Dealing With Messy Tenants & End Of Tenancy Cleaning Guide

Dealing with messy tenants and ‘end of tenancy cleaning’ can be an excruciating experience, for both landlords and tenants. I feel you’re pain, and I’m with you!

Quick fact: Tenants’ vacating a rented property in an inadequate state of cleanliness is one of the main reasons for deposit reductions, and an effective means of burning a long and healthy relationship to the ground… a few steps before crossing the finish line.

So if it’s of any consolation, don’t feel alone. Thousands of landlords are suffering in synchronisation.

End Of Tenancy Cleaning

End Of Tenancy Cleaning!

Page contents:

Tenant’s responsibility to clean during the tenancy

Ok, so before diving penis-first into the “end of tenancy cleaning” ordeal, I just want to share my perspective on the basics of tenants and their responsibility to clean, because it’s an issue that has two very polarised views (one of the views being wrong).

I’ve read many articles, including this one on the Citizens Advice website, that states that the law implies that the tenant has a legal responsibility to “keep your home reasonably clean”

I’ve never read such legislation anywhere, and I’m actually inclined to believe that’s not true to a certain degree.

Yes, I believe it is the tenant’s responsibility to keep the property clean, but I don’t think it’s their legal responsibility. See the difference?

The alternative view – which is where I stand, along with many industry experts, including Tessa Shepperson from LandlordLaw website – is that when a landlord rents their property to a tenant, it effectively becomes their home for the duration. That means the tenant is entitled to live how they choose to live, even if that means in unimaginable squalor, and there’s nothing the landlord can do about it. No, not even if there’s a clause in the tenancy agreement that covers cleanliness.

However, the landlord is definitely entitled to make suggestions and recommendations if anything of caution crops up during a routine property inspection, like over-spilling bins.

On a sidenote, regular inspections are crucial, make sure they’re conducted regularly.

But more importantly, if the tenant has created an unsafe environment, for example, by frequently disposing of faeces on the living room floor and attracting a army of maggots as a consequence, then I believe the landlord has legal rights of sorts to take action (i.e. there might be grounds for eviction). But that’s typically unnecessary, and the only reason I mentioned it is because I don’t want anyone thinking that tenants can take regular steaming dumps in the living room without any potential legal repercussions.

If you are unhappy with your tenants, the most sensible action to take is most likely to serve a section 21 notice and refuse to allow them to stay in the property after the end of the fixed term.

What condition should the tenant leave the property in?

The rule of thumb is, the tenant has a obligation to return the property in the same condition they received it in, minus damages caused by wear and tear. But, don’t get it twisted, because there’s a difference between cleanliness and wear and tear; while an item can be worn and aged, it can still be clean.

In reality, the situation is as simple as that, and most tenants usually don’t cause any problems; they leave the property in an acceptable condition (if you’ve hit the jackpot, they’ll leave it in a better condition. It happens, surprising).

However, and as you’d expect, there is a notable volume of issues when it comes to end of tenancy cleaning, which is why it’s the single biggest cause for deposit deductions.

There’s a “Professional cleaning” clause in the tenancy agreement- can I enforce it?

Many tenancy agreements are riddled with clauses which state the tenant must professionally clean the property at the end of the tenancy.

In my opinion, I don’t think that’s actually enforceable. At least, not by default and without reason.

As long as the property is returned to the landlord in the same condition as it was provided to the tenant in (but remember, you gotta’ make exceptions for wear and tear), I don’t believe landlords can force tenants to splash out on a professional cleaning service.

If you think about it, that’s like expecting your tenants to hire a handyman to fix all the problems the property was riddled with before they moved in. Ridiculous. Although, I wouldn’t put it beyond the realms of some landlords to try and pull a stunt like that.

The Office of Fair Trading covers this issue in it’s nifty little ‘Guide on unfair terms in tenancy agreements‘:

4.4 Cleaning charges – a requirement to pay for cleaning at the end of the tenancy may be unfair if it is vague or unclear about the basis on which money will be demanded, or the extent of the cleaning involved. Such a term is more likely to be fair if the amount of the charge is expressly limited to reasonable compensation for a failure to take care of the property (see also our views below on excessive charges).

