Question: We own a house that we rent to an elderly woman and her son. We were called to repair a leak under the kitchen sink. The house was filthy: The rug had large food stains, and two containers of food on the kitchen table had mold in them. Worse, there were cockroaches scurrying everywhere. When I mentioned the condition of the house to the son, he said that he had sprayed. I told him the house also needed to be cleaned. He asked me who I was to come into his house and tell him what to do. What is your advice as to my landlord rights?
Answer: Most states require tenants to keep rentals reasonably clean, and some go so far as to list the tenant's specific duties, such as maintaining appliances. Smart landlords will repeat these duties in a lease clause that tells the tenant what his responsibilities are -- and that if he fails to live up to them, he may find himself on the receiving end of a "cure-or-quit" termination notice.
Regardless of whether your state addresses tenant behavior, you can write your own lease clause, setting forth reasonable practices and consequences for noncompliance.
When poor housekeeping habits result in unsanitary conditions that threaten the structure or the health or safety of other residents, landlords can step in. If your tenants' refusal to open the windows or use the fan in the bathroom has resulted in mold, you can insist that they begin using the ventilation options or face a bill for the cost to remove the mold and make repairs.