Multimedia, Tenant Management

Dealing With Unsanitary Living Conditions: Video Extra

In this video, Chris and Eli from the Landlord Gurus discuss unsanitary living conditions that may arise when dealing with tenants. How can you prevent such problems and what should you do if they already exist?

Topics in this video include:

  • Dealing with a messy tenant [0:30]
  • State-specific leases [3:30]
  • Annual inspections [6:05]


Eli Secor: This is Eli and Chris from Landlord Gurus. We’re sitting down to have our semi-weekly conversation about topics that are coming up for us. Chris has just been through a series of events with a tenant who was having some kind of cleanliness and sanitary issues. So, Chris has had to step in. Chris, I’ll turn it over to you to paint the rosy picture for us. What did you do? What happened? 

Chris Lee: So, this happened a little while ago. I had a tenant contact me saying that she was noticing some smells and odors and some insects coming in from the unit next door to her.

So, I went to go investigate and talked to that tenant, where the odors and the insects were coming from, and took a peek inside his unit with his permission. I noticed that it looked like he hadn’t cleaned in about a year, and he had this issue exactly a year earlier.

ES: Was it somebody else’s complaint then, that triggered that? 

CL: Then, I think it was a maintenance worker who had to do something in his apartment and notified us that it was pretty messy. Again, in this case, when I inspected it, he had papers and cardboard and stuff right in front of the heater, which we determined was a fire hazard in addition to the insects, dirt, and mildew and stuff from the bathrooms and around the windows. In my mind, it was a violation of his lease terms, just in terms of being sanitary and the safety really of him and the other residents in the apartment building. 

ES: You’re right, the right to peaceful enjoyment for the neighbor. He’s impacting their experience. 

Importance of a Strong Lease

CL: Exactly. So, I talked to him about it, and told him, again, that he needed to get it cleaned up. A few days passed and he hadn’t done anything about it, so I decided that I needed to take the next steps to actually formalize it and see if I could get him to take action sooner rather than later. I checked the lease, making sure that we have strong leases with our tenants and we do. That’s something that I highly recommend because it does state in the lease, in ours, that there are certain clauses about cleanliness, sanitation, fire safety, and things like that.

Being able to refer to that lease gave me the ability to serve him with a 10-day comply or vacate notice. I fill out what the violations are, and by serving it, then he has 10 days to comply, to get it clean and get everything taken care of. Or if he chooses not to, then, I guess he has to vacate. I had forms, which you can get forms like this, notices, as well as strong leases on sites like EZLandlordForms or other services like that. With either a subscription or a one-time payment, you can get documents that you need to cover you in cases like this. 

ES: We’ve written whole articles on the need for strong leases, up-to-date leases, not the ones that have been photocopied and written in the margins anymore. Now, they need to be state-specific.

CL: Exactly, state specific. Then, in terms of these comply or vacate notices, here in Washington state, it’s a 10-day comply or vacate. I imagine in other states that the number of days might be completely different, it’s three days or five days. It behooves you to find out what those requirements are in your location, so that you’re complying with all your local laws and regulations. Just to be clear, we are not lawyers here at Landlord Gurus. We are not giving out legal advice. Make sure that if you need to, speak to a lawyer in your area.

Anyway, I fill out the form, I delivered it to him. And in Washington, here in Seattle specifically, we’ve got certain requirements on how notices are served. In this case, I hand-delivered it to him in person. If he’s not there, whether you have to mail it or deliver it to another person living there or taping it on their door or whatever, there are other requirements. But in this case, I was able to deliver it in person.

He was totally understanding and he knew what he needed to do. It was just a matter of having this formal notice that sort of kicked him into gear. I served him the notice, I scheduled an appointment 10 days out that I’m gonna come back and take a look and do an inspection. I came back and I think he had just finished up on that 10th day. At that point it was acceptable. The fire hazards were gone and the mold and mildew were gone. 

internal link Also Read:

internal link Also Read: Mildew and Mold in Rental Properties: Video Extra

ES: That should be a topic for a future conversation actually, moisture management inside any dwelling. People don’t realize that they have to live in a space, in a way where they don’t have, moisture collecting and creating mold and all that type of thing. Maybe we’ll come back to that one. So, Chris, you got a complaint, you went in.  But about a year prior, you had found out from the maintenance person that there was a similar issue. So, where were you in like your regular inspections?

internal link Also Read: Mildew and Mold in Rental Properties: Landlord Gurus Experience

Annual Inspections

CL: I mean, this is a good example of trying to stick to annual inspections. It just so happened that both these instances were exactly a year apart. So, it was about time for that annual inspection and it just so happened that the events transpired the way they did. I would recommend, specifically, for cases like this, doing an annual inspection for sure. 

ES: And you have to give the proper notice for that as well. So, full disclosure, EZLandlordForms is a partner of ours. We have an affiliate relationship and they’re one business out there among several that we write about on our site, that do have these specific forms for every step of the way.

CL: Yeah, and they’re state specific. You select what state you’re in, and it will only display those forms that are relevant to you. And you can search for whatever type of notice that you’re trying to create. They’ve got various subscription plans, whether you purchase a lease one time or if you know that you’re gonna be renewing a bunch of leases, you can subscribe to a three-month subscription. Or I think they even have a lifetime subscription. You just pay once and you’ve got access to the most up-to-date documents all the time. 

Landlord Gurus Takeaway

ES: Just another plug for always having a strong lease, beat that horse, so to speak. Probably shouldn’t do that, but yeah, it’s really important because you can leave yourself in a spot where you get in trouble. These good leases and the forms that go with them, outline what the process is and what timing it has to happen in. Because if you mess that up, you know, if you don’t give them a timeframe or you go beyond it, it becomes moot at a certain point. You can just stretch your pain out for a long period of time, which is not what we want to be doing. All right, Chris. Well, anything else you took away from this experience?

CL: Just to reiterate, like you said, having a strong lease and doing your annual inspections, so stuff doesn’t come and surprise you. You don’t need the neighbor telling you that something’s up.

ES: Yeah, that’s bad for tenant satisfaction. And really, lack of cleanliness can permanently damage, parts of your unit as well. Should we leave it there? Thanks for listening and watching. This is Eli and that’s Chris, we’re Landlord Gurus, and we’ll have another one for you soon.

CL: Like this video and subscribe. 

  • With a range of free rental applications and lease templates, landlords can easily create legally binding documents in minutes using EZ Landlord Forms.
  • Strength: Leases & e-Signing

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About Landlord Gurus

Here at Landlord Gurus, our commitment is to provide expert advice on the complex and important issues faced by landlords and property managers. Together we have over 30 years of experience in residential property ownership and management. In addition to sharing our own expertise and experiences, we call on specialists in fields including maintenance, law, tenant management, and more. Where we see topics that require more in-depth discussion, we create insightful articles that provide valuable information and guidance.
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