Handling Messy Tenants

Every landlord hopes that tenants will take care of a property throughout their tenancy. After all, a good landlord will ensure that a home is safe and comfortable for tenants, and it’s only fair the same consideration is shown in return.

But mess, of all things, can soon turn a tenancy sour. Your property is likely your biggest investment, and you want to keep it in good shape. Worse still, outdoor mess can cause problems with neighbours – and if a tenant is showing little consideration about mess, then landlords might understandably become concerned about what other issues may come to pass.

However, when it comes to mess in a property, landlords are very restricted in what they can do. It’s crucial that you understand the legal position in order to avoid ending up in hot water.

Handling Messy Tenants

What are a landlord’s legal rights over messy tenants?

When you let a property to a tenant, you are giving them the right to live in it as their home. This restricts you in key ways, for example the manner and frequency of landlord property inspections. However, the general consensus among professional landlords is that it also gives the tenant the right to live in the property more or less however they wish – and this includes in a state of mess.

There have been reports of landlords taking extreme measures to keep their properties tidy, including even a clause in the contract setting out the frequency with which kitchens must be cleaned. It’s important to understand that such a clause would likely render the tenancy agreement legally invalid.

What if the mess is making the property unsafe?

In extreme cases uncleanliness may be rendering a property unsafe, for example because of serious infestations. Here, the landlord may have some legal grounds to take action, but there is little case law against which to judge this. As always, you should remember that entering a property without permission, or preventing the tenant from living their undisturbed, will put you on the wrong side of the law. If you’re worried about infestations, read our guide guide on whether landlords are responsible for pests.

End of tenancy cleaning clauses are key

The landlord does, however, have rights at the end of the tenancy. A good tenancy agreement will include a clause requiring the tenant to leave the property in at least as good condition as it was given to them. Often, the agreement will require the tenant to arrange and bear the cost of professional cleaning. So, even if you’re unhappy with the manner in which the property is kept during the tenancy, you should have a firm legal footing when it comes to the tenant leaving.

Can a landlord keep a deposit over an unclean property?

According to the Tenancy Deposit Service, the majority of disputes over deposit retention are related to cleaning. As we’ve just seen, in theory the landlord can demand that the property is returned as it was found, and you might well be able to keep part of the deposit if this is not the case. However, deposit protection scheme adjudicators often disagree with landlords over what constitutes a reasonable cost for cleaning. In many cases, the adjudicator will determine that the cost set by the landlord is unreasonably high, and will permit them to keep a smaller proportion of the deposit than they are asking for. Carpets are a key area of contention here. Deposits adjudicators often rule against landlords who demand that carpets are professionally cleaned regardless of their condition. Remember, you can’t require that the tenant leaves the property in a better state than that in which it was provided to them. Read more about when landlords can keep a tenant’s deposit.

Keep talking

You can avoid many problems regarding mess and cleanliness by simply talking to and educating your tenants at the start of the tenancy. Explain to them the manner in which you would like the property to be kept. If you do this in a sensitive way, tenants will often be happy to comply as a matter of course. Remember that tenants want to feel at home in your property, and will generally therefore keep it to a reasonable standard regardless. In addition, make sure that they understand their obligations under the tenancy agreement in order to avoid disputes when they leave. And finally, don’t forget the importance of regular visits and check-ins – but remember landlords’ legal obligations over property inspections.

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