Cleaning Carpets: Who’s Responsible?

Navigating the many responsibilities of being a landlord can be overwhelming for venturing property owners. It can even pose a continuing challenge to veterans at the job. The duties of a landlord not only include making a rental unit safe and inhabitable; it also includes more subjective work like cleaning carpets.

When it comes to cleaning, the questions of responsibility and execution can be more confusing. Is the cleaning of a dirty carpet part of a landlord’s responsibilities, or a tenant’s? Do they qualify as a factor in making a house unsafe and unlivable? These concerns can be raised by your current tenant planning to move out, or by your next renter.

For example, your tenant scheduled to move out in a few weeks’ time might be concerned over the cost of cleaning carpets. They may have scrubbed the whole place down, yet some incredibly stubborn carpet stains may remain. As the landlord, do you have the right to make deductions form the security deposit? What are the rules? If you don’t prepare for these issues, you can be dealing with confusion and even legal complaints from you’re tenants.

This guide will help you handle the topic of cleaning carpets as a landlord.

Who is Responsible for Carpet Cleaning?

Determining who is responsible for cleaning carpets in a rental unit is an important step. It can account for who pays for the professional cleaning costs and who manages the execution of the cleaning. The two questions are different because while the tenant may pay for the cleaning costs through a deduction in the security deposit, you might be the one responsible for booking the services of a professional cleaning company. It ultimately affects whether or not a landlord can charge tenants for damaging or unduly staining the carpet.

Here are a couple of considerations to get you started.

1. What is the nature of the stain?

“Normal wear and tear” is a term that is often thrown around. Conventionally, landlords are responsible for the restoration of stains and damages resulting from normal wear and tear. Anything outside of this concept becomes the responsibility of the tenant.

What does normal wear and tear include? This term refers to the declining condition of the unit and its furnishings over time, even after you factor in regular cleaning and maintenance. This includes previously white walls becoming slightly yellow or gray, or mild scratches on places you would expect, such as kitchen islands.

Damages that fall outside of this scope include those requiring more than just a professional cleaning job to rectify. Stains in places where they are unexpected, such as cupboards or ceilings, fall under this condition. Dents and holes in the wall are also outside of normal wear and tear. For carpets, serious stains often arise from oil, paint, or pet urine.

In court disputes, the nature of the carpet stain is important. When there is a debate over withheld or deducted security deposits, courts will rule depending on whether or not the damage to the carpet stain counts as normal over the course of time.

If the damage does not exceed a professional cleaner’s normal rate, and if the damage does not cause permanent effects, it is the landlord’s responsibility to clean. It counts as part of the overall turnover costs. However, if the nature of the concern exceeds the cost of routine carpet cleaning, then the tenants are often held responsible.

The nature of the damage is not the only consideration. Who actually caused the stain, and the details of state laws and lease agreements, are also considerations every landlord should take into account.

2. Who made the carpet dirty?

As a landlord, you need to know who to attribute the damage to. This is important when differentiating between previous tenants and current tenants. You cannot charge a current tenant for the damage caused by the previous tenants.

If the stain on the carpet is already in the unit before your tenant moves in, then they can’t be held responsible for cleaning it. This is where a move-in checklist becomes important. Both parties should have documentation on the move-in condition of all furnishings and fixtures to ensure that there are no disputes when it’s time to move out.

Depending on the specifics of the lease agreement, the landlord will also not be responsible if the current tenant accepted the condition of the carpet when they moved in.

Checking out the laws to back up these arguments is essential.

3. What are the laws concerning cleaning carpets?

In general, landlords are not legally required to perform cosmetic repairs. As mentioned earlier, landlords are responsible for ensuring that the rental unit is safe and livable. While most carpet stains definitely fall into the category of “cosmetic” concerns, they can pose a health risk when there is mold, or when there is already structural damage to the floor underneath.

To clear up any more concerns about responsibility, you can look at county building codes and state-specific tenant-landlord laws.

For example, landlords in California can withhold the security deposit when they need to clean the rental unit to achieve the same level of cleanliness when the tenant first moved in. They can also withhold the deposit to repair damages other than normal wear and tear.

In the state of Georgia, landlords can withhold the security deposit as long as the landlord can provide an itemized list of move-out damages, as verified by the tenant.

Aside from looking at state-specific laws, you also need to review the lease agreement. After all, you may have explicitly stated that the carpet cleaning responsibility, up to professional cleaning, rests on the tenant. Conversely, as the landlord, you may also have contractually agreed to clean the carpet every few years.

With all of these considerations, you can determine who’s responsible for cleaning the carpet in a fair and logical manner. While it seems like a minor concern on paper, some people actually do go to court over security deposit disputes, cleaning costs, and lease concerns. It is best to prepare for cleaning costs.

How Do You Get Clean Carpets?

Cleaning carpets is easy if you delineate maintenance and restoration responsibilities at the onset. As a landlord, getting the details ironed out before your new tenant moves in is essential. If you want to avoid the headache of additional professional cleaning costs, or of disputes over security deposit, detail these duties in the contract. Plus, keeping a copy of the move-in checklist to compare with the move-out checklist will greatly help your situation.

Speaking with your tenants

Speaking with your tenants is the first thing you need to do. Perhaps they raised the concern to you personally through a letter or conversation. Or you could have noticed the problem yourself while performing the move-out inspection.

By speaking with your tenant, you can go over who is responsible for paying for the costs of cleaning the stain or repairing the carpet damage. You can use the questions above to guide the discussion.

If it cannot be adequately settled between the two of you, one of the techniques you can use is mediation. You can employ a formal mediation service if your tenants persist in raising concerns or if they continue to ignore the problem. Finding a solution that’s agreeable to both of you is always possible.

There are also ways to prevent serious stains. Advising your tenants on the ways to regularly maintain the carpet that comes with the unit can help you in the long run. If they ask for advice, or raise concerns over the carpet, you can give them different options to restore the carpet to its original condition.

Preventing stains from setting into the carpet

There won’t be a problem over costs and duties if the carpet is not seriously damaged. Tenants should take it upon themselves to be careful when handling food and other chemicals over the carpet.

Normal maintenance tricks can do wonders. Deep-seated odors and persistent stains can be avoided by immediately blotting food spills. Sticky stains like gum can be hardened with an ice cube for easy removal, and a solution of vinegar and warm water can remove smelly stains.

Advising home remedies for cleaning carpets

There are several home remedies that can be used to reduce damage to carpets. These can have the benefits of reducing the costs of professional cleaning down to normal levels.

For less intensive jobs, soda water or tonic water have been proven to work for coffee stains. Regular kitchen salt can soak up fresh stains or remove dirt. You can sprinkle baking soda over the affected area for at least thirty minutes, up to overnight, in order to soften the stain. Carpet shampoo is another popular way to clean carpets.

Dealing with legal concerns

Documentation is important to easily deal with legal concerns and to get started with repair works immediately.

Remember that there are limits to the duties of either the landlord or the tenant. For example, even if your tenant is responsible for cleaning the carpet, you cannot force them to use a certain company’s professional cleaning services. If you charge them the cost of extra cleaning, you need to have the original receipts prepared along with needed documentation.

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