Note that it says that cleaning charges are likely to be deemed fair if there is a failure to take care of the property, which implies you can’t force tenants to cover the costs of a professional cleaning service by default.

Can I use my tenant’s deposit to clean the property?

Absolutely.

As said, cleaning charges are the most common reason for deposit deductions, and covering those costs is exactly what the deposit is designed for.

If the tenant fails to return the property in the condition that they received it in, the deposit can be used to clean the property, which may include hiring professional cleaning services.

However, before attempting to dip into the deposit, it’s always best to flag any issues with the tenant first, so they have the opportunity to resolve it for themselves. Any problems should be highlighted and shared during the final inspection (more on final inspections in a moment). Needless to say, don’t return the deposit until the property is returned to you in the appropriate condition.

In order to make a valid claim to use the deposit to cover cleaning costs [or any other claim for that matter], you will need to prove what the condition of the property was when your tenants moved in, to the tenancy deposit scheme the deposit is secured with.

Property inventories

Some people call it a property inventory, others call it a check-in report.

Tomayto, tomahto.

Either way, you’re more than likely going to need some form of report which documents the condition of the property before the tenant moved in if you want to take a bite out of the deposit to cover any cleaning costs. If you don’t have a report, then may I suggest that you first and foremost learn from your mistake, and then swiftly work on resolving the problem amicably between yourselves. Fair warning, that may mean you have to take a financial hit to some degree (i.e. you may have to split the bill).

But before making any rash decisions, it might be worth contacting the tenancy deposit scheme for guidance on your particular situation. They should be able to advise you on how strong or pathetic your case is.

If you haven’t secured the deposit into a scheme, then dear Lord, I’d forget trying to recoup any crummy and meaningless cleaning costs. I’d spend my time more productively, like on, praying that my tenant doesn’t cotton onto the fact they could take ME to the cleaners (pun intended, sorry, that was awful) for failing to comply with the tenancy deposit legislation.

The final inspection to assess cleanliness

The final inspection is the moment you should judge whether or not the property is returned to you in an acceptable condition.

I usually assess the property a day or two before the tenant is due to vacate (not only on the day of moving out), and always AFTER 95% of their possessions have been removed the property. That way I’ll have the opportunity to assess the condition of the property without being obscured by furniture and boxes (a common ploy often used for disception), and it gives them a day or two to resolve any issues I point out. I also take the opportunity to remind them of the property inventory (which they should have a copy of).

On the day of moving out I do my final once-over. I typically don’t allow tenants to access the property after the check-out date, but I have made exceptions on a few occasions to allow them to resolve a few last minute outstanding issues. I’ll leave it to decide how you want to play that hand, as each case is generally different.

Oh, and here’s little plug to my inspection guide for landlords.

My tenants standard of cleanliness is not good enough

When you’re a landlord for long enough, you’ll quickly realise how differently people choose to live their lives. It’s amazing how much you can tell about people when you walk through their home… and they have a very different perception of what “clean” means. My God do they. Actually, that’s one of the major obstacles landlords have to face, the varying perceptions.

For example – and I’ve sprinkled this example into a few different blog posts because it’s one those situations that always stand out – I had this one couple that were due to vacate in the coming days. During a phonecall with the husband, I asked how the preparation was going. His response was, “Oh, well you know Liz [the name of the wife], she’s O.C.D, so she’s been cleaning the property for days. The property will be immaculate when you get it back.”

Great news. I believed that he was being sincere, and I also genuinely believed that what she thought she was doing was to impeccable standard.

To put simply, NO!! They be crazy!!

During the final expectation I thought they were playing a practical joke on me, because the place was covered with dust and cob-webs (literally everywhere), and the cupboard surfaces were saturated by congealed grease.

