Increase in number of landlords allowing pets may warrant higher cleaning standards

A professional cleaner wiping lounge floor
Should vacating tenants have to pay for a professional clean? Photo credit: Getty

Tenants are required to leave rental properties 'reasonably clean and tidy' before moving on, but this doesn't mean they have to fork out for a professional job.

However, there may be a case for landlords putting professional cleaning clauses on tenancy agreements where they allow tenants to have pets, and the parties agree. 

Following a personal experience in which I helped a friend move house last year, there appeared to be a grey area on whether landlords could enforce additional clauses around cleanliness at the end of a tenancy.

The tenancy agreement stated that the house and carpets were to be professionally cleaned,  however following a flatmate's hasty departure, the costs of Christmas and no pay for statutory holidays, the tenant was unable to foot the bill.

The landlord had included the clauses due to past renters leaving the property in a mess. Dirty windows, cobwebs, rubbish in hedges and hair left in shower grates cost time and money to bring the house up to standard for new tenants.

As the tenant refused to pay, the tenant and landlord subsequently agreed to a standard in which the tenant would perform the clean, causing delays and additional stress for both parties.   

Jennifer Sykes, housing and tenancy services at MBIE, said that while extra clauses such as carpet cleaning put into agreements may be considered unlawful, there may be situations where the parties agree that they are appropriate.

"Asking tenants to have carpets professionally cleaned is likely to be considered an unenforceable clause.

"[However], there may be some cases where a landlord and tenant agree that cleaning of carpets [is] appropriate, for example, if the landlord allow[s] a pet to be kept on the premises."

Samantha Arnold, property management at Barfoot and Thompson said that although not normally enforceable, as landlords are increasingly allowing tenants to keep pets, the company would consider negotiating a cleaning clause.

"In the last 12 months, 13 percent of our new rentals have allowed tenants to have pets, increasing from 11 percent in 2017. 

"The need to have an additional clause [that's agreed-upon] is becoming more essential."

Cleaning to a reasonable standard

The Residential Tenancies Act 1986 requires that landlords maintain rental properties in a reasonable state of repair and cleanliness.

Vacating tenants are expected to leave the property 'reasonably clean and tidy' and remove their rubbish. Although individual cleanliness standards may differ, it's unlikely that tenants have to call in the professionals.

Sykes said that the standard of cleanliness is an objective decision, taking into account the age and condition of the property.

"[The parties] should take into consideration the state of the property at the beginning of the tenancy, which should be specified in a pre-inspection report prepared prior to signing the tenancy agreement. 

"A pre-inspection report that includes photographs of the property is always recommended, and should be dated and signed by both tenants and the landlord."

Barfoot and Thompson confirmed that for rentals under their management, an inspection is performed at the start and end of a tenancy and cleaning is discussed with tenants.  At the end of the tenancy, the cost to bring the property up to scratch can be taken out of the bond.  

Landlords can set a good example by ensuring the property is well-presented up-front.

"When a landlord presents the property in a clean [and] tidy condition at the start of a tenancy, they are more likely to attract the same behaviour from the tenant," Arnold said.

As first impressions count, property presentation and clear communication around pets and cleanliness at the start will go a long way to ensuring standards are upheld when the time comes to leave.

Further information about the rights and obligations for both tenants and landlords is available on the Tenancy Services website.