damage seriously, and you take them to court and ruin their credit if they cause severe damage.

      Encourage them to keep the place clean, but be realistic. Some people are just slobs. If they are not great tenants, you might want to even ask them if they would like to get out of their lease early? Then, if they say yes, give yourself 60 days to find another tenant, and then allow the bad tenants to leave.

      Also, I started using Cozy ( last year to collect my rent. Since then, I’ve never had a late payment. Everything is automatic. No more awkward phone calls. Check it out.

      FYI, I’m not a lawyer and this is not legal advice. I’m just an experienced landlord, trying to help.

    • Lucas Hall

      By the way, I would probably install the new washer – mainly b/c I wouldn’t want to fix the old one if it’s just going to break again.

      I would make sure the tenants area aware they are are not to put sharp objects, belts, coins, etc into the machine, and I will be holding them responsible for any excessive damage or abuse.

  • CoryB

    Hi Lucas~

    Thanks for starting Ladlordolgy!! I just discovered it, and it’s great! i have a question about cleaning. My tenant has given me notice that he’s moving out in 2 months (after a 2 yr lease). When I let him know that I would give him notice when I show the unit to new potential renters , he went nuts and said that I would be violating his privacy rights if I show my unit.. lol.. that’s obviously laughable (kinda, but really annoying).. but he then stated that he’s going to keep the unit so messy that no one will want to rent it. Do I have any recourse here? I didn’t put anything in the lease about cleaning, but can I require him to have it clean for showings?? there anything I do??

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Cory

      I don’t believe you can require him to clean unless you had something in the lease.

      I would hope that he will change his mind because after all, you still have his deposit!

      You are correct that you have every right to show the place to potential tenants – just be sure to give proper notice before arriving.

      I suggesting you try to motivate him to clean by saying “the cleaner it is, the faster it will go, and then I don’t have to continue showing it and disturbing your privacy. The dirtier it is the longer it will take for me to rent. Do you want me to come over just a few times, or 20 times?”

      Also, just a word of caution, anytime this has happened to me, it usually means the tenant is hiding something – like drugs, a pet, or an illegal subletter.

  • Teri

    I just rented this apartment, and discovered the smoke detector goes off whenever I try to use the oven. I can do without the oven til I move, but I’m wondering if a space heater will create the same problem. I’m pretty sure trying to use the gas heater would be a no go.

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Teri,

      The easiest thing to do is to move the smoke detector away from the oven. If you can’t do it yourself, ask the landlord to reposition it an addition10-15 ft away from the oven. It won’t go off nearly as much, and it shouldn’t ever go off because of an electric space heater. I don’t suggest you use a gas space heater – since there would be an actual flame. If the detector is hard-wired, you might be able to disable it, and then install a battery operated detector on the opposite side of the room.

  • Michelle

    I just received a call from a social worker saying they had removed the child from the home that I rent out because of a roach infestation.
    I did not know that the tenants had an issue with roaches. Talking to the renter, she said they were embarrassed and thought they had the problem under control but now it’s out of hand. I immediately called and scheduled an appointment for an exterminator. It just so happens that their lease is up next week. So I would like them to move because they have really trashed the house. It smells like something’s died in there and roaches are literally jumping around! Oh my lord I’m so disgusted! Can I withhold the deposit?

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Michelle,

      You can withhold a deposit for actual damages. So, please make repairs, track expenses for damages beyond normal wear and tear, and only keep what you have expenses for. Then, return any remaining deposit.

      Be sure to check your state’s rules on giving proper notice to terminate a lease. For monthly leases, sometimes you need to give 30 days notice.

  • David


    I’ve just moved into a flatshare in Scotland and spent my 1st night here.

    On viewing the property the flat appeared cleaner/tidier than it does now, and the landlords agent (his mother) did tell me the current flat mate who I’ll be sharing with is a bit untidy.