The whole scenario was very weird; I just kept wondering what she actually cleaned, and what was she actually doing that made the husband think she was cleaning.

I kept trying to rationalise the situation so I didn’t feel so disorientated. Was she just pretending to clean in front of her husband so she didn’t have to spend time with him, or were they both just delusional as one another? I still don’t know to this day.

It really is all about perception, which directly links with varying standards.

Minimal cleanup required

If your property has been returned in generally good condition, but not quite to the standard you would have expected, I personally wouldn’t be too concerned.

Sure, I may point out a few issues during the final inspection, and imply that those issues need to be addressed. But if they’re not addressed by the time my tenants vacate, I’m comfortable with letting it go and taking the hit.

I can’t imagine it would be worth making an issue out of it. But then again, I guess it depends on what kind of person/landlord you are. Some landlords are more tight-fisted than others, and will try to claim back every last penny.

Personally, I don’t think I’ve ever been returned a property that was 100% ready for new tenants to walk straight into. Something ALWAYS needed attention, albeit minimal tasks, which usually get resolved by rolling up my sleeves and doing the dirty work. As far as I’m concerned, it’s part of the job.

Consider overall tenant history/quality

I always believe it’s worth judging the overall quality of my tenants, so I avoid isolating the final stages when it comes to judgement day. I take the following into consideration when deciding whether or not to use their deposit to recoup cleaning costs:

  • How long they have been tenants for (i.e. how much money I made out of my tenants)
  • How reliable were they as tenants (i.e. did they always pay rent on time)
  • What my relationship was like with the tenant (i.e. was it generally peaceful)
  • Did they generally take care of the property?

Yup, my tenants may have failed the end of tenancy clean up, but the lifespan of their tenancy may have been lucrative and generally positive. In those cases, I’m usually happy to waive through their poor attempt of cleaning.

Just to clarify, I’m not saying it’s an ideal scenario, or that you should just let tenants get away with piss-stained carpets, but I am saying that it’s worth weighing up how much needs cleaning with how good the tenants have been over the course of the tenancy.

Unacceptable level of uncleanliness

Communication is key.

As said, if the final level of cleanliness is absolutely unacceptable, then have the discussion first. Gently point out the issues and give your tenants a chance to resolve them. Failing that, use the deposit.

How much can I charge for cleaning?

As already covered, the tenant is only obligated to return the property in the same condition as they received it in, so you should not charge the tenant excessive amounts to get it in better condition.

I will once again return to The Office of Fair Trading’s handy little guide, which states the following on cleaning charges:

4.8 Excessive cleaning charges – as a matter of normal practice in short lets, reflecting the common law, tenants are expected to return the property in as good and clean a condition as it was when they received it, with fair wear and tear excepted. We therefore commonly object to terms that could be used to make the tenant pay for the property to be cleaned to a higher standard than it was in at the start of the tenancy, or that require cleaning regardless of whether or not this is necessary for the tenant to comply with their normal obligations with regard to the state of the property.

Bear in mind, if you’re relying on the deposit to cover the cleaning costs, the tenant does have the right to dispute the costs if they seem excessive! As always, be fair.

Final notes on specific circumstances and possible solutions

Accepting tenants: some tenants may launch their hands up and accept the fact they fell short on operation clean-up. In fact, from my experience, many tenants are happy to use some of the deposit on a professional cleaning service so they don’t have to do the work themselves.

Weak case for a claim: if you’re on the verge of entering a potential dispute while knowing that you have a flimsy case, which either entails the lack of inventory/proof or the complete failure of securing the deposit, then I’d either cut my losses, or do my best to come across as the good guy and work on a very amicable solution, which makes it seem like the tenant is getting off lightly.

Reluctant tenants: and yup, of course, there are many tenants that throw their fists in the air in rage, because we have the nerve to request our property back in the same condition as we gave it to them in *rolls eyes*

In those cases, and assuming you have the grounds to do so, I’d stand firm and use the deposit. Fuck ’em.

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