We’ve all heard about them, indeed many of us have had to deal with them – and no, I’m not talking about cockroaches – I’m talking about dirty tenants.

Dirty tenants can cause more harm than you might think, not only to the value of the property, but also to the property’s long-term rental value. There is also the cost, the price-tag of having to restore what was originally a clean and healthy property.

As unscrupulous tenants may need to be evicted, there is also the added cost of replacing that tenant, as well as the ever-present risk of vermin accumulation. As you can see, what began as an unclean property now mushrooms into an overwhelming, intractable problem.

And at its source is the tenant, that which the landlord invested trust from the very inception of the lease. So how do we deal with dirty tenants? What strategies can we – as landlords – best adopt in order to deter tenants from acting in such an irresponsible and unruly manner?

Deterrence is the key

In medicine, prophylaxis is oft considered the best cure – not least because it averts the need for a cure in the first place.

This same philosophy should be applied to property management. It’s a thinking strategy that focusses not on punishment and penance, but deterrence and dissuasion. It’s about thinking of ways to compel the tenant to think of the consequences of his/her behaviour.

So what deterrence strategies might one adopt?

Let’s start at the beginning…with tenant selection. Landlords shoulder much of the responsibility for dirty tenants, not least because it’s they – the landlord – who let the tenant slip through their tenant screening net in the very first place.

Of course it’s not always as simple as this. Many tenants understandably make it through, only to become unruly and filthy during the lease agreement. It would be wrong to impugn landlords on this specific basis, however, as there is very little the landlord can do.

The wider point remains, though – which is that landlords must develop an adequate tenant screening process; one that not only looks for legitimate references, but also one that ensures the tenant is, where possible, mature enough to take on the lease.

But how else should landlords deal with dirty tenants?

Our theme today is prophylaxis, so let’s continue with that. Landlords, when designing the lease, should try to include cleaning clauses in the lease agreement. These clauses should be specific, so as to avoid the possibility of ambiguity on the part of the tenant.

Being firm, but fair

Some tenants are, for whatever reason, immature when it comes to cleaning. It could be, perhaps, that the tenant has recently graduated, or that the tenant has recently fled the nest. Against these backdrops, tenants are all but certain to commit some cleaning offence.

And landlords should be cognisant of these circumstances. It demands the landlord to be firm – in enforcing the lease agreement – but also fair, in an understanding way that seeks to help the tenant come to terms with his/her obligations.

This can transform an unprincipled tenant into one that appreciates his/her duties.

For example, landlords can draw up a list of cleaning recommendations for tenants to follow – letting the tenant know what should be done, how frequently it should be done, and what the consequences are if that particular act isn’t adhered to.

This then becomes an edifying experience for the tenant, as well as increasing the prospect of lease renewal – a benefit to both tenant and landlord. Though landlords have the strength of the law behind them, they should be smart about how they manage their tenants.

Always a happy ending?

But it would be wrong to assume that a happy ending is always within sight.

There are circumstances in which, no matter what you – as the landlord – do, the tenant either ignores these efforts or flagrantly violates them. Yet these exceptions mustn’t prove to become the rule – it’s always worth making the efforts described above.

Nonetheless, unscrupulous tenants must be dealt with – meaning the lease agreement must be enforced. It means not renewing the lease agreement, evicting the tenant, or deducting renovation costs – where relevant – from the tenant’s deposit.

Dealing with dirty tenants need not be difficult. It often means taking an alternative, flexible approach – being firm, but fair – and informing tenants of their duties. Efforts to contain dirty tenants should always take a prophylactic stance – as there is invariably, in this case, no cure.