    I didn’t think much of it at that point, but upon closer inspection of the flat, communal areas and my room, I’ve realised that the place is absolutely filthy in my eyes. There are dead and live bugs/lice in my room, lounge and even the kitchen, the fridge is rank, it doesn’t seem to have been cleaned in months, maybe a year, there are cobwebs in the rooms and I feel disgusted.

    It’s that bad that I didn’t sleep very well last night, have hardly slept, and I don’t know how to approach my landlord with this information. I need to let them know I’m not happy with this but unsure how to go about it.

    On top of that, there is mould and damp in the corner wall/ceiling in bathroom. I suffer from asthma and am prone to catching chest infections easily. She told me that this was being dealt with via the insurance company and will be fixed, but I have my doubts about this due to my discovering the state of the flat being worse than I’d imagined or that was indicated to me by landlord/agent.

    I am unwell with a bad chest infection/flu just now and have just started university, so this is the last thing I need as I don’t have energy to clean the place top to bottom yet and this is causing me even more stress.

    I just don’t know how to mention it to landlord, I’ve paid my deposit and 1 st months rent, signed the tenancy agreement with flatmate but landlord still needs to sign tenancy agreement as they are in Aberdeen and unable to travel to Glasgow due to work commitments. We are due to post the tenancy agreement we’ve signed to the landlord so they can sign it, bit until that happens it is still incomplete isn’t it, so does that give me any advantage, if I said I’ve changed my mind and want to leave?

    My tenancy doesn’t officially start until 1st october 2014, but they allowed me the few days before hand to move in.

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi David

      In the US, the tenant in this situation could back out of the deal, but would definitely lose the deposit, and possibly the 1st months rent.

      If the landlord did try to keep the 1st months rent, the tenant could probably take the landlord to court claiming it was excessive, but I’m not sure who would win.

      I’m not a lawyer, but I can almost certainly promise you that you will lose your deposit.

      Sorry I didn’t have better news for you. Good luck.

    • magicsign

      Hi David contact your local council and explain them the conditions of the house and how you started to feel unwell because of it. In England a landlord is obliged by law to provide his tenants an healthy house which can’t cause any sort of disease or damage their health.

  • Kevin

    My tenant moved out as directed. However, upon the walkthrough, conducted by my daughter and the property manager’s representative, the representative indicated that he had never actually “been in” the house, and the condition of the house was beyond belief. Attempts to clean the carpets failed due to the amount of pet urine that had soaked into it, all over the house, for years. I had to replace all the carpets and baseboards (which has turned to sawdust from being saturated with urine). The urine situation was so bad that the floor vents were rusted/corroded and the entire vent system had to be replaced. The hoarding was unbelievable, but they removed most of it before they left. Sinks were clogged, feces throughout house and property…you could smell the house from the street, which is over 100ft away. The tenant was also $400 behind on the garbage, and $5000 behind on the sewer bill, both of which I will have to pay. The sewer company said nobody told them the house was rented, so they kept sending “me” the bill at the service address. Additionally, the tenants had sublet our rooms without our knowledge. The property manager conducted annual inspections, and only told us what “we” had to fix for the tenant. At no time did they say the house smelled so bad you needed a mask. When we brought this up to the property manager, the response was, “well, you can’t tell people how to live.” So, my question now is: can I sue the property manager for negligence/damages? It seems they only collected rent and provided my annual income statement…and did NOT manage my property in a way that protected my investment.

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Kevin,

      Frankly, you can sue anyone you want. This is such an extreme situation, that I’m sure you could have prevented $1,000’s in damages if the property manager has been monitoring the unit.

      I don’t understand how the PM could have performed an annual inspection and not noticed the issues. It makes me think that the PM only communicated with the tenant via phone or email and then sent you a punch list.

      I don’t know if you would win the case, but if I were you, I would sue the PM for some compensation. He’s not responsible for all the damage – because the clearly it was the tenant’s fault. The tenant is 100% responsible, but the PM should be held accountable too. If he had reported the condition, you could have evicted the tenant a long time ago. That excess damage is on the PM (in my opinion).

