| | Landlord Tip of the Week
Landlords are often left with a mess on the premises when the tenant
moves. Often these same landlords are just glad to have that
particular tenant out, clean up the mess themselves and just mumble
under their breath a lot about the disgusting tenant.
The worst kind of mess, of course, is garbage, piled high in the
house, or deliberate trashing of the house because you had the gall
to evict them for not paying the rent. But hobbies and special
interests also account for messes you have to clean up. Artists
platter oil paint on the walls and wall-to-wall carpets.
Photographers spill chemicals on the hardwood floors. A biker tracks
mud and grease all over the house.
The landlord is responsible for "ordinary wear and tear." Anything
over and above that is to be paid by the tenant. That's what a
cleaning deposit is for. Sometimes that's what the courts are for,
A while back a tenant in Ohio moved out of a house where she had kept
four large dogs. She left a house full of holes, scratched woodwork,
damaged wall-paper and urine-stained kitchen cabinets and carpeting.
The landlord even found dog feces in heat registers. The landlord
didn't think that was "ordinary wear and tear."
An Ohio judge agreed and ordered the tenant to pay $10,000 in
damages. The language the judge used to award the damages should give
landlords cause to think. He said that the damage "does not represent
ordinary wear and tear incidental to its use as a residential
You might expect such damage if the property had been used as a
kennel, but not as a residence. The judge further said, the landlord
could not "be said to have assumed the risk that this type of damage
would be done to the property."
The implication is that the landlord might not have been able to
collect damages if he knew that the tenant was in the kennel business
and the property was going to be part of the business. The important
difference here is that between business and hobby. A hobby is
something you do at home in a residence, because that's where you do
hobbies. Some businesses involve things that are not normally done in
When a tenant moved in, if you knew that he moonlighted fixing
motorcycles, and then he left an oil and grease mess when he moved
out, you might have difficulty proving to a judge that the mess was
not "ordinary wear and tear" in relation to that tenant.
Lots of businesses cause dirt problems which are not compatible with
clean and sanitary living. Some create no problems whatsoever, such
as bookkeeping, secretarial services or desktop publishing.
If you know that a tenant works when he applies to rent the property
that he works from home, you have three options:
1. Don't rent to him or her.
2. Write into the rental agreement that the property is to be used
only as a residence.
3. Put a clause in the rental agreement that will make the tenant
responsible for restoring the property to the condition it was in
when he moved in and collect the appropriate deposit to cover it.
With the third option, you would undoubtedly want to have your
attorney word that clause to ensure that all contingencies are
The old Section 8 agreements had a clause that forbade tenants from
using the property to conduct a business. I have a real problem with
that. This nation became great as the result of individual initiative
and hard work, largely by starting one's own business. I certainly
want to encourage anyone who has the drive and initiative to try to
better themselves through honest and legal methods. It is simply
important to be careful what kind of business you allow to be