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Can a Landlord Tell You How Clean to Keep Your House?

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Scott Gibson
Scott Gibson Published : August 3, 2021

A tenant is under obligation to adhere to all terms of the rental lease clauses. One clause which landlords can choose to include is how clean to keep the house. A cleaning clause in the rental agreement can help avoid misunderstandings during the tenancy or move-out inspection.

Tenants often wonder if a landlord can specify how clean to keep the house. Additionally, there may be additional conditions regarding cleanliness in the lease when a tenant moves out from a rental property. 

If you are a landlord, it is crucial to abide by the term of a lease agreement. However, it would be best if you also were clear on what you consider to be clutter and dirtiness and what normal wear and tear is. This fact is essential for knowing if you need to return a security or damage deposit. 

Can a landlord tell you how clean to keep your house?

For tenants, the landlord has the right to say how clean you must keep the house. Typically, the standard of cleanliness is one of the lease clauses. And you and the landlord have a legal obligation to adhere to what the tenancy agreement requires regarding keeping the rental property clean.

So, can a landlord tell a tenant to clean up or evict them for being messy? Yes, if the rental unit is dirty enough or the place is filthy.

7 Signs Of a Dirty House That Your Landlord Can Tell You to Clean

The lease agreement should explicitly say what a landlord expects of a tenant. Typically, a cleanliness clause states that the apartment should be left in the same condition as when a tenant moves in. But what about cleanliness during the rental period? 

A robust cleanliness clause should cover rules about managing the trash, handling biodegradable items, dealing with a pet’s waste, toxic chemicals, mold, and mess or garbage around the property’s exterior.

Here are seven signs of a dirty house that a landlord can make a tenant clean.

tell tenant to clean house rentdrop

1. Clutter and garbage

A landlord can require tenants to clean up the mess, trash, and garbage accumulating in the property. This could be a pile of papers, empty boxes, discarded bottles, and other junk. These items not only collect dust, but they can be a safety or fire hazard. 

2. Pet mess

Suppose you allow tenants to have pets in the rental property. In that case, the tenancy agreement should require that the tenant disposes of pet waste properly. Signs of a dirty apartment would be pet feces or urine that isn’t in a litterbox. 

Even though you require a pet deposit, the tenant must clean the property from any mess a pet has caused. 

3. Mold on bathroom walls

Property owners can insist that tenants clean mold growth from walls and keep shower tile and grout clean. However, it’s not just bathroom mold that is a sign of a dirty apartment. Wet items not stored properly or failing to report a leaking pipe leads to mold growth, making the rental unit smell and become a health hazard. 

4. Nasty odors coming from the rental property

A tell-tale sign of a filthy apartment is a foul stench from the residence. Of course, there are several reasons why disgusting odors occur. The stench could be from a buildup of cooking grease, smoking, mold, blocked drains, rotten food, dirty carpets, or cat or dog waste.

So, a landlord can require a tenant to eliminate the source of the stink and clean the apartment.

The foul smell can also go through the apartment building and affect neighbors. In severe cases, the odor can cause a stink with the neighbors because it can violate the warranty of peaceful enjoyment.

5. Rodents and pest infestations

A landlord can get a tenant to pay for pest control and clean the apartment if they are responsible for the rat, mice, or bug infestation. For example, suppose there is evidence of garbage pileups, leaving leftovers out, or severe clutter. In that case, the tenant must deal with the problem.

Or course, a landlord is typically responsible for pest control. As such, it’s a good idea to arrange for seasonal pest control as a preventative measure. 

A severely dirty apartment that attracts vermin, flea, and other nasties can be a reason to issue a comply or quit notice. And if the tenant doesn’t clean the unit in a reasonable time, you could start eviction proceedings.

6. Blocked drains and plumbing fixtures

It is acceptable for a landlord to require a significant cleanup if a tenant causes blockages in drains or sewers. If the blockage resulted in flood damage, you could demand the tenant to pay for the cost of repairs. Part of the lease agreement could be that the tenant is responsible for minor repairs.

Of course, tenants have the responsibility to report leaking plumbing fixtures. And landlords must fix these.

7. Toxic chemicals

Any type of toxic chemical that is incorrectly stored can be a considered “mess that a tenant has to clean up.” Also, tenants can’t leave potentially dangerous chemicals lying around where children or others could access them. If the tenant needs to dispose of the materials, they must do so according to local laws.