      Keep in mind, I’m not a lawyer, and this is not legal advice. An attorney would be able to guide you through your options better than I.

    • Christine

      I’m not a lawyer, but from experience, you should sue both the tenant and the property manager (along with any subletters you can identify, plus 50 “DOE” defendants in case you identify subletters/roommates later). If you only sue the PM, he can blame the tenants; if you only sue the tenants, they can say the PM never gave them any notice they were in breach of the lease. Either way, if you don’t name both in the same lawsuit, they can blame each other and get away with it.

      Depending on how much actual $$ damage there was, you can sue in small claims court and save a ton of money on attorney and court fees. The maximum amount is different in every county though so check your court’s website. Good luck!

  • Ricky

    a friend of mine has rented his house out to the council so they could give someone a home who needed it. After 8 years and a 1 year evivtion process the house is completly wrecked! It will cost thousands to put right.
    The council gave £750 deposit 8 years ago and obviously we are not giving it back to the council for the damage. Is there a way of getting the council to pay for the damage caused
    ? I cant prove it but seemes like the council didnt do background checks or referances. If i could put puctures up i would. You would be shocked. Please help

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Ricky,

      Sure, you’d have to take them to court and get a judgement against them for the damages. Make sure you take lots of pictures, itemize the damages, and tally up a total sum for the judge to review.

  • Petra

    My renter lives in my basement and his lease was up last june, however we continued the lease without resigned a new lease and just continued on a month to month basis.
    In the origional lease it states for him to keep the premises in clean and sanitary condition.
    My renter has not done so.
    I talked to him about this ones before
    And i checked my basement 2 weeks later
    And nothing was cleaned.
    What can i do?

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Petra

      That sounds a simple lease violation. Even though it’s now month-to-month, the terms and conditions from the previous lease carry over to the m2m.

      Check your state’s rental laws to determine how much notice you must give the tenant.

      Usually, a landlord must provide a “xx day notice to remedy or quit”, which means that the tenant has XX days to clean the unit to comply with the lease, or the landlord will terminate the lease.

      I hope that helps. Keep in mind, I’m not a lawyer, so please don’t consider this as legal advice.

  • Megan

    We have a tenant in a duplex that has been very resistant to allowing the pest control people in their unit. We gave them a 24 hour notice to enter and treated the unit. The pest control company called me and asked me to come down. He said it was one of the worse infestations he had seen. This is obviously against our housekeeping policy. My question is what to do moving forward. They are not hoarders, by any means. There was not a ton of “stuff,” but it was generally dirty (carpets were stained, the walls were grimy, etc.) What is the best way to move forward?

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Megan,

      First you have to decide if you want to keep them as tenants. If you want to continue to allow the tenant to live there, then you can try the 3 ways mentioned in this article to help them clean up.

      If this is against your housekeeping policy in the lease, then it can be considered a lease violation. You have to check your state laws (, to see how much notice you would have to give for a violation if you wanted to terminate the lease. You could give them notice to “remedy or quit”, which means they have to clean up or move out. If they don’t move out after you formally terminate the lease, then you’d have to go through the eviction process.

      I hope that clarifies things. Please know that I’m not a lawyer, but rather just an experience landlord.

  • Kiana

    I have tenants that have some bad habits in a Duplex. Once the tenant got into a fight with her boyfriend and threw a tin of Popcorn in the shared hallway. My other tenant contacted me angry about the shared area being dirty. I physically went to the property to check on it and it was cleaned immediately. Just today, the same tenant had a guest that puked in the hallway. It was again left there. My good alway on time and clean tenant is threatening to leave as he cannot take it ( I can’t blame him). I do not want to lose a good tenant due to a trifling tenant that is generally a few days late on rent AND dirty with too many house guests too often. I want them to leave, but not sure what to do.

