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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166 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

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Daisy,

      I suggest you try the landlord first, and if that doesn’t solve it, file a complaint with the county.

    • James

      Mind your own property.dont worry about others

      • Judi

        Your comment was not nice. If this effects her property she needs to address this problem.

      • Joe

        James, you’re an idiot. Just keep your worthless opinions to yourself.

      • Care

        Jeez James, kind of hardboiled of you, don’t you think? Yow! ;)

      • Angelina

        You must be one of the dirty, nasty, laziest tenants in the world, and can do everything shame on top of the world. I don’t know how people like you could live in a life like that. Pollute the society, bring crimes, create trash, and waste resources on this world. Nothing else you can contribute to this world, but make bunch of babies with all different mothers.

  • Jamie


    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?


    • 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


    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?

  • Brandon N

    Hiya, I’m a tenant and I’m a little untidy but there’s no garbage and no health hazards anywhere. A few cobwebs but thats to be expected of the basement they have me in.
    The land lady thinks she can threaten me and have my things thrown out without eviction or anything of the sort, because it’s untidy. Two questions. If I physically remove her from my living space am I committing a crime for defending my things? and can the untidy gaming wires be grounds for her to start removing things?

  • Liam


    I currently rent a room in a shared young professional house. The landlord is one of the tenants. The place is constantly an absolute embarrassment, unhygienic disaster.

    I on my part always ensure I clean after myself and have made both other housemates ( the landlord being one) that I suffer from and illness that can be affected with poor hygiene in the kitchen especially.

    I have addressed this a number of times and is only one of the problems.

    What action can I take in my situation?

  • Jessica

    Hi we live in a condominiun and I have a discusted neighbor he never cleans and I never see the landlord around to talk to him but I’m consernd because he has a Dog that he never takes him out to go potty so I live next to him and it smells like dog poo all the time we own the condo so it’s hard for us to go rent somewhere else that’s not going to fix the problem please help me I have two kids I need help

  • Martin

    In California tenants are only responsible for maintenance repairs that are caused by them all normal wear and tear of the property is the owners responsibility. Is it legal to add the $25 in California. I just want to make sure before I make any changes in a contract. Please advise.

    California Civil Code section 1941 states that when a landlord rents property to a tenant as a place to live, the property must be in a “habitable” condition. (“Habitable” means fit to live in; “uninhabitable” means not fit to live in.) Section 1941 also states that the landlord must repair problems that make the property uninhabitable – except for problems caused by the tenant or the tenant’s guests, children or pets.

  • Shannon Olson

    What if we don’t have a lease with our tenants. Can we still evict them for the condition of the house. They pay monthly. But the house is nasty garabage all over cant see floors countertops dirty dishes all over house dirty diapers mold all over. Can we still evict without having a lease and if so what actions must we take??

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Shannon,

      You’d have to review your local laws to be sure. But generally speaking, without a cleanliness clause in a lease, you can only terminate the tenancy for nonpayment and if they are damaging the property. Lack of cleanliness can damage the property, and can attract pests. But it’s subjective if you don’t have a written lease.

      You could talk to a lawyer, or file an unlawful detainer with the courts and let a judge hear it. Make sure you have lots of proof.

  • Amy Hopple

    I just wanted to say the tone of this article is quite condescending

  • christine

    We were able to extend our original lease for 2 years last August. The property manager then fired our landlord effective Dec. 31st. The new property manager just sent us addendums to the existing lease that were not included in the original, prohibiting 215 grows/operating a drug house, (the LL is here all the time, so no illegal activity), restricting certain breeds of dogs living/visiting the premises, eviction if caught(the landlord met & approved our Doberman), and also included a page requiring us to have the carpet & tile professionally cleaned by a company of their choice, when we move out. The house will be left in better condition than when we moved in. Can we be evicted if we refuse to sign these addendums?

