How Much Can a Landlord Charge for Cleaning and Damages?
At the end of a tenancy, all you can think about is getting your bond back, and moving on (or in) to your next home.
Unfortunately, this process is not as simple as vacating the premises and handing the keys over to the landlord while they hand you your bond. In fact, a large number of tenants never see their bond again due to disagreements and disputes between the two parties.
Landlords, or real estate agents who represent them, are legally allowed to withhold a bond in the name of dissatisfaction (with the condition of the premises).
Oftentimes, this includes lack of cleanliness and/or damage to the property, or so they claim. What this means is that the tenant can be asked to pay for a professional cleaning of the property or minor repairs that have supposedly occurred during the tenancy.
This, of course, can be contested by submitting a claim to NSW Fair Trading if the tenant feels that they are not in the wrong.
Approximate Costs of End of Lease Cleaning by Professionals
All tenancy agreements will state that the property must be returned to the owners in the same condition that it was given to the tenants.
However, most of them don’t have a clause that states professional cleaning at the end of the tenancy is mandatory. For those that do, the landlord or agent will typically have a preferred contractor that must be hired, the cost of which will be borne by the tenant.
While the cost of a professional cleaning service differs from company to company, an average end of lease service in Sydney is priced anywhere between $250-$450.
Depending on the company, this may or may not include deep cleaning kitchen cabinets, appliances, washing windows etc. More often than not, these are offered as add-on services that are chargeable. It should also be noted that steam cleaning carpets is a separate service which can cost an additional $150 or higher, depending on the size and condition of the carpet.
If a lease agreement or the landlord does not ask for the property to be cleaned professionally, the tenant still has a responsibility to ensure that the premises are clean. Should the landlord be dissatisfied with results of a DIY clean, the tenant may be asked to hire and pay for a professional cleaning service.
Damage vs Fair Wear and Tear
If an owner cannot find fault in the level of cleanliness during an inspection, there is a good chance that they will look minutely for minor damages. This may include even the smallest of marks on a wall that very well could have been present before the tenant moved in. Regardless, if found, the landlord is within their rights to charge the tenant for repairing such damages, provided that the tenant cannot prove of their existence before or at the time of occupying the property.
With that in mind, it should be noted that the tenant cannot be held liable for damage that is caused by inevitable wear and tear while using the premises. This is known as ‘fair wear and tear’ that comes with age or regular use.
On the other hand, if you have damaged the property accidentally or intentionally, the responsibility of repairs, as well as bearing the cost, lies with you. Of course, defining what constitutes damage or fair wear and tear is a grey area among tenants, agents, and landlords; this, unfortunately, tends to end in a dispute over “unfair” claims.
Nevertheless, according to Fair Trading NSW, if a tenant has carried out basic care and maintenance, any deterioration of the property over time can be deemed as fair wear and tear. For example, the tenant is not liable for a crack in the wall that has occurred without any impact made by the tenant. On the other hand, holes or cracks caused by hammering nails or installing wall-mounted fixtures are classified as damage.
Other forms of damage may include missing items, torn or ripped upholstery, curtains, etc, scratches on the floor, carpet stains, poor or unapproved paintwork, and cuts on kitchen countertops. What you are not liable for, yet a landlord or agent may claim that you are when in fact it is fair wear and tear, including scuff marks on hardwood flooring, furniture indentations on rugs/carpets, faded or frayed upholsteries, and chipped/peeling wall paint.
How to Avoid Disputes Over Cleaning/Damages
It is critically important to pay close attention to detail when filling out the condition report at the beginning of the tenancy.
This will serve as proof if/when false claims are made regarding the comparison between the condition of the property before moving in, and the present condition. It is also advisable to take photos and videos of any damage or lack of cleaning that you spot at the time of filling the condition report as they will serve as evidence should the agent or landlord claim that the house was in a better condition or ‘spick and span’ when the keys were handed over to you.
Another important tip to avoid disputes is to act swiftly when damage occurs. Whether it was caused by someone in the household or a guest, the landlord should be made aware of it immediately, and subsequent steps to repair the damage must be taken. Similarly, if/when damage occurs through no fault of the tenant’s, it is advisable to take pictures/videos, and to inform the landlord immediately.
An example of this could involve a broken water pipe, or a leak that causes water stains on the carpet. Regardless of the circumstance, prompt and clear communication is critically important if you want to avoid a dispute later on.
When it comes to paying for cleaning or damages at the end of a lease, it certainly pays to know your rights as a tenant, and how to protect yourself against false or unfair claims. Always remember to check the condition report before agreeing to pay for damages, or hire a professional cleaning service as these expenses may not have to be borne by you to begin with.
Adriana Aziz is the operations manager at MaidForYou. With over 6 years of experience managing cleaning operations, she knows all the best hacks when it comes to cleaning residential and commercial buildings. With expert experience in managing house cleaning operations, interior design and logistics. She spends her free time with her family and as a freelance food critic.