Can you force tenants to be clean?

How can you force the tenants at your rental property to be clean? Nobody likes the idea of dirty renters, but what can you do about it?

Everyone has a different standard for what clean is, so let’s start by saying there’s messy renters and then there’s unsafe-level-dirty renters.

For your average messy renter, there’s not a lot you can do. Some landlords want to include a provision in the lease that demands the tenant to clean the home each week. The problem with that idea is that it’s not enforceable. And it’s generally a bad idea to include unenforceable things in a lease agreement.

The only way to know you have a messy renter is if you perform regular inspections, which I do recommend. But the purpose of the inspection isn’t to check if they keep the kitchen clean, it’s mostly to find unreported maintenance issues and check on possible lease violations.

Unfortunately keeping a dirty home is not a lease violation, unless it escalates to an unsafe level. So what’s the difference between the messy renter and an unsafe-level-dirty renter?

The dirtiness has reached an unsafe level and will qualify as a lease violation when the mess has caused intrusion of rodents or cockroaches. Mildew, damage to flooring, walls and fixtures is also an unsafe level of dirtiness. A pet that’s not cared for leaving uncleaned feces and urine is also a problem. And let’s not leave out the hoarder that creates an unsafe environment by blocking doors, windows and creates a fire hazard.

In the situation where the tenant has reached an unsafe level, you should issue a notice of lease violation. This is also known as a notice to cure. Basically, you are giving the renter written notice that they are violating the lease agreement by creating an unsafe environment. You are required to give them 3 business days to fix the problem. If they do not fix the problem, you now have the right to perform a court eviction, known as an unlawful detainer. 

Court evictions are expensive, so I only recommend you go through with it in extreme situations. The next best thing to do is wait until the lease term expires and give the tenant a notice to vacate. The tenant will have to move out and you will have some serious cleaning to do.