Can a Landlord Tell You How Clean to Keep Your Apartment?

You are renting your home from the owner, your landlord. While you live there, can the landlord tell you how to keep it clean?

The short answer is yes. The landlord can expect you to keep your rental space clean. The full answer, though, is a bit more nuanced than that.

Why Does the Landlord Want the Property to Be Clean?

A landlord typically uses a rental property as a form of income and investment. There are many reasons they may want their tenants to keep their property clean during their tenancy.

1. Protection from legal trouble

One reason is appearance and pride of ownership. They want the property they own to look well cared for, clean, and pleasing when viewed from the street. Part of that may also be local law – keeping a property free from tall weeds and excessive garbage is a typical ordinance in cities. 

2. Protection for their investment

Another reason is to protect the investment they have made. If garbage is allowed to pile up, or messes go uncleaned, it can degrade the apartment. For example, if food is spilled on the carpet and never cleaned up, the carpet will likely stain and need to be replaced rather than cleaned.

Or if garbage is allowed to pile up indefinitely in one place, it may attract rodents and they will begin to chew more than just the garbage. They may chew the walls, carpet, wiring, etc. causing even more damage that needs to be fixed. Damage like this to a property can devalue the property. Landlords don’t like properties to be devalued.

3. Safety of neighbors

Yet another reason you can be asked to clean is to keep your messes from becoming a nuisance to other residents in the building or the neighbors. Unchecked messes can block access to the property, smell very bad, and invite pests to move between apartments easily.

4. Safety from health hazards

The final, and most important reason a landlord wants their property kept clean is to keep the property from becoming hazardous to the health of their tenants. If rodents begin to live in the piles of trash mentioned above, beyond causing property damage, their presence is also a potential hazard to humans.

Unclean spaces can also encourage mold and mildew growth, another health hazard. They can also pose a trip and fire hazard. No one wants to see anyone get hurt just because an apartment wasn’t kept clean when it should have been.

Can a Landlord Tell You How Clean to Keep Your Apartment

What does my Landlord Expect Me to Clean?

Before we talk about what the landlord can expect you to clean, it’s important to remember that this is more about hygiene than it is about tidiness. You having a pile of papers sitting on your desk, or unfolded laundry on the couch is not the issue. Still though we always say it’s important to have the discipline to clean up after yourself so you don’t need to put it off only to waste an entire Saturday cleaning your apartment.

Keeping you and the other residents safe and the property from being damaged is the reason the landlord is expecting cleanliness.

The landlord can expect you to clean:

  • Clutter – anything that is piling up, unused, and collecting dust has the potential to invite infestations from bugs or rodents.
  • Uncollected garbage that has been left piling up for days or weeks.
  • Unclean dishes and rotten food that has been sitting for days or weeks.
  • Animal waste that is not disposed of correctly or at all.
  • Anything causing unpleasant odors in or around the property.
  • Anything blocking air circulation due to improper storage around furnace intakes
  • Toxic chemicals.
  • Molds or mildews growing in bathrooms, kitchens, laundry rooms, or any other part of the house.
  • Anything blocking exits, walkways, driveways, and water supplies, that impede fire exits or entrances for residents and emergency personnel.
  • Outside areas that are viewable to the public or ruining the landscaping, such as large pieces of trash, junk cars, old mattresses, etc.
  • The presence of bugs or rodents. (we suggest mentioning it, maybe your landlord will be in charge of pest control.

Can My Landlord Make Me Clean?

Of course, your actions are your own and no one can force you to do anything. That being said, the landlord can enforce consequences for not following the rules set forth in your lease.

Housekeeping Clause in Lease

The first way a landlord can help to insure the property is kept clean is by including a housekeeping clause in the lease. This will spell out what is expected of you as a tenant. They can be generalized and say something to the effect of “a sanitary environment needs to be maintained in the house.”

Or the lease may be more specific, stating, for example, “apartment should be free of grease and dirt, pathways to entrances and exits kept clear, and trash disposed of properly.”

Setting the expectation in the lease doesn’t force your hand, but it does allow the landlord to enforce consequences when you do not comply with the lease. If you are out of compliance with the lease, the landlord can begin the eviction process to have you forced to move out.

