Landlord Tenant Q&A with CARL L. FRAZIER

CARL L. FRAZIER, B, (R), PB, RMP
Owner, Principal Broker
Cornerstone Properties
Past President, Oahu Chapter
National Association of Residential Property Managers and
National Conference Speaker

Q. I have a tenant who is just plain messy. The house is always dirty and cluttered whenever I come over. He’s a borderline hoarder. I’ve asked him time and time again to clean up and now my neighbors are starting to complain. He says it’s clean to his standards – that cleanliness is subjective. What can I do? Can I kick them out? Is there anything in any landlord tenant rules?

A. Thank you for your question. What’s clean? What’s not clean? This is always a hard question and a common bone of contention between tenants, owners, brokers who are selling rental properties and professional Property Managers. For professional Property Managers, it’s what we consider reasonable. For you as an owner, it’s what you consider reasonable, not the tenant and not outside brokers or anyone else. Part V of the Landlord Tenant Code spells it out pretty well.

Here are a few items from the Hawaii Revised Statutes (HRS) Chapter 521-51 which pertains to maintaining the dwelling and cleanliness. Each tenant shall at all times during the tenancy: (2) Keep that part of the premises which the tenant occupies and uses as clean and safe as the conditions of the premises permit; (3) Dispose from the tenant’s dwelling unit all rubbish, garbage, and other organic or flammable waste in a clean and safe manner; (4) Keep all plumbing fixtures in the dwelling unit or used by the tenant as clean as their condition permits.

So, what do you do after you go over to the unit and you see dirt caked on the floor an inch thick, piles and piles of newspapers lying around and a heavy layer of soap scum on all the plumbing fixtures?

First thing to do is take pictures, lots of pictures. Then send them a notice to comply, citing the specific violation of the lease and/or Landlord Tenant Code that they have 10 days to correct. Be very specific about what you want them to do. After ten days go back and check. If they have not done what you specified then you can take them to court and evict them for breaking the lease terms under the Landlord Tenant Code. As always, I would advise you to seek legal council before doing that.

That being said, eviction should be your last resort. You might just have to stay on top of them until the lease term ends. Then you just do not renew their lease. You do not have to give a reason for non-renewal. If the tenants are on a month to month lease, then you can give them a 45-day notice to vacate. The tenant can vacate anytime within that 45-day period so you might have to refund a pro-rated amount of their rent.

Having a good addendum going into the tenancy will help as well. Give the tenant clear expectations of what you want and what you will require when they move out. Some owners and Property Managers require the unit to be professionally cleaned. If you do that, I would specify in the lease agreement which companies the tenants can use. Anyone with a GET license and a mop can call themselves a ‘professional’ nowadays so be sure to get references from those who provide cleaning services. Protect yourself, put everything in writing and take lots of pictures!

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