Dealing with Uncleanliness: 4 Best Strategies for HMO Properties

The search for the ideal tenant

Dealing with uncleanliness of the tenants in your HMO Property can have massive implications on the whole household. We often hear, at the property events, the ”Property Gurus” claim they have the perfect formula for finding responsible, understanding, kind, respectful, clean, and tidy tenants for HMO properties. The kind of tenant who always leaves the communal areas and their room spotless… But is this achievable? Can we truly ascertain a person’s cleanliness and tidiness after only a few meetings, especially when we haven’t visited their current home?

Identifying the root of the issue

We have been managing HMO properties for a decade now, and I can certainly say that it is not a walk in the park; it requires hands-on dedication. It’s understandable because, essentially, you’re bringing together five strangers under one roof—individuals who don’t know each other, and whom you don’t know either—and it’s really up to them to make it work.

However, there are measures you can proactively and reactively implement to mitigate the possibility of tenants being untidy.

Thorough referencing process

From my experience, I can certainly say that it’s possible to identify a kind, understanding, and respectful person during viewings and the referencing process. Our referencing procedure is quite thorough to ensure the person truly embodies these qualities and treats both the landlord and us seriously. We invest extra time before viewings to understand the person’s situation. During the viewing, we engage them in discussions, addressing any important questions.

Then, we have a follow-up phone call to discuss house rules, our and their values, and other financial details. Once we have sorted out financial matters and references, we arrange another video interview to reiterate house rules, rent payments, and values. This comprehensive process helps us determine if the person’s personality aligns with the tenants we seek for our HMO properties.

However, this process won’t reveal how clean and tidy a person is. Trust me, after a decade in this field, I can confirm that during referencing, everyone claims to be clean and tidy. But reality doesn’t always align with these statements.

Dealing with uncleanliness includes teaching tenants not to leave dirty dishes.

Other characteristics to look out for

I can also confirm that a person’s gender or age doesn’t indicate their cleanliness. So what should you look out for? Can you judge from their appearance? Perhaps slightly, but it’s highly improbable.

If the person comes to the viewing in slightly dirty clothes (unless they are work clothes from a construction site, etc.) that are wrinkled and smelly, it’s a clear indication that they may not be the cleanest person ever. However, this would happen extremely rarely. While most people take care of their appearance, it doesn’t necessarily correlate with their cleanliness standards in the kitchen and bathroom.

And the truth is, you can’t predict if a person will maintain cleanliness in the kitchen and bathroom until they actually start living in your property. Even if they assure you they will, there’s no guarantee they’ll follow through.

How to approach dealing with uncleanliness?

So, what do you do if you find yourself in a situation where you’ve rented out your high-end, stylish, modern HMO room to someone who isn’t particularly tidy? They don’t empty the bins, leave the oven and cooker covered in food leftovers after every use, and the floor is littered with breadcrumbs and tomato sauce. Moreover, the bathroom is filled with hair, beard trimmings, soap scum, and limescale. It’s not a pleasant sight at all, and the other tenants who strive to maintain cleanliness are becoming frustrated.

Or perhaps you discover that there are multiple tenants contributing to the mess. And this happens right at the beginning of the tenancy, with many months still left on the lease.

Well, here is what we have found to work effectively.

1. Identify the messy tenant.

Firstly, it is crucial to identify the person responsible for the mess at the property. This may require questioning everyone and regularly inspecting communal areas for cleanliness. As a last resort, a full property inspection can be arranged, where the state of the tenants’ rooms can often reveal who is contributing to the mess in communal areas.

2. Inform all tenants the cleaning issues.

We have learned the importance of promptly informing all tenants whenever communal areas are found messy. This involves sharing photos of the mess and any dirty dishes, reminding everyone of the cleaning rules and mutual respect. You can also simply ask in the email whose are the dirty items left in the shared areas. There have been instances where we have had to email photos of the mess, overflowing bins, and dirty dishes to all tenants twice a week to address the situation.

3. Remind the rule tenants agreed to.

Once you have identified who this person is, communicate directly with them (while also sending emails to all tenants each time communal areas are found messy). Remind the tenant of the prior conversations you had regarding cleanliness, the terms of the tenancy agreement, and house rules before their tenancy even started. Give them time to improve their behaviour.

During this period still visit the property as often as possible and perhaps ask another trusted tenant to keep a close eye to see if the situation improves. If there’s a significant improvement, that’s encouraging. However, if it does not improve within 2 weeks, talk to the person individually again.  Offer them the option to terminate the tenancy early without penalty if they are unwilling to maintain cleanliness standards. Clearly, they do not want to live in a clean environment.

4. Offer alternative solutions to struggling tenants.

If the initial step of the referencing process has not failed and the person really is understanding, kind, respectful and responsible but struggles with cleaning habits then they may either improve or choose to leave. In many cases, tenants may proactively approach us, expressing frustration with cleanliness-related emails and realizing that the property isn’t the right fit for them. In instances of dealing with a messy tenant, I would recommend visiting the property twice a week to assess the condition of the kitchen and the bathroom and promptly send emails everytime you find those areas dirty.

This approach ensures that tenants understand the importance placed on tidiness. And indeed, maintaining cleanliness should be a top priority in a shared property, out of respect for all tenants and for the property itself.