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posted: 4/17/2011 12:01 AM

Rental forum: How to ensure tenants stay on top of cleaning, repaires

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Q. What are the tenant's responsibilities for cleaning after moving out? Is it acceptable for them to leave trash and unwanted household goods behind? As a landlord, what legal rights do I have to enforce the proper cleaning of my property?

A. This is a very important question and a concern of all landlords. This is also one area where, with some advance notice and preparation, you can have a positive impact on your experience as a landlord.

No, it is not acceptable for your tenant to leave the rental unit full of trash and unwanted household items, and that is the simple answer to your question. But it is my opinion and experience that you can take steps to make this a more likely scenario than you might think.

Now I know there are some unethical landlords who actually want their tenants to leave the rental unit in less-than-perfect condition. They don't mind because they can then charge the tenant excessive fees for basic cleaning and simple repairs. Some sneaky landlords will even upgrade the rental unit and improperly charge the tenant for work. I have heard of landlords who brag that they "never have returned a security deposit." This is wrong and luckily those landlords are very few in number, but they make a bad name for all landlords.

So now that I have disparaged those few bad landlords, let me compliment you again for wanting to know how you can actually make minimal or even no deductions from the tenant's security deposit.

It starts at the time the tenant first visits your rental property as a prospect and is reinforced at the time of move-in by explaining your policies and procedures for handling the disposition of the security deposit. You also need to let them know your expectations about cleaning and repairs upon move-out.

It is the law of most states that your tenants need to return the rental unit in the same or better condition than when they moved in, except for normal wear and tear. Also, the cleanliness of the rental unit is not usually subject to wear-and-tear allowances, so that means if the tenant brought in any dirt during the tenancy then they must remove it before they vacate.

I think it is also very important to let your tenants know you are in the business of providing them with a clean and well-maintained rental unit at the time they move in. Of course, it is their responsibility, not yours, to keep the rental unit clean during the tenancy. But you retain responsibility for proper maintenance and repairs.

You should encourage them to contact you via phone or e-mail immediately, as you want to be made aware if there are any problems or concerns while they live there. Tell them you will be glad to promptly investigate any items needing repair or replacement. You may be able to fix a problem when it is small and less expensive to address.

But you are also communicating to your new tenant that you want the rental unit to be in great condition during their tenancy and upon move-out. This lets your tenant know you care about the condition of your property and could even be beneficial to discourage a prospective tenant who knows they aren't likely to keep the unit in good order.

Q. I've lived on the second floor of a multiunit apartment complex for 11 years. I have a new neighbor who just moved in who frequently smokes cigarettes right in front of my apartment on the common-area porch. His cigarette smoke comes through my windows and bothers me. I work out and try to stay healthy, and I have a major aversion to secondhand smoke. I have asked him not to smoke in front of my apartment. If he continues to do so, do I have a valid complaint to approach my landlord with?

A. Yes. I suggest you contact your landlord with a cordial written note or e-mail just like the one you sent to me. Your landlord or property manager should be able to contact the new tenant and ask him to restrict his smoking to inside his rental unit.

While some argue that smoking in one's home is something a landlord cannot restrict, it is my opinion that you can have rules about the activity of smoking the same way you have other rules that seek to control or limit certain other behaviors.

For example, playing music or even listening to television at very high volume is something that can disturb other tenants, and landlords or law enforcement will respond and seek a resolution to that behavior. I don't think smoking is any different.

Smoking is a habit and one that I respect can be hard to break. But smoking certainly is regulated in many areas of our day-to-day life: on airplanes, in restaurants and in many public places. The restriction on smoking in the common areas of apartment communities is becoming quite popular in many parts of the country, too. There are many communities that offer smoke-free rental units that go further and prohibit smoking even within the rental unit or anywhere in the common areas.

If your landlord is unwilling to take your side in this matter and you unfortunately have to relocate after 11 years, then I suggest you check online, as there are many apartment communities that will offer smoke-free apartments. One of the first in the country is the Smokefree Apartment House Registry in the Los Angeles area, run by Esther Schiller. See her website at for links to other registries throughout the country.

• Property manager Robert Griswold is author of "Property Management for Dummies." E-mail