Steps To Keep Your Rental Clean

Regularly cleaning the rental unit is the tenant’s responsibility. For example, suppose you notice clutter, dirt, mess, and debris in the apartment during regular, scheduled inspections. In that case, you can require the tenant to clean the rental unit immediately. However, landlords face the challenge of keeping rental units clean between tenants.

Here are some essential steps to keep a rental property clean. 

  • Have a cleanliness clause: Provide a cleaning checklist in the rental agreement of what you expect the tenant to clean regularly. Also, a move-out checklist can include areas you require the tenant to deep clean—for example, the stove and oven.
  • Attend the move-out: Always be present when a tenant moves out. You can walk through the apartment with the checklist to inspect for damages and check cleanliness.
  • Deep clean: Even if the tenant kept the unit in a spotless condition, it’s still a good idea to clean the place. Normal “wear and tear” is acceptable without a tenant risking losing their security deposit. So, you probably want to carry our minor or major repairs in preparation for the next tenant. In some cases, it’s worthwhile to hire professional cleaners to carry out a thorough clean.
  • Replace old furnishings or carpeting if necessary: Carpets can accumulate a lot of dirt over time, which can be difficult to remove altogether. Between tenants, you should at least deep clean carpets. However, it may be best to replace them to get rid of hard-to-remove stains and odors.
  • Inspect and repair plumbing: Leaky pipes cause mold and other hygiene issues in a rental unit. After the tenant leaves, check for signs of water damage, leaking pipes under sinks, or mold in basements, bathrooms, or behind fixtures.

How To Deal with a Dirty Tenant

landlords ask tenants to clean house

Dealing with a dirty tenant involves explaining their responsibilities to keep the apartment clean. And in some cases, you may have to show the tenant how to clean. But in severe cases, you may have to hire a cleaning service and then bill the tenant.

Trying to deal with a tenant who doesn’t clean is frustrating. But, unfortunately, some people get used to living in filthy conditions, and they don’t notice the mess, stench, or piles of garbage around them. In this situation, it’s vital to address the problem tactfully but forcefully.

First, you can explain the tenant’s responsibilities as outlined in the lease agreement. Having an itemized list of weekly and monthly cleaning tasks is a must. Of course, you must be reasonable. But requiring that they take the trash out regularly, clean grouting between tiles, and clean certain areas regularly is reasonable.

If certain areas require a specific cleaning method, you may have to explain how to do this. You could also supply equipment such as a vacuum cleaner, mops, and cleaning chemicals. 

However, some messy tenants may need to be shown the basics of keeping an apartment clean. During this time, highlight the benefits to themselves and their health. 

If the rental unit is still filthy, you can inform the tenant that you will hire a cleaning service. The company can provide proper notice of appearance once a month and clean as necessary. You can then bill the tenant the cost of the clean. However, you must check your lease and with local state laws if this is permissible.

Best Ways to Get Your Tenants to Clean Regularly

The best way to ensure tenants clean regularly is to have an agreement about cleanliness. 

You could start with a “condition check-in list.” This documents the condition of walls, flooring, furnishings, and fixtures at move-in. You can also go through the move-in inspection list with the tenant and explain how to care for particular items.

Typically, the lease agreement should specify a weekly trash day for empty garbage bins and preventing rubbish and piles of papers from piling up.

Another way to encourage tenants to clean regularly is to have a clause to inspect the unit regularly. Of course, you must give reasonable notice in line with the lease and state laws. During the inspections, you can address any cleanliness issues. Additionally, be sure to document any lease violations regarding cleanliness.

Lease Clauses

The easiest way to tell a tenant how clean to keep the house is by including a clause in the rental agreement. 

Here is an example cleaning clause:

“CLEANING. The tenant(s) shall keep all areas in and around the property in a clean and habitable condition. Normal wear and tear of the property is expected. At the end of the rental term, the tenant shall submit the property for further inspection. The tenant agrees to….”

Depending on the rental unit and your requirements, you could include in the rental agreement the following:

  • When the tenant must remove trash from the premises
  • How often they must vacuum carpets and rugs
  • How often the tenant must clean bathroom and kitchen areas
  • If the tenant must pay for a cleaning service if you deem the rental unit dirty
  • What their responsibilities at move out are

It’s vital to note that any requirements in the lease must be in line with local landlord-tenant law. 

In Conclusion

Can you, as the landlord tell tenants how clean to keep the house? The quick answer is yes. First, however, make sure that any cleanliness requirements are in the lease agreement. If a tenant violates the terms of the lease, you may have to serve an eviction notice.

Topics: landlord tenant laws, rental lease, cleanliness clause, cleaning clause, peaceful enjoyment