Move-out day: Don’t forget to leave the place “impeccably clean”

The last day of March must have seen hundreds, if not thousands, of move-outs from rental accommodation all over Nova Scotia. 

There are the renovictions—people who have to leave because the landlords want them out so they can charge new tenants double or even triple the old rent.  There are people who had to sign fixed-term leases  which are an even sneakier way to kick out tenants.  There are many renters living on low incomes for whom even the 2% provincially-sanctioned increase is unaffordable.  And there are people moving out to live with relatives because they can no longer afford the super-high rents in HRM. 

That is where this story begins.

Wash the windows, clean the stove (sometimes) twice with Easy-Off, hire a professional steam carpet cleaning company… just to get the security deposit returned…

Polycorp demands

My friend was moving out of town, so she was ending her lease.  She had lived in her north- end Halifax apartment for several years.  My friend had no pets, no parties, and did not smoke; she lived alone.  A couple of weeks before the end of March, she received a letter and checklist that insisted she had to leave the apartment “impeccably clean”.  By that, the corporate landlord – Polycorp – demanded that she had to wash all the windows (which stretch from floor to ceiling and are nearly three metres high); she had to clean all the light fixtures;  and she had to clean the carpets.  It wasn’t enough to merely vacuum the carpets, she had to get a professional and landlord-approved steam rug cleaning company to clean them and then get a receipt from the cleaning company to prove it to Polycorp. 

Fantasia: the Magic Brooms (from the Disney film Fantasia which you can watch here )

Last time I checked, I thought a departing tenant was supposed to leave the suite in a neat condition, clean the counters, tidy the place and not leave a mess of garbage.  Then the landlord should return the security deposit.

But this is altogether different.  In this case, my friend’s damage deposit was $860.  Getting a professional cleaner to wash tall windows and clean chandeliers, plus all the cupboards, plus stove and fridge was going to cost her $300 easy.  A professional carpet cleaner from a registered company costs at least $500.   

Here’s the letter Polycorp sent her:

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Move out Requirements

The following is a list of cleaning expectations we have drawn up to insure 

that you receive a full refund of your damage deposit.

Note: When we are inspecting your apartment, please do not attempt to finish cleaning with a spray bottle and paper towel as this will not be a satisfactory job.  If you wish us to “pre-inspect” for deficiencies let us know.

□       Light fixtures are to be cleaned and light bulbs are to be in working order.

□    Refrigerator is to be scrubbed clean inside and out. The racks and drawers must be removed to clean thoroughly.  (A plastic scrub brush does a good job when cleaning the outside of the fridge.)

□    Stove is to be cleaned thoroughly including oven racks and bowls under stove burners.  We advise that you spray your oven with Easy Off oven cleaner the night before you plan to clean. If you need help getting the oven door off, let us know.  (You may need to spray a second time, depending on how much food is burnt on.)  Also spray the burner pots and oven racks – if you put them in a plastic bag overnight, they wash off easily!  Remove knobs to clean them and behind them, wash down the outside of stove and don’t forget the bottom drawer and front glass.  (This job can take up to 3 hours to complete.)  Please note: oven cleaner is an acid and will discolor floors, cupboards and countertops unless wiped up immediately.

□    Kitchen cupboards and drawers are to be cleaned, inside and out – top of cupboards and doors included.

□    Microwave is to be cleaned inside and out and underneath.

□   Washer and dryer must be clean inside and out, both the lint trap in the dryer and the one on the wall above dryer must be free of lint.  DO NOT PULL MACHINE OUT.

□   Countertops are to be cleaned. Bleach will remove stains (such as tea and coffee) in the kitchen sink.

□   Floors are to be swept and scrubbed.  The refrigerator and stove must be pulled out and the floor cleaned behind each appliance.  (If you cannot move them out, we will be glad to help.)

□   Bathrooms are to be cleaned thoroughly including bathtub, tub tiles, shower stall and toilet.  Remove soap scum from tub, taps and shower walls using a non scratching cleaner such as Vim.  Wash down both inside and outside of vanity and Windex mirror.

□   Carpets are to be vacuumed and steam cleaned after all furniture etc. has been removed from the suite.  Carpets must be PROFESSIONALLY STEAM CLEANED with receipt to Management; otherwise the cost will be deducted from your security deposit.  (Renting a machine yourself will not do an adequate job).  For suitable companies please see property managers.

□   Flooring will be repaired or replaced at the resident’s expense if damaged (i.e. burns, holes, stains which cannot be removed, water damage, deep gouges etc.)

□   Tops of baseboards and radiators must be cleaned of dust.  Doors (bedroom, bathroom, pantry) must be cleaned.

□   Blinds must be in good working order and clean.

□   All windows must be cleaned.

□   All garbage and unwanted goods are to be removed from the premises upon vacating.

□   Any holes in the walls are not to be filled in by the resident(s).

□   Apartment keys are to be returned to the Property Managers in person before vacating, otherwise, the cost of replacing the locks will be deducted from your security deposit.

□   Inspection of the unit will be done when the unit is empty and you must vacate (and have cleaning finished) no later than 12:00 noon on the last day of the month.

If you have any questions or need help or cleaning hints, please do not hesitate to contact us.

To sum up EVERYTHING must be impeccably clean.

We know that there is no way my friend can do all cleaning for less than $800 out of her own pocket.  Looks like she can wave goodbye to the deposit—which Polycorp will probably grab no matter how good her cleanup job is.

Landlords download any costs they can

I thought that general or “normal” wear and tear on a rental ought to be the landlord’s responsibility.  It’s also the landlord’s responsibility for cleaning the apartment prior to a new tenant’s move-in.  I guess not.  The total cost of cleaning – and then some — is now downloaded to the tenant.  The apartment owner, in this case Polycorp, takes zero responsibility.  It’s off-loaded to the tenant. Great eh?

Unreasonable—yes– according to one tenant rights advisor who said, “the standard is to return the unit to ordinary cleanliness.  Your friend cannot be required to hire professional cleaning services.”  

My advice to my friend?  Leave the place, garbage in bags, unwashed windows and carpets, don’t bother to “Easy Off” the stove, and walk away.  Clearly Polycorp was going to grab the security deposit – and if Polycorp didn’t, my friend would have had to spend at least $800 plus to get back her $860.  Maybe. 

Turns out the man who owns Polycorp was at the Nova Scotia Legislature the other day, to oppose the Tories’ proposed new 5% rent cap.  He called himself a “residential housing provider” rather than a landlord.  Nice touch.

PS: When I rented a house in England many years ago, I removed the ugly, smelly rug in the kitchen and stored it in the garage.  A year later when I left, the estate agent who handled the rental told me I’d have to pay for a new rug — that is until I showed her it had been rolled up and stored, untread on for a year. I guess landlords are the same all over the world.

Featured painting at the top: Kittens Spring Cleaning by Louis Wain (English artist, 1860-1939).

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