How to Minimize Your Out-of-Pocket Rental Property Cleaning Costs
Whether you charge the tenant for it directly or not, you have to clean every rental unit you own at turnover.
This is an unavoidable outlay, but fortunately one you can control. Follow these guidelines to minimize your out-of-pocket rental property cleaning expenses.
1. Charge Upfront Cleaning Fee(s)
If state law permits, charge an upfront flat rate that covers your overhead costs for apartment or house cleaning at turnover.
You don’t have to match professional cleaning services’ rates or mirror all their add-on services, but your rate should reflect the extra time needed to clean seriously dingy spaces. For example, if you know the average cost to deep clean a particular unit is $300, set that unit’s cleaning fee at $300 — not $150.
If you own a single-family rental, consider charging itemized fees for specific areas of the property that need extra attention. Landlords can and do tack on fees for additional services like carpet cleaning, garage cleaning, pool cleaning, and gutter cleaning.
But again, don’t lose sight of local market expectations. If you’re the only landlord in your area itemizing upfront cleaning fees, you may have a hard time renting the property.
2. Detail Tenants’ Property Care Obligations in the Rental Agreement Itself
Any rental agreement should make clear that the tenant is responsible for returning the property in its original condition, less ordinary wear and tear.
Yours should go farther and detail tenants’ specific property care obligations, like mowing the lawn, clearing the sidewalk in winter, and changing the air filters. In many cases, these obligations relate to the tenants’ fundamental obligation to prevent health and safety hazards on the property. Some, like changing the air filters regularly, are more directly pro-cleanliness.
3. Detail Tenants’ Cleaning Obligations in a Cleaning Addendum
Your rental agreement should also detail tenants’ cleaning obligations prior to move-out.
The most efficient way to do this is to attach a cleaning clause or cleaning addenda to the lease. It should list every major appliance (fridge, range, microwave) and feature (flooring, bathroom, duct covers) and the relevant cleaning obligations.
Detail is your friend here. Better to come off as unfriendly or anal at signing than invite a misunderstanding that lands you in front of a judge. If you want the tenant to steam the carpet before they leave, write that down.
Unless it’s a really high-end unit, be judicious about asking the tenant to pay out of pocket for specialty cleaning services like pool, gutter, and window cleaning. It’s more reasonable to require them to hire professional maid service or house cleaning service in lieu of a cleaning fee.
4. Document Property Condition at Move-in
It’s in the tenant’s own interest to document the property’s condition at move-in. If you or an employee you trust can accompany them on the walk-through, even better.
The idea here is to create a comprehensive accounting of existing issues that might normally incur repair costs or necessitate deep cleaning services at move-out. Note issues in writing with accompanying timestamped photos. Save the finished document as a signed addendum to the lease agreement to reference as needed during the tenancy.
5. Keep Tabs on Tenants’ Cleanliness
Within the bounds of applicable law, of course. You can’t show up unannounced or ask to inspect the property at random times simply to verify its cleanliness.
However, you may be allowed to make scheduled cleaning inspections, perhaps as often as twice per year. You can also get intel from your maintenance crew and third-party service providers, like plumbers and electricians.
If it’s convenient, you can even drive by the place yourself (or delegate this job to someone closer). A drive-by is no substitute for a methodical interior walk-through, but it’s useful enough. If you see the yard is a mess or there’s stuff piling up on the front porch or driveway, can surmise the inside is worse for the wear too.
6. Work Out a Volume Deal With a Professional Cleaning Company You Trust
The house cleaning pricing guides that cleaning businesses show to consumers mean nothing for commercial clients. Promise a reliable flow of business and you can beat those average prices by a mile.
This is especially important given the alternatives. While state or local law probably doesn’t require you to hire a professional cleaning team, it’s good for your reputation as a landlord.
Maybe more importantly for landlords focused on the bottom line: It’s cheaper to go this route. The typical commercial cleaning company (or individual cleaner, for that matter) has lower labor costs than the typical property management crew. Rather than ask them to roll up their sleeves and scrub toilets, save them for heavier repair and restoration jobs that make better use of their skills. If you do use them for cleaning, focus them on deeper cleaning tasks like heavy bathroom cleaning and deep cleaning floors, or more specialized tasks like appliance cleaning and duct cleaning.
7. Itemize Cleaning Charges Deducted From the Security Deposit
If you do end up deducting cleaning charges from the tenant’s security deposit, you should first familiarize yourself with local security deposit law. You need to know:
- The maximum you can deduct for cleaning expenses, if allowed
- The deadline for accounting for all deductions
- The deadline for returning the remainder to the departing tenant
Then provide an itemized statement showing the charge for each type of cleaning or area cleaned. The more detail you can provide, the less likely the tenant will be to make a fuss, assuming the cleaning charges are reasonable in the first place.
You’re a landlord, not a residential cleaning business. But your cleaning fees should mirror residential cleaning prices in your area.
That means you’ll need to do some research. Learn the average condo cleaning prices, apartment cleaning costs, and single-family house cleaning rates. Set a square footage rate that reflects the range of services (and additional add-on options) your cleaning crew offers. Adjust it for variables like extra bathrooms. And build in a buffer that covers not only the average cleaning time but really detailed cleaning jobs as well.♦
How do you handle cleaning fees as a landlord? At what point do you charge for tenant cleaning fees, rather than swallowing them as a turnover cost of doing business?
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