Cleanliness is often a point of conflict between landlords and their tenants upon move-out. Unclear expectations and differing standards can lead to miscommunication or worse.
When that move-out date is approaching, there are several potentially thorny situations that tenants and landlords can come to know and appreciate – so they can avoid them. Learn the common challenges and their solutions in the following guide.
Responsibilities of a Landlord
When preparing for tenant move-out as a landlord, you may need to complete one or all of the following steps:
- Issue a notice to vacate 30-60 days prior
- Schedule and conduct an inspection
- Provide/pay for clean-up as circumscribed in the lease
- Give your tenant 30 days to repair any reported damages
- Refund the security deposit depending on the level of damage
Responsibilities of a Tenant
As a tenant, cleanliness should be your priority from the first day of move-in.
Research shows a strong correlation between cleanliness, organization, and mental health. Maintaining a consistent standard of cleanliness has been shown to decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease, boost mood, and increase physical activity, among other things.
Tenants’ responsibilities upon move-out include:
- Notify the landlord at least 30 days before your move
- Review the rental agreement and follow the inscribed instructions for move-out
- Clean the unit from top to bottom
- Provide your landlord with move-in photos
- Collect your security deposit
4 Challenges and Solutions for Landlords and Tenants
Challenge #1: Landlord fears false damage claims
As a landlord, you can’t control the way your tenants live. You can, however, collect payment should they damage your property. Conduct investigations into damage claims to verify whether they happened on your watch (regular repairs) or the tenant’s (not your responsibility).
Solution #1: Schedule a move-out inspection
One way to address all damage claims at once is to conduct a move-out inspection. Bring photographic evidence of the state of the unit pre-move-in and compare it to the move-out state. The differences there should show you which party is liable to whom.
Challenge #2: Tenant fears landlord dispute over damage claims
Tenants fear false damage claims from landlords as much as the reverse. If you report damaged utilities to your landlord, what’s going to stop them from claiming it’s your responsibility and forcing you to pay? Renters’ law, that’s what. Consult with your state renters’ rights to determine what share of responsibility is yours, what’s theirs, and who needs to pay when things break.
Solution #2: Take photographic evidence of everything at move-in
Before you even need to refer to your renter’s rights, photographic evidence at or directly before the move-in date can solve most damage disputes. If you have proof your heater never worked from the move-in date, you can enforce rental law over your landlord to fix it.
Challenge #3: Unclear cleanliness standard
One challenge that faces both renters and landlords upon move-out: unclear standards regarding cleanliness. No two people will ever agree on exactly what “clean” means. So how are you ever going to agree upon move-out whether the apartment is sufficiently “clean” or not?
Solution #3: Define expected cleaning procedures for all tenants at move-in
Most states have cleanliness standards enshrined in their rental agreement legislation. For example, California’s Landlord-Tenant Law states that a dwelling may be deemed uninhabitable if it isn’t adequately “clean and sanitary.” That means landlords would not be able to collect a damage deposit or cleaning fee.
Cleanliness, under those standards, includes having a working toilet, washbasin, bathtub or shower, a working kitchen sink, natural lighting in every room, working smoke detectors, etc.
Challenge #4: Landlord seeks to responsibilize tenant for cleanliness of common area
Whose responsibility is the common area of an apartment complex? You’d assume it was a landlord’s, but what about a lawn and sidewalk area that butts up against tenants’ units? It isn’t unusual to find landlords who will attempt to claim that this space is the tenant’s responsibility to keep clean.
Solution #4: Remind landlord common areas are landlord’s responsibility
In the event that your landlord is trying to make you responsible for the upkeep of common areas, remind them that it is, in fact, their responsibility. Landlords own the entire property, after all, and you’re only renting one small part of it.
As a matter of fact, if common areas are getting untidy, it’s well within your rights as a renter to demand your landlord hire a clean-up crew to keep everything neat and tidy. It boosts property value, so it’s in their best interest, too.
Challenge #5: Unit isn’t sufficiently clean upon move-out
It’s something every landlord fears and has likely faced yearly with at least one move-out: an unclean unit. Whether it’s unclean in that they could have vacuumed and dusted a bit more thoroughly, or there are stains on the carpet and visible holes in the walls, what should you do if your tenant hasn’t lived up to your cleanliness standards?
Solution #5: Provide tenant with a move-out/clean-up checklist
First, you should provide your tenants with a checklist outlining what you want them to clean. It will help them clean what is absolutely necessary and not waste time with the rest. Most landlords hire professional apartment clean-up crews, so outline for your tenants what you want them to focus on.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can a Landlord Evict a Tenant for Being Dirty?
Yes, landlords can evict tenants for “being dirty” – or put in more professional terms, not upholding the cleanliness clause of the lease agreement. There’s a big difference between dirty (clothes on the floor, dishes in the sink) and filthy to the point of eviction (damaged goods, fire hazards, etc). So only take action when you must.
Who Pays for Cleaning When a Tenant Moves Out?
This is a 50/50 scenario. Tenants are responsible for cleaning the unit up to the point that they found it. Landlords are responsible for hiring cleaning crews to truly restore the unit back to mint condition before the next tenant arrives.
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