Mold, roaches, mice, set-in stains: messy tenants make other residents miserable. Until you learn the art of writing letters to tenants about cleanliness.
There’s an old saying about one man’s trash being another man’s treasure.
In some respects, that’s true.
But in others, it’s quite the opposite.
Sometimes, one man’s trash becomes another man’s problem.
As a property management team member, it’s your responsibility to ensure that your tenants have a safe and clean place to live.
That means keeping the sidewalks free of tripping hazards and common areas well-lit. It includes ensuring that the heat and A/C units work, that the windows and doors lock, and that the pipes don’t leak.
That also means checking that each tenant does their part to keep their unit clean.
Struggling with a tenant with a cleanliness problem but not sure how to address the issue?
From adding clauses to the lease to sending a tenant letter, here are some tips to help you deal with a tenant that’s not as clean as you need them to be.
“Clean” means different things to different people.
But when it comes to tenant cleanliness, you need to be clear about how you define “clean."
Have a tenant who lets their laundry pile up?
A renter who doesn’t vacuum or dust as often as you think they should?
A resident who never makes their bed, folds their laundry, or unloads their dishwasher?
As a property manager, these little things may drive you crazy, but there’s little you can do about them. General sloppiness within a unit only affects the person living in the mess.
But if you have a tenant who doesn’t take out their trash often or allows dirty dishes to stack up in the sink, those are legitimate concerns.
Those are issues you have every right to address.
Because cleanliness issues like these can lead to more significant concerns. For example, ants, roaches, mice, and other infestations.
Plus, issues such as food messes, trash, and mold, can cause problems for other tenants and your building as a whole.
When it comes to being clean, tenants must do the basics to prevent fire and safety hazards that could threaten other residents. And you must make sure that they’re doing so.
It’s not up to you to tell a tenant to fold their clean laundry or organize their bedroom closets. But it's your job to make sure your tenants are doing what it takes to maintain the health and safety of others.
Cleanliness issues that you can (and should) address with tenants include:
Normal wear and tear in an apartment can happen with even the cleanest tenant. But when you notice signs of wider-scale issues, it’s time to act — and act fast.
Are you dealing with a roach issue in one of your units? Learn how to eliminate pests for good with our Practical Guide to Eliminating Cockroaches from Your Renters' Apartment.
The only real way to enforce “clean property” rules is to include a statement about your expectations in the lease.
Let the tenant know from day one that it’s their responsibility to keep their unit clean. Be clear about what you consider clean and what cleaning issues you deem concerning.
Having a cleaning clause in your rental agreement is the best way to protect your property and the health and safety of other renters.
Make it clear that it is the tenant's responsibility to clean. Also, don't forget to include a statement that gives you the right to do property inspections at any time.
With regular property inspections, you can catch a cleanliness issue before it gets out of hand and starts to affect others.
If you notice odors or receive complaints from neighbors about bugs or other critters, do an inspection ASAP.
If you discover a tenant cleanliness issue at your rental property, the first step is to open the lines of communication with the tenant.
For some tenants, a simple conversation may be all it takes to get them to remedy the situation. For others, you may need to send the tenant a formal letter stating the problem, how they must fix it, and by what date they need to do so.
There’s no specific timeframe for you to send a letter.
But sooner is better than later.
The more severe the situation, the more critical it is to act because you could be putting other tenants in harm’s way.
If you begin the lines of communication with a conversation, it’s still a good idea to send a gentle reminder in the form of a follow-up letter.
When tenants don't take action, follow up with a second, more formal letter to let them know that they have a legal obligation to clean their property. Remind the tenant that there could be consequences if they don’t abide by the lease terms.
Not sure what to include in a tenant cleanliness letter? Here are some of the key things you want to put in your letter.
The issue of cleanliness can be a very delicate subject matter to approach. And that’s because, in some cases, a lack of cleanliness could be because the tenant has a mental or physical impairment.
The Fair Housing Act prohibits discriminating against mentally or physically disabled tenants. Yet, with a cleanliness statement in the lease, the tenant does have an obligation to adhere to that rule.
As a landlord or property manager, your lease is your best form of protection. Thus, be sure to mention that part of the lease in every type of communication you have.
When discussing cleanliness with a tenant, be polite, considerate, and respectful.
A tenant might have an unexpected issue such as a death in the family or a medical illness that disrupts their regular cleaning schedule.
There are circumstances where a good tenant (one that always maintains a clean rental unit and pays their rent on time) may slack off on cleaning.
Have a polite conversation about cleaning up and give the tenant a reasonable timeframe.
If they need help, offer suggestions on how to remedy the situation, such as hiring a cleaning service or a junk removal crew.
If a bad tenant (one who’s always late on rent or tends to cause disruptions in the building) has a cleaning issue, don’t be afraid to stress that there will be consequences for their actions.
Depending on how big the cleaning problem is, you may want to consider not giving them the option to renew their lease when their current lease ends.
Bring up a cleanliness issue with a tenant and most will act immediately to get the situation under control. But, on occasion, a tenant may brush off your communication efforts or ignore your letter(s) altogether.
When this happens, you’ll need to take the next steps.
Keep a copy of every written notice you send and document every conversation you have.
The problem could go to court as an eviction matter for a lease violation. If it does, you’ll need proof that you informed the tenant of the problem and evidence that they didn’t fix the situation.
Written letters and emails are better proof in court than phone conversations, so keep concise records to prove the steps you’ve taken along the way.
If you don't get a response to your first or second cleanliness letter, send a final, more formal letter.
Remember to reinforce that the tenant is breaking the lease agreement by failing to keep their unit clean. In that letter, inform the tenant that failure to follow the lease terms could result in eviction.
For more information on handling tenant issues or retaining your best tenants year after year, check out the LeaseLeads blog now!
The eviction process is complex.
But in severe situations, the answer is YES; you can evict a tenant for being dirty.
Dust, toothpaste in the sink, disorganization, and general messiness aren't causes for eviction. But food residue, overflowing trash, mold, and pet waste can lead to more serious problems.
Every state and county has landlord-tenant housing laws. There are tenant rights, and there are landlord rights. So before you start the eviction process, be sure that you know your local laws and know what you can and cannot do.
Seeking legal advice before issuing a tenant eviction letter is the best way to protect yourself and your property. Even if eviction is your end goal, legal counsel can talk you through the process and let you know how much time and money it’ll cost you.
The typical eviction process goes something like this:
Remember that before you can evict a tenant based on cleanliness, you’ll need to give them proper notice and a chance to remedy the situation.
Be sure to include a specific date by which the tenant must resolve the problem. Depending on how severe the cleaning issue is, you may want to give your tenant a three-day notice to clean or a thirty-day notice to clean.
Again, it depends on the laws in your state.
You always have the option to keep a tenant’s security deposit if things need extra cleaning before moving the next tenant in.
But problems that result from a lack of cleaning can lead to bigger issues that can affect other units and put your entire property in jeopardy.
Never wait until the lease is up to address problems that could become significant concerns, such as fire hazards or infestations. When you see (or smell) a cleanliness issue with a tenant, talk to them.
Start with a conversation.
Follow up with a letter.
Follow up with a second or third letter if need be.
No matter how uncomfortable the conversation may be to have, you must protect the health and safety of other residents in your building. And one man’s trash can become everyone’s problem if you don’t tackle the situation head-on.
Schedule a LeasLeads demo today to see how a virtual leasing agent on your website can match future tenants with the right floor plan!
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