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Kiana,

      You could give your bad tenants a warning about the nuisance they are causing. They are not allowed to interfere with other tenant’s right to quiet enjoyment. Their disturbances can be a violation of the lease, and grounds for termination.

      If they were my, I would send them a formal written warning. The next time it happens, I would terminate the lease with property notice. You should look up your state laws (, and figure how how much notice you need to give for a lease violation. I would also be wise to talk to a lawyer to make sure you follow the appropriate procedures in your state/county.

      Then, tell your good tenant about the actions you have taken. Re-assure him that you will get rid of the bad tenants if the problems persist.

      Good luck!

  • Lucy

    My house is honestly not that messy, at all. I live with 2 other girls in an old house and the carpets had stains and stuff long before we got there. The shower is a bit cluttered and we may not deep clean everything too often. Our landlord recently visited when no one was there and flipped out at how messy we were. She says she’s going to come check on us a lot next semester to make sure everything is clean. Is that even allowed? Our messiness definitely does not pose health hazards and honestly isn’t even too bad! We all think she’s being ridiculous. She cares about that and won’t even fix a leak in our house we’ve complained about many times!

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Lucy,

      Sure it is, especially if the lease gives her that authority. Unclean areas can attract rodents or pests, causing more issues for the landlord.

      The problem is that everyone’s opinion of “clean” is different, and everyone has a different tolerance. It’s possible that your landlord is a neat freak, but as unjust as that is, you still have to deal with it somehow. If you think she is being unfair, you should take lots of pictures of the place, and start gathering evidence to use in court if she tries to terminate your lease.

  • Jon

    Hi Lucas,

    My landlord live in the same house as tenants. 3 of us live in the upper unit, and landlord stays at lower unit with another couple. Both upper and lower units have a kitchen and a living room. To keep the kitchen clean, I, and other 2 tenants living in the upper unit, clean the kitchen at least once a week. We clean it more often if we are not busy. None of us has complained the kitchen is too dirty or messy.
    Last weekend landlord invited a bunch of his friends to watch games at upper unit, without any notice, and our dishes weren’t cleaned yet. So I was asked to clean it by the landlord, and I cleaned it right away. I can feel that he thinks he was embarrassed in front of his friend because of that.
    However, later the week he posted a notice on the fridge saying about the condition of the kitchen is out of his tolerance and he’s gonna charge us extra if we don’t maintain it clean. He even threaten to evict us.

    WTF? Does landlord have such right to do things?

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Jon

      Generally speaking, a landlord can require cleaning, or terminate a lease if the living conditions are causing damage of property. However, it’s always arguable if the expected cleaning behaviors and living conditions are not stated in the lease.

      For example, if a tenant never cleaned, and started attracting roaches, being it was the 5th time it happened, and standard pest control couldn’t fix it, then the landlord could attempt to terminate the lease. Meaning, the tenants are the problem, not the roaches.

      But in your case, it seemed like a one time thing, so it seems your landlord is a little irrational and retaliatory. Please keep in mind that he can’t force you out. Yes, he could try to terminate you lease, but if you don’t leave, he has to go to court and win an eviction case.

      If he wants to charge you extra, he better be using it for cleaning service, he must have good cause, AND he should have put that option in the lease. Just my two cents. It’s not legal advice, but my thoughts as a landlord.

  • Kimberley

    Hi Lucas,
    I’m renting out a property that I once lived-in via a letting agency (it was perfectly fine when I was living there – clean, tidy = no problems), but I’ve had a tenant in the property since October (family of four) and all of a sudden damp and mold have started to appear within the rooms of the property. I’ve had three specialists attend the property and they’ve all said it’s due to their living habits (drying wet clothes in every room constantly, and not airing the property). The walls are black, the windows are saturated, the rooms smell, my furniture too and they aren’t keeping on top of the cleaning. I’ve bought dehumidifiers and other things to help but they just keep complaining. They don’t understand. I would like them to leave but I can’t give them an eviction notice until the end of April. Is there anything I can do to get them out quicker? The letting agency are offering them other properties to move to but the tenants keep turning them down.

