Should we ask for compensation for cleaning our new apartment?
September 7, 2011 8:17 AM   Subscribe

Our new apartment was completely filthy. I'm writing a letter to the landlord to express our frustration. My roommates want me to ask for money; I think this would be counterproductive, but I tend to be non-confrontational and pessimistic about this kind of thing.

When we moved into our new apartment, it was completely disgusting: the walls were painted and the floor was partially swept, but it looked like not only had the landlord not done any cleaning, but that the previous occupants hadn't cleaned anything at any point during their tenancy either. Every surface (except the walls, which were still being painted as we moved in, which was itself an inconvenience) was grimy, sticky and/or disgusting. The bottom of the fridge had a pool of liquid left by the rotting food, the dishwasher was full of mold, and every surface in the kitchen was coated in greasy, sticky dust. The laundry room was choked with lint and clumping litter, etc. I could go on.

It took four of us several days to render the place livable. Every inch of floor had to be scrubbed and mopped, the fridge was totally disassembled, and the dishwasher, shower and laundry room were aggressively bleached. There were some other minor problems, mostly down to basic maintenance which was deferred for years (probably 70% of the bulbs were burnt out, some of the light switches and some of the fixtures were broken). Generally, the property manager has been responsive to our requests for maintenance.

I'm writing a letter to the rental company to let them know that we were unhappy about the condition of the apartment when we moved in. We also want to let them know about a few remaining things that need their attention, like the broken microwave and some pre-existing damage to the unit. My roomate wants to ask them to compensate us by refunding part of the move-in fee (which we paid in lieu of a deposit, and was roughly equal to a month's rent), or by reducing our rent next month. As far as I know, they're under no legal obligation to do this. We're in Illinois.

I feel like it would be counterproductive: I doubt they'll do it, and it will reduce the chances that they'll respond constructively to future requests for maintenance.

Should we do it? If so, how should we ask?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (14 answers total)
Definitely. If you don't mention it, the landlord will assume that everything is peachy-keen.
posted by goethean at 8:22 AM on September 7, 2011

Don't be afraid to speak up just because you're not sure if you'll get a result out of it. Also, if you have the sort of landlord who will retaliate against you for seeking recompense for unlivable conditions, then you need to move.

Document everything and write about your concerns to your landlord. Be polite, but firm.

Investigate tenants' rights organizations in your area for resources. Simple Googling has turned up this PDF and this PDF, the latter PDF pertaining specifically to Chicago area renters.
posted by Sticherbeast at 8:24 AM on September 7, 2011

Did you take pictures of the grime and pre-existing damage? Whether or not you ask for compensation, keep them safe, as they'll be useful for you when you move out.

Either way, yes, you should ask politely. If you ask via email, include the pictures. Holding a grudge against you for asking for something basic like this to be righted is not likely, and if they're the kind of company that would hold such a grudge, you'd run afoul of them eventually, anyway. Also, