What Does “Reasonably Clean” Mean?

Reasonably Clean picture of oven

An important finding at the Tenancy Tribunal around “reasonably clean”

Aspire Property Management recently represented one of our owners at the Tenancy Tribunal. There was an important finding around “reasonably clean”, as defined in the Residential Tenancies Act (RTA).

There has long been a divide between the expectations of outgoing and ingoing tenants regarding a property’s cleanliness. The RTA states that an outgoing tenant must leave the property “reasonably clean”. But an ingoing tenant expects, of course, that the house they are moving into should be clean. Clean and “reasonably clean” can be quite different.

In this case we claimed $680 for carpet cleaning and general cleaning, as the tenants left the property in an unclean condition. The Tribunal found that the tenant should pay SOME of the cleaning bill, but not the entire bill, as they are only expected to leave it “reasonably clean”. They awarded $400 back to us.

Here is the relevant excerpt from the finding on 10th Oct 2022, with the key part highlighted:

Did the tenant comply with their obligations at the end of the tenancy?

  1. I find the landlord’s claims for cleaning, carpet cleaning and the replacement of a missing heat pump remote control proved.
  2. The photographic evidence establishes that tenant did not leave the premises reasonably clean when vacating the premises. The carpets were stained. Although the tenant gave evidence that he had the premises cleaned and the carpets cleaned, I find both claims by the landlord reasonable and necessary to meet the statutory requirement on a vacating tenant.
  3. I have however reduced the claim for cleaning to ensure that only cleaning for which the tenant is responsible (clean to a reasonable standard, not to a standard where a new tenancy can commence) is charged to the tenant.

We assume the Tenancy Tribunal will rule like this from now on. Tenants can’t be made to clean a property to a standard that a new tenant would expect. So we are faced with a potential extra expense for landlords, having to get the property from “reasonably clean” to “a standard where a new tenancy can commence.”

What we do to help solve this issue:

  1. We must handover properties to new tenants in a very clean condition. This sets the expectation of how they need to leave it at the end of their tenancy, and it gets the tenancy off to a great start.
  2. When tenants decide to move out, we send them an email with a cleaning checklist and ask them to complete each item on the list. This list is also available to tenants at any time on our website.
  3. We then verbally encourage them to complete the cleaning list.

These are the only steps we can take; it is unlawful for us to force a tenant to do more than leave it “reasonably clean”.

The best solution is to budget time or funds to clean your property between each tenancy. This can be a good chance for you to attend your property and go over it thoroughly, and a chance to note down future maintenance or upgrades you might make. Or we can arrange a professional cleaner for you (we do not charge a fee for organising a cleaner on your behalf, you just pay the cleaner’s charges).

Hopefully most outgoing tenants follow the checklist and extra cleaning is not required – but as this latest Tribunal finding highlights, it’s something that property owners must be prepared for, as “reasonably clean” and “clean” are unfortunately, not the same thing.

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