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Kimberley,

      If their living behavior is damaging your property, that could be considered a lease violation. Most leases require a tenant to clean regularly and use the property in a normal way – avoiding damage. By creating a moist environment, they are allowing mold to build up and ruin furniture and walls.

      If I were in your shoes, I would give them a XX day notice to remedy or quit (which varies depending on your state). I’d make a list of things they needed to do to fix the problem, by _____ date, and if they didn’t, then I would terminate the lease.

      Check out our state laws section to determine how much notice is needed to terminate a lease for a violation.

  • Sharon

    Hi Lucas,
    My husband and I have been renting our house out for 8 yrs. now. Our last tenant is going on her 3rd yr. We had to replace the micro wave and while we where there the carpet in the kitchen was filthy. I said to her that this needs cleaned or the stains will naver come out. Well she didn’t do it and we had pipes breake in the kitchen from the freezing temps. and had a flood. Well needless to say the caprets need replaced. I guess we lucked out there but is the tenant responsible for cleaning carpets and paiting the walls if they dirty them? The porch needs restained again too…are we to keep going there and doing all this stuff for her while she is living there or is she responsible for keeping the place up? We have had to repaint, clean carpets and stain decks and they are beautiful when the people move in…they leave and it’s a mess.

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Sharon,

      A tenant is responsible for general cleaning of the property, and for any excessive damage. The landlord is responsible for normal wear and tear. Naturally the carpets will get a little dirty and will show some normal padding, but I don’t consider stains as “normal”.

      However, most people don’t have carpet in the kitchen, and the kitchen clearly is more prone to stains than anywhere else.

      Plus, depending on the age of the carpet, you might not be able to charge them anything for it. Here is a podcast episode that I did on the topic:

      If I were you, I probably wouldn’t try to charge her for the carpet in the kitchen because it was fully ruined by the flood, not the stains. But you could certainly charge them to remove any stains in the other rooms.

      General painting responsibilities are the landlords’ job. If the tenant damaged the way beyond normal wear and tear, then you could charge them to fix the damage, and repair that wall or room.

      Please know that I’m not a lawyer, and this is not legal advice. I’m just and experienced landlord, trying to help.

  • Pam

    Help!I am a landlord who lives on the same property as my Tenants.They have 2 cats that can be smelled from outside the unit.I ve written them, spoke to them about it and they have done nothing about the horrible smell.Im very afraid the cat urine is in my hardwood floors and its going to be very had to fix this. Ive seen cat feces though their front window on the floor.The woman tenant is ultra sensitive to my recommendation of even to please open the windows when its nice outside.She wont.2 months left on the Lease now ,what would you do?Thanks

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Pam,

      Do you have any language in your lease about property damage? If she’s damaging your property, you could cite the violation, and force her to remedy the problem (clean up) or face a lease termination.

      Hopefully you’re using a good lease that gives you the legal backbone to force her to clean up her act. There are some other recommendations in the article above that would be useful in your situation.

      • Pam

        Lease states “to keep the premises clean and sanitary and in good condition
        and upon termination of lease to return the unit in identical condition to which existed upon taking occupancy of unit”And reimburse Landlord on demand by Landlord for the cost of repairs damaged by Tenants through misuse or neglect”

        would I use a Statute for this complaint to cite the smell/odor damage ?Its in Florida.

        • Lucas Hall

          Hi Pam,

          Seems like you’ve covered yourself in the lease.

          Since a smell and oder is difficult to prove as a damage, it might be better to do a formal inspection first, and take note (written notes and photos) of any visible damages (such as cat feces and urine stains). Besides, without an inspection, you don’t really have any proof, right?

