How can I enforce cleanliness from tenants?

Question from neill updated on 12th October 2011:

We have had a group of tenants in our house for over two years now. They have been good except they are becoming more and more messy to the point where we feel it is time we sent them a clear message that they are not fulfilling there obligations in maintaining the property properly. For example; lawns not being mowed regularly enough, general cleanliness, cobwebs, shower not cleaned. We obviously have differing ideas on what is reasonable. What is the best way to approach this?

Our expert Juliet Robinson responded:

The Residential Tenancies Act 1986 requires a tenant to "keep the premises reasonably clean and reasonably tidy". As you rightly point out, there are numerous ways of interpreting those words. However, just because the property is messy doesn’t necessarily mean that the tenants think it looks okay! Maybe they have just fallen behind or got lazy.

You say you have "a group" of tenants. Has the membership of the group changed, and with it, the standard of cleaning? Are you conducting regular formal inspections to keep an eye on the standard of housekeeping? If so, when was your latest inspection? Do you give the tenants feedback afterwards, or is your inspection just a look? If you have concerns you should bring them to the tenants’ attention with a formal notice, giving them an opportunity to bring the property back to the required standard of cleanliness.

Tenancy Services' web site has a 14-day Notice to Remedy form that you can download, complete, and issue to the tenants. Be specific, too. Don’t just say 'the house is messy' – tell them about the cobwebs in the bedrooms, the dirty shower, the untidy lawns. There are few things more frustrating to a tenant than trying to figure out what the landlord means by 'untidy' or 'messy'.

The notice should be clear enough to give the tenants specific instructions about how to address the issues you have raised. Then, after the 14 days’ notice has passed, re-inspect the property. If the tenants have made a good effort at cleaning and tidying, great! If not, you have the Tenancy Tribunal process available for sorting out a dispute.

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