In 1993 the American comedy, Mrs. Doubtfire, was released. In it, the late Robin Williams played the role of Mrs. Euphegenia Doubtfire; a somewhat eccentric housekeeper who, despite her peculiarities, managed to spread harmony into an otherwise discordant household. Though Mrs. Doubtfire is a parody of sorts, the movie does possess some valuable and edifying wisdom about property management.

That wisdom is the need to appreciate the link between a well-kept property and a productive and lasting relationship – a high maintenance marriage, if you like. Tenants who forego their responsibility to maintain the property become a risk – a risk not only to their own tenancy but also for the landlord, not least because high vacancy turnover rates reduce income potential. The bottom line is this – that tenants need to clean and maintain the property to a certain standard. The question now becomes how this end can be achieved.

And it is that end that we focus on here, steps that landlords and Property Managers alike can take to alleviate this all too common, and all too frustrating, burden.

Starting with the lease

It’s not always feasible to hire a Mrs. Doubtfire, so other, more pragmatic, steps need to be taken.

Though it might sound obvious, we must first return to the original lease agreement. You would be surprised just how many landlords forget to include specific clauses about cleaning in the tenancy agreement. It’s worth prefacing, however, that not every state agrees on what ‘cleaning’ clauses may be included – so do be sure to verify what is and is not permitted by consulting your attorney. That being said, it’s possible to insert a clause of some kind to limit the tenant from riding roughshod over your property.

There’ll be many landlords and Property Managers reading this who have already signed the lease and who, now that they appreciate the value of this step, wish to incorporate such a clause into the lease. This is not an impossible task, though it does require the consent of the tenant, something which they’re not legally obliged to give. Landlords who treat their tenants with the respect they themselves would expect are in a greater position in this regard, yet another reason to appreciate the tenant as a person and not just as a source of income.

Getting down to detail

But perhaps you haven’t yet chosen a new tenant for your property. Now what? What steps can you take to make the most out of what that clause should be?

At the outset let’s get generalities out of the way. Even if no specific clause regarding cleaning were included in the lease agreement, each tenant is obliged – by existing legislation alone – to leave the property in a workable and reasonable manner. Of that, there is no doubt and no room for manoeuvre on behalf of the tenant. Tenants should be made aware of this existing legislation and the repercussions that exist should this legislation be violated.

Landlords should also do their best to inform tenants of what constitutes a clean and well-maintained property. For example, a checklist of essentials could be drafted and pinned inside the property, another copy of which could be sent to the tenant as the lease comes to a close. Incorporate specific clauses regarding what the tenant should clean and how often that item should be cleaned – right down to the last detail. Again, consult legal professionals to immunise the lease agreement against any form of potential state and federal violation.

The final steps

Verify that the lease agreement contains a clause as to when and how the landlord is permitted to inspect the property. Use these inspections to your advantage, documenting – both in written and pictorial form – how the tenant is treating the property. This is direct, inescapable evidence as to whether or not the tenant is violating those clauses you’ve hitherto included in the lease agreement.

By taking these robust steps, landlords and Property Managers can allay the cavalier attitude that many tenants take toward their rental properties. Cementing your authority on the property, from the outset, is of paramount importance – an authority that can only reach its fullest potential when the aforementioned clauses are incorporated into the lease agreement. Cleaning up the lease agreement in this way is, in many respects, a form of insurance – something to inoculate landlords against the excesses of unscrupulous tenants.