This can be a long, costly process for the landlord and it’s hard on the tenant too. It will adversely affect your ability to rent in the future for years to come. Many landlords would rather work with you to remedy the situation rather than evict you.

Outside of eviction, the landlord may have fees spelled out in the lease that you are charged if you do not comply with the housekeeping clause. These are charged on top of the rent you owe each month.

Finally, the landlord may choose to wait until the end of your lease and choose not to renew it at the end of its term. You will have to move out and the landlord will re-rent the unit to someone else.

Do You Have to Clean Your Apartment When You Move Out?

Most landlords expect you to have the apartment cleaned to the level it was when you moved in, excepting any normal wear and tear. Wear and tear are signs of use that are expected to happen just by living in the house. For example, if you move in and there is brand new carpet, it is expected that the carpet will not be brand new when you move out two years later. It is expected to have some wear and need cleaning. There shouldn’t, however, be large stains or holes that come from misuse.

Most leases will indicate what will happen if you don’t leave the apartment as clean as it was when you moved in. The most common remedy, in this case, is for the landlord to keep all or part of your deposit, depending on the costs left to get the apartment to the level that it should have been. If the cleaning and damage costs are more than the deposit, you can be sued to cover that difference.

When and How Can a Landlord Inspect Your Apartment?

So, now we know how a landlord can expect you to clean and what can be done if you don’t, but how does the landlord know there is a mess? And how is it determined to be remedied?

Landlords cannot do surprise inspections! They need to give you proper notice. The allowed notice can vary by state, but it’s often at least a 24-hour notice. This gives you a chance to clean up, put away anything you don’t want out in the open, and get ready for the visit. The only time a landlord can enter without notice is if there is an emergency that needs to be handled – leaking water, sewage backing up, a fire, etc.

Many landlords do property inspections once or twice a year. The main purpose of these inspections is to make sure that everything is working as it should – the furnace and a/c filters are clean, smoke detectors are functioning, none of the faucets or pipes are leaking, etc. While they are there checking these things it will be easily apparent to them if there is also a cleanliness issue.

The landlord will not be rifling through your dresser drawers during these inspections. That is beyond the scope of a property inspection.

Can a landlord look in your closet? The quick answer is they shouldn’t be snooping but they can open your closet to access panels, or to show prospective tenants the closet space and setup.

How Can You Tell if Your Landlord is Over Stepping?

There are valid reasons for a landlord to be in your apartment from time to time, but there are also ways that landlords can abuse their position. Here are some to look out for:

  • Changing the locks without notice or giving you the new apartment key copies.
  • Entering your apartment with no notice and no emergency
  • Shutting off utilities regardless of payment (if the utilities haven’t been paid and the utility company turns them off, that is a different issue)
  • Removing your possessions
  • Refusing to make necessary repairs
  • Offers bribes
  • Threatens you in any way
  • Cutting you off from amenities included in your lease

How to Keep Your Home Clean and Compliant?

The best way to keep the landlord from enforcing consequences for an unhygienic property is to keep your property clean. That can be easier said than done, but a clean home doesn’t only benefit your landlord, it can also benefit you both physically and mentally.

Keeping a home clean as you go is much easier than having to clean up a messy space that has become a health hazard. Setting up plans or schedules for cleaning and assigning chores to each family member is one way to do it. Have an organizational system and put things where they go when you are done using them. Don’t allow the clutter to start and it won’t take over. Get rid of things that have broken or you no longer use.

Can My Landlord Tell Me How Clean to Keep My Apartment?

Yes, a landlord can – within reason. They cannot tell you to put your socks in the laundry hamper or file your bills in a cabinet, but they can set rules to keep their property hygienic and safe for you, the other tenants, and your neighbors. The aim is to keep the property habitable, and free from pests and fire hazards. A clean home is a benefit to all involved.

About Chad & Rachel

Rachel and Chad have over 17 years of experience as both renters and landlords. They were tenants in 7 different apartments before becoming landlords of 9 apartments in Chicago. Renting apartments from landlords and being landlords themselves have helped them gain the knowledge that they want to share with renters. Whether you are at the beginning of your rental journey or in the middle of your lease and dealing with complex apartment issues, we are happy to help where we can. Read more about Rachel and Chad, or send a message using this contact form.

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