People are messy. However, if your tenant’s messes are getting out of control, you should bring it to their attention.
Assess the Situation
It’s one thing for a tenant to have some trash on their patio, but it’s another for them to have mold growing in the rental as a result of a filthy lifestyle. If the tenant has simply gotten a bit lazy, you should send a polite letter asking them to clean up. If the situation is a bit more extreme, then you may have to send the tenant a notice to clean up or quit the premises.
What to Look For
Technically, landlords can’t go around telling tenants how and when to clean. You need a valid reason to confront them. If you suspect that the tenant is violating health or fire codes, or causing damage to themselves, the property, or other people, then you should investigate immediately. Schedule a unit inspection, giving proper notice to the tenant, and investigate. (Keep in mind that certain states, like California, prohibit landlords from conducting general inspections.) Here are some indications of an issue that should be addressed:
- Animal feces
- Excessive garbage
- Rodents, roaches, or other pests
- Overwhelming, unpleasant odors
- Spoiled food or piles of dirty dishes
- Sticky surfaces and strange substances
- Junk that blocks entryways or air vents
Include It In the Lease
The best way to prevent dirty, messy behavior is by having a thorough lease. It is imperative that you include clauses in the lease that outline rules for the maintenance and upkeep of the property. Tenants need to have an incentive to be clean; having consequences and legal grounds for their failure to comply will make things much easier. Here is an example of a “Cleaning Clause.”
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).
You may also add more specific tasks to the clause regarding the maintenance of the premises. For instance, special instructions about trash removal or protocol for damaged appliances can be included.
Talk to the Tenant
Every circumstance is different. If you have reason to believe that a tenant’s cleanliness (or lack thereof) is causing harm, you need to talk to them. In the instance of hoarding, it is important to review the Fair Housing Act. Hoarding is considered a mental disorder and a disability. Therefore, you are not allowed to evict a tenant because of hoarding, as it would be discrimination. However, there are other reasons for evicting a hoarding tenant, such as lease or fire code violations.
If the tenant is violating certain rules and regulations, but you don’t want to outwardly evict them, send them a polite letter. Here is a sample letter to a tenant, asking them to clean the unit. You may customize it as necessary:
It has come to the attention of management that you are not living up to your obligations outlined in Section ____ of the lease agreement. This correspondence shall serve as an official request to correct the aforementioned deficiency within 7 calendar days.
Here are some friendly lease violation reminders:
The unit must be clean, with no signs of trash, spoiled food, or mold.
There must be no overwhelming, unpleasant odors.
Appliances must be clean and in working condition.
No trash or debris should be in the outdoor area. Landscaping must also be upkept (i.e. no excessive weeds or fallen leaves).
A management inspection of your apartment has been scheduled for ____ . Failure to comply with this request could result in breach of lease proceedings. If any lease violations have been discovered upon the inspection, you may be subject to paying for damages or cleaning services. If the unit is in poor condition, you may also receive a notice to clean up or quit the premises.
Thank you for your prompt attention in advance. Feel free to contact me with any questions or concerns.