You don’t expect your tenants to uphold Martha Stewart standards of cleanliness, but you also don’t want to rent your property to a “pack rat”.
While there are some types of tenants (stereotypically, college students) that traditionally leave the place a mess, others may surprise you.
Many times, you can tell a lot about a person by the way they dress. Other times, just because someone is neat and tidy when it comes to their personal appearance doesn’t mean they won’t trash a rental dwelling.
The solution is to create and add detailed clauses in the lease for maintaining reasonable levels of cleanliness. What clauses you can and cannot include in your lease regarding cleaning varies by state, so it would be wise to check with an attorney before drafting your own cleaning clause, or using one you find on the internet (including here!).
1. Require Cleaning in the Lease
As seen in the comments of a popular article: How to Handle Dirty Tenants, it’s obvious that some landlords are stuck between a rock and a hard place. The unfortunate truth is that many landlords don’t specify a cleaning requirement in the lease, and then they don’t have any grounds to enforce.
Sadly, no matter how dirty a tenant is, you can’t just add clauses or requirements about cleaning into the lease after it has been signed and you realize your tenants are filthy.
It’s crucial to have such lease clauses in place from the beginning, although it is possible to amend the lease agreement if the tenants are willing to sign it. Legally, they are under no obligation to do so.
2. Communicate Legal & Personal Expectations
As the American Bar Association points out, the tenant has the duty not to “commit waste.” In layman’s terms, that means a tenant can’t cause permanent and/or unreasonable damage to the property.
Tenants must comply with local municipal codes by keeping the premises clean and dispose of trash properly.
When the tenant moves out, the property must be returned to the landlord in “clean and repaired condition,” with the exception of reasonable wear and tear. Language along these lines is typical in leases, but these are just minimal standards.
One of the best things you can do is to provide them with a list of “things-to-clean”. Lucas Hall has published is personal tenant cleaning checklist. Feel free to download it and make it your own:
3. Be Very Specific
Include clauses spelling out the tenant’s responsibilities for maintaining and cleaning the premises very specifically – down to how often they must sweep the floors.
Here’s one clause that makes the tenants cleaning responsibilities and the consequences of letting the place turn into a pigsty, crystal clear:
CLEANING. Tenant(s) is responsible for cleaning all areas of the Premises, including but not limited to, living room, dining room, kitchen, hallways, laundry room, bedrooms, closets, bathrooms, outdoor walkways, and parking spaces. To prevent the infestation of rodents and insects, Tenants must remove any collected trash and food waste from the Premise at least once a week. Carpets and Rugs must be vacuumed at least once a week. Hardwood floors or Tiles must be swept once a week. Bathrooms must be cleaned regularly, and as frequently as needed, to prevent the formation of mold and mildew. If Tenant(s) does not clean adequately and regularly, Tenant(s) will be liable for reasonable cleaning charges – including charges for cleaning carpets, draperies, furniture, walls, etc. that are soiled beyond normal wear (that is, wear or soiling that occurs without negligence, carelessness, accident, or abuse). Landlord reserves the right to hire a recurring Professional Cleaning/Maid Service if Tenant(s) are not keeping the Premises in clean/sanitary order at Landlord’s own judgment. This expense will be the responsibility of the Tenant(s).
While this is an excellent clause to have in your lease, check with your attorney to make sure it’s legal to include it. Many states do not allow clauses requiring tenants to pay for a professional cleaning service, especially at the landlord’s discretion.
4. Document the Mess
Make sure you document the mess your tenants have made of your property. First and foremost, the picture can be used to inquire with the tenant about the mess. But it also lets them know that you have evidence against them should they refuse to clean up their act.
While that’s especially important if your state does permit you to charge the tenant for professional cleaning services, it’s wise to have this evidence if your tenant leaves and challenges your right to keep the security deposit to clean up the premises.
Taking photos or video with your phone is probably the easiest way to do that. The documentation should include the date, and you should provide simple, non-dramatic narration, no matter how angry you feel. For example, “…first floor bathroom, mold growing on walls, tub and sink,” gets the point across.
5. Perform Regular Inspections
“You don’t want to be the landlord interviewed by a news camera crew trying to explain that you didn’t know your tenant had 50 cats in a one-bedroom dwelling.”
Your lease should include a clause regarding your right to entry, so that you can check on the property’s upkeep on a regular basis. Usually, you must notify the tenant at least 24 hours before entering the premises on an agreed-upon time.
If tenants know you will tour the residence a few times a year – and point out any lease violations regarding conditions – odds are they will make some effort to keep the place in decent shape. It’s vital that your lease’s entry provisions are compatible with state laws.