The time has come to move out of your rental, and that means someone has to crack out the mop and bucket.
But is it worth tackling the end-of-lease clean yourself, or should you bring in a professional?
How much does cleaning matter?
In NSW, the Department of Fair Trading does not hold data on the reasons claims are made on a rental bond, be it cleaning-related or otherwise.
In the case of a bond dispute – or if the bond is claimed without the authorisation of both landlord and tenant – the money is held by the Rental Bonds for 14 days, during which time both parties will have the option to make a claim with the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal.
Leo Patterson Ross, senior policy officer at the Tenants Union of NSW, said many bond claims from real estate agents failed at the rental tribunal, because what the agency or landlord was asking for was in excess of what was required from tenants.
Many tenants were worried about their rental references, and so opted to wear the cost and accept a partial bond claim outside of the official bond, rather than challenge the property manager on an unsatisfactory verdict.
“It’s quite an easy way to get little bits of money on pretty non-existent evidence,” Patterson Ross said. “Most of the time we see tenants go to the tribunal, they get all their money back.”
How clean is clean, anyway?
Ben Benny, from Property North Agency in Sydney, recommended tenants hire professional cleaners for a more consistent results, as the definition of “clean” often varied.
“Everyone’s standards of cleanliness is different,” he said. “Getting a professional cleaner, while they think it is expensive, it’s a lot cheaper than doing it twice.”
David Chung, from Jellis Craig Inner North Property Management in Melbourne, said his agency did recommend specific cleaners, and he preferred tenants used a professional service, as a DIY approach wasn’t always as effective.
“Sometimes it’s just not up to standard, and we have to get them back to clean again,” he explained.
Patterson Ross pointed out that tenants were required only to return the property as they received it, allowing for fair wear and tear.
Do you have to use the recommended cleaner?
According to the Fair Trading NSW, tenants are required to leave the property in the same condition it was in when they started the tenancy, which includes its cleanliness. Tenants aren’t obliged to use the cleaning service recommended by their property manager or landlord.
A spokesperson for Fair Trading NSW said a landlord was “unable to add a term to the agreement to have the carpet professionally cleaned or pay the cost of such cleaning at the end of the tenancy unless a pet has been kept at the premises”.
Patterson Ross said if a landlord wanted the home in a pristine condition, it was in their commercial interests to pay for it rather than the tenant. “It’s effectively the agent and landlord transferring their costs onto the tenant.”
It’s a similar story in Victoria, where properties need to be left in a “reasonably clean condition,” with the “reasonably” being defined by how long tenants have been living in the property, and what state it was in when they moved in.
In Victoria, it’s not uncommon for disputes to be caused by the condition of a property and end-of-lease cleaning, says chief executive of Tenants Victoria Jennifer Beveridge.
“We hear from a lot of renters told to use a specific cleaner or who have a claim against their bond for additional cleaning,” she said.
“The key obligation for renters is to maintain their home in reasonably clean condition. This means they can’t be penalised for normal wear and tear, like worn carpets or faded curtains.”
Beveridge said it was important to complete the condition report – including taking photos – on moving in, and follow the same process while moving out to have evidence if a dispute rises.
In Queensland, tenants must leave the premises clean and in the same condition as when they moved in.
Is it worth using a professional cleaner?
Patterson Ross said some tenants were time-poor and didn’t want to spend their time cleaning, and were happy to engage professional services, which was a completely legitimate course of action.
“But it’s been morphed into this expectation, rather than a choice,” he warned. “Our main message to people is: think about whether or not you need to spend money on this cleaning. If it’s because you don’t have the time that is fine, but don’t do it because your agent told you to.”
“The one advantage of using their nominated cleaner is that you can more easily say, ‘if they did a bad job, that’s your fault’,” he added. “But ultimately, the contractual relationship is between you and the cleaner. If there is an issue with the cleaner, you have to call them back.”
Professional cleaners also usually have public liability insurance, covering any damages during the cleaning process.
In addition, many cleaning companies that provide end-of-lease cleaning also provide a “bond back guarantee”, meaning if the agency was unhappy with the results, the company would come back for free.
What usually gets missed in an end-of-lease clean?
Jane Wilson, a cleaning services expert from Fantastic Cleaners, said tenants usually remembered the basics, but often overlooked the details like windows frames or handles.
“The window blinds are also often forgotten,” she said. “The metal blinds can be dusted and they’re fine, but the blinds made from fabrics need to be washed accordingly.”
Other commonly overlooked areas were baseboards, air vents and ceiling fans, which were often tricky to reach. Door knobs and handles were often forgotten, as well as light switches.
When it came to ovens, tenants were better off wiping up spills directly after they happened, Wilson said, as long-standing grease could be very hard to remove. She said getting carpeted areas cleaned regularly was a good idea.
Benny said the top of kitchen cupboards were a common trouble spot. He suggested allowing time between the final inspection and handing back the keys, so outgoing tenants could still access the property if necessary.
“Most of that time that inspection is booked on the last day of tenancy – the tenants want us to do that,” he said, adding that in many cases, the next tenants were moving straight in afterwards.