  • Mary Aldapa

    I rent out rooms in my house. My daughter and my son rent a room and I have two other rooms rented to two people who are not family. The male tenant has a stench coming from his room. My son says he has spoke with him about the smell and he is not doing anything about it. So my son said I’m the landlord and for me to tell him to clean and get rid of the smell. I don’t live there. I don’t want to be insensitive, so I wrote to all tenants renting a room, that I’m giving 24 hrs notice and I’m coming to inspect the house and rooms, hoping I could find the words to tell him about the smell coming from his room. He apparently can’t smell what the other people are smelling. My son said he puts his shirt over his mouth and nose because it’s that bad. I think I am doing the right thing.

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Mary,

      You are correct, the first step is to do an inspection and to document the condition via notes and photos.

      It’s possible that your son is being overly sensitive, or may have a grudge against the guy. With that said, if the smell is creating a nuisance for the other roommates, then that could be considered a lease violation.

      You’d have to check your state laws on how much notice you’d have to give to remedy or quit for a violation.

      • Mary

        Thank you. To clear the air, the guy that I’ve been speaking about, is actually my sons friend. My son didn’t know he wasn’t clean. He said he was a clean person. I even spoke with his mom prior to renting him the room. She said he cleans up after himself, apparently not. I’m going to the house at 3pm to inspect the house. My son told me last night, he was spraying something around his room. My daughter also smells it and keep complaining to me. So I’m going to go take care of the problem today. I’ll let you know how it turns out later.

  • tabatha

    The people that used to live in the complex were at now were very dorty an got kicked out. An i just noticed that there is cat feces behind yhe hot water tank an i dont feel its my job to clean it when its not my mess i dont have any animals also there is a dirty pair of underwear back there an i cant reach back there anyways an i was told that there was nine cats living in here and i just hope they dont find anything dead back there an i was wondering how they will clean it

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Tabatha,

      That sounds horrible, and smelly! Hopefully, they will clean it up quickly. They could hire a plumber to disconnect the water heater and move it out of the way temporarily.

  • Renee

    Hi, our tenants moved out last nite, and I went to inspect and take pics this morning. I was appald the condition. Dirt, grime, filth, sticky stuff was all over the walls. Paint was all over the wood trim throughout. We bought the two family we have been living in for 10 yrs, this past September. The lease was carried over from the previous landlord. After talking to her, we were informed the place was in good, clean condition upon move in and they were told 2 b careful 2 not get paint on woodwork. The place reeks of cat urine. New carpet and windows will go in this wknd, but it will need extreme scrubbing before that can happen. There is not time 2 wait 4 a cleaning service 2 handle this, as new tenants are moving in shortly. How do we charge 4 time spent cleaning and repairing? Even tho we are putting in new window, can we charge for broken/missing screens,( window needs replacing anyways) it would need new screens regardless. It’s not what I would consider everyday dirt, it’s filth

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Renee,

      That’s a great question. I don’t suggest you charge for your time at all, unless you have a fixed pricelist and have some professional cleaning background. This is because you have no real way to value your time for that tasks, nor can you produce an unbiased receipt. It would be a tough sell if you went to court over it.

      It’s really best to pay extra for a cleaning company to come out that same day and then charge it all to the previous tenants.

      If you are putting in new windows because of the damage, then you wouldn’t be able to charge for missing/damaged screens. However, if you are replacing because of the damage, then you certainly could withhold the amount that would cover the screens.

      Obviously, you can charge for supplies and anything that has a receipt or estimate, but as for monetizing your own time, that’s a tricky one.

      If you think that your tenant might sue you for the charges to clean, then it’s better to be safe than sorry. Hire a cleaning company, and ask if the new tenant can delay their move-in by a day or two. Further, you could let the tenant move-in, give them a credit, and still hire maids to work around their stuff.

      It’s not an ideal situation, but sometimes we just have to work with the hand we were dealt.

