How to Ask Messy Tenants to Clean Up Their Act

Messy Room

Dealing with messy tenants can be a tricky situation. Trash on the patio is one thing, but it’s another thing completely if there’s mold growing in your rental due to the tenant’s slovenly lifestyle. Everyone has a different idea of what “clean” looks like, so how can you ask your tenants you’d like them to keep the property up to your standards? Here are a few tips on how to go about asking your tenants to clean up their act. Please note this is for informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice.

Why Does Cleanliness Matter?

Technically, landlords shouldn’t be telling tenants how and when to clean, but if their cleanliness is becoming a health hazard or could damage your property, this is a valid reason to address it.

Some tenants may not see their messiness as a problem. After all, they’re the ones living in it, so why should it matter? Unfortunately, there are some expensive issues that come with their way of living – which could come out of their security deposit. If you need to confront your tenants about their cleanliness, here are some issues you can mention:

  • Structural damage – Large, damp messes can leave behind unsightly stains, rot, and smells, that can only be removed by professional cleaners. There could also be damage to support beams or other important structures of the property, which could be a safety hazard.

  • Infestations – Messy living areas can attract a variety of pests, like cockroaches, water bugs, flies, ants, and rodents. Besides being gross, they can be a health hazard. Some of them can carry vector-borne diseases or affect allergies and asthma. If you have several units on the property, they can also impact neighboring tenants’ quality of life. Pests can be difficult – and expensive – to get rid of.

  • Hygiene – Good hygiene is an important topic, especially with the pandemic. Remind your tenant that you’re responsible for ensuring the property stays safe and clean for all tenants, including future residents.

When addressing cleanliness with the tenant, you may also want to consider their age. Are they a young college student? If so, it’s common for younger people to be a bit messy as they get into the groove of taking care of themselves. Try to put aside your frustration and view it as a positive teaching moment instead.

What Types of Cleanliness Issues Should Be Addressed?

Clutter and garbage here and there is unsightly, but it may not be enough to bring it up to the tenant. Here are some more serious issues that are worth addressing:

  • Mold
  • Animal feces
  • Excessive garbage
  • Rodents, roaches, or other pests
  • Overwhelming or unpleasant odors
  • Spoiled food left out or piles of dirty dishes
  • Sticky or strange substances left on surfaces
  • Junk or clutter that blocks entryways or air vents
  • Hoarding*

*If you believe your tenant is a hoarder, you should be careful with how you approach the situation. Since hoarding is considered a mental health disorder, there could be legal and medical protections to consider. Federal (and some state) laws prohibit discrimination based on hoarding and require landlords to make reasonable accommodations. If in doubt, consult with legal counsel on how best to proceed.

Keep Communication Open

Once you’ve noticed a cleanliness issue, it’s important to say something. If you noticed the problem and walked away, that’s understandable! It can be difficult to know what to say at the moment. Contact your tenant and let them know in a professional and kind way that you have concerns about potential health and safety violations.

Make sure to be understanding and address any limitations the tenant may have in their life, such as long work hours, family, or mobility issues. You should also double-check your lease to ensure you’ve included a clause that states the expectation of the tenant to maintain the cleanliness of the property for health and safety reasons. If you do have such a clause in your lease, make sure to bring this up in the conversation.

Tenants want to feel you care about them, the property, and the community, so make sure to let them know their health and safety are important to you. You can say something like, “It’s important to me that the property is safe for everyone, and it’s my responsibility to make sure it is. I’m concerned that the current state of the property could cause health and safety issues due to the [mold, pests, or other concerns].”

It’s always a good idea document when you talked to them and what was discussed. You may also want to consider sending a follow-up email regarding your conversation. This serves two purposes; it reinforces what was discussed, and it provides you with additional documentation.

In some cases, being firm about the cleanliness issue won’t be enough to get the tenant to change their ways. If you’ve already had a discussion and sent a follow-up email without any sign of progress, it may be time to send the tenant a formal notice. Check with your legal advisors to determine the specific language you should include and to make sure you’re going about everything legally.

Landlords Property Managers Contact TSCI