  • Terri Canady

    Omg, please help!! I rented out my mobile home to a friend’s daughter and her 4 small daughters. They were in the home for 3 yrs. I was not going to do this, however my friend and her mother beg me to,and promised they would see that the home was taken care of….I stupidly did not have a lease, nor
    .After all these were very good friends of mine and they were in need..And I am a magnet to help someone in need..Well needless to say, I have learned the hard way..My home is trashed beyond belief..There are thousands of dollars in damages.i know my chances in court are slim is there anything else I ca
    n do to recoup some of the losses? They simply just drove off and I haven’t heard word since..

  • J K Johnston

    in Illinois…I have several times advised tenant from feeding squirrels/rodents …(she thinks they’re “cute”) and has continued ….. squirrels have now burrowed into (my side) of carport & infested small shed area. some neighbors have also commented on the GROWING PROBLEM…….can security deposit be used to remedy problem??? thank you..

  • Marie

    URGENT PLEASE HELP!! I am a tenant and my least states that we are responsible for cleaning the house, which is understandable. However, my lease doesn’t state that there will be a fee if it is not cleaned to my landlords liking. Recently, if the stove isn’t cleaned the way my landlord would like, then she charges $5 every time! Even when you wipe down the stove ( black appliances) there are still streaks and she claims that is dirty! My landlord also charges us $5 every time we accidentally leave the lights on. Recently she has stated that fees will double if these keeps happening, however this is not exactly stipulated in our lease. IS THIS LEGAL? PLEASE HELP!!!

  • Connie Prince

    Very informative article!!!

  • Paul Santo

    Very informative article!!!

  • Cindy Fetch

    When showing a property (currently occupied) to a potential renter, I noticed the tile floor in the kitchen has several cracked tiles (as though something heavy had been dropped in one area). I haven’t yet approached my tenant about the floor. The current lease expires July 31. Can I require the floor be repaired before the current tenant moves out?

  • Debra

    I have a tenant that REFUSES to clean his bathroom, take garbage out regularly, and clean dirty dishes in the sink which I have seen sit there for more than 6 weeks at a time, to the point where dishes have grown mold.bathroom = toilet has mold, rust inside that he refuses to clean.
    bathtub and tiled wall inside bathtub has mold, soap scum, and is now stained due to tenant not cleaning it.I have requested MULTIPLE times that he keep it clean.. he point blank refuses. Now I have requested he leave the apt with a written 30 day notice, as outline in apt month/month agreement which he signed upon moving into this apt 3 years ago. I have never raised his rent until this year. I have asked him to leave, he wont leave, what do I do now?

    • Sunshine

      Evict or unlawful detainer. I am not sure of your area but follow all legal steps with proper written notifications. So how often do you check his place because he is entitled to quiet enjoyment of his space. I hope when you check you give proper notification.

  • rosita

    there is a rooming house 2 doors from me and the tenants throw bottles of piss or in my yard like 8 to 10 bottles and I am sick of it every time I go out in my backyard. I have even seen them go to the bathroom in the lot next to the house they live in . they are very nasty and none of them clean out front they pile trash in the lot they piss in and the landlord is a cop as well as a slumlord al he cares about is collecting rent, who do I contact on this matter?

    • Sunshine

      Call or email the health department. Document and take pictures. If they do nothing, put the pictures on the web with the name of the city and list your efforts to remedy the situation.

  • Care

    I have a neighbor I believe to be a source of repeated bedbug infestations. The building management’s response has been proactive, but somewhat ineffectual in regard to solving the problem because this tenant remains. Our lease specifies many of the maintenance and cleaning requirements listed above, but i found nothing about bugs. Is there a law which states something about that with 2hich you are familiar?

  • Joy L Steffey

    Thank you for this helpful artical i will be incorporating it into my lease.
    I do have a situation that i’m not sure if can do anything about in my lease. Your help in this matter wold be greatly appreciated. I have a tenet that will not take showers. He has not showered in months and is causing a stink through out the house.
    Is there any thing i can put in my lease to make him take a shower? I have asked him to shower and he is aware that he needs to. I have asked if there is anything wrong with the shower and he said NO it works just fine. he has no medical reason for not showering. The oil from his body has permeated the furniture and walls. Can you give me advice on this? Help needed from Michigan

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