  • Chrisdai

    Hi! Thanks for the information!
    Last year I rent the first house in my life for a one year lease, with three other tenants. I have two questions:

    1. Does the landlord have the rights to require the house to be as clean as we just move in during our lease? In the lease contract it says we have to “vacate the rental unit in a clean, tidy and damage-free condition”. However our landlord always ask us to clean the house to the initial condition whenever he feels it’s not clean enough.

    2. In the contract it says landlord will pay for water, but is there any limit of the purpose of water usage? I mean can I use water for occasionally car washing or I can only use water for daily life needs?


    • Chrisdai

      Oh also, does the landlord has the rights to require that we MUST have one representative to collect the rent from every tenant for him to pick up? My landlord said he told us that he “only deal with one people” so I have to collect rent every month and deal anything about the house for him or at least help him. That doesn’t sound resonable or fair for me.

      • Lucas Hall

        Hi Chrisdai

        It’s great to meet you. In response to your questions:

        1. Does the landlord have the rights to require the house to be as clean as we just move in during our lease?
        Yes, but that requirement should be in the lease.

        2. Is there a limit on water usage?
        No, unless there is a limit in the lease. However, if you are neglectful, and leave the faucet on all day, your landlord might make you pay for it, and even sue you for past bills. Negligence is never an excuse. Be wise and courteous about water usage. Make sure it’s reasonable. Wash your car, but don’t wash every car in the neighborhood.

        3. Oh also, does the landlord has the rights to require that we MUST have one representative to collect the rent from every tenant for him to pick up?
        Yes, this is common with roommate situations. It’s called Joint and Several Liability. You are not separate tenants, but rather one entity. He should only have to deal with one representative if he wants too.

        Also, please know that I’m not a lawyer, nor is this legal advice. I’m just an experienced landlord, trying to help.

  • Keith

    I manage a boarding house that rents rooms by the week. Everyone that moves in here is required to sign a rental agreement that stipulates their responsibility to keep all the common ares of the house clean and sanitary. All tenants are given the use of 1/2 of 1 refrigerator to be shared with another tenant. My problem is this, I have a woman who refuses to adhere to this clause of the agreement and not only has taken over 1 whole refrigerator and freezer for herself but she also hordes bad food especially bad meat. Every time she opens her refrigerator it cause the downstairs to reek of the bad meat. I have confronted her on many occasions and have given her written warnings many times. Can I revoke her use of the refrigerator because it is affecting the other tenants here?

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Keith,

      I suppose you could certainly try to revoke her fridge privilege, but I don’t think it’s a good idea.

      A fridge is a basic appliance, and most would consider that walks a thin line between making a unit habitable or not. I’d hate for you to get in a situation where you are failing to provide the services that you promised.

      In my non-legal opinion, the better option is to threaten to terminate her lease all-together for the violation. Each state has it’s own laws on how much notice you must give. If she doesn’t clean up the mess, and restrain herself to her portion for fridge within the notice period, then her lease terminates and she has to move out.

      If she doesn’t move out, then you’d have to start the formal eviction process with the courts – but lets home it doesn’t come to that.

      You can research your state laws here:

      Let me know if you need help finding the data. However, please know that I’m not a lawyer, nor is this legal advice.

      • Keith

        Hi Lucas

        Thank you for the response. The plot thickens though. This woman has also spread out into other areas of the house to include her room as well as other storage cubbies outside her room. I have been instructed by the owner to charge her $5.00. more a week for the additional usage of the refrigerator because of her continued disregard of that clause in her agreement. I have typed up a new notice to that point, pointing to that clause number of her rental agreement that she is in violation of. I have also been instructed to give a 24 hour notice of safety and sanitation inspection, we live in a very rural area of our town and mice and chipmunks run rampant here, the threat of rodent infestation because of her bad habits is very real.

        • Lucas Hall

          Wow, that’s gross!

          In my experience, people that dirty are unable to change. They make promises, but it’s not within their ability to change their behavior. They are sick, and can’t get well.

          If she were my tenant, it would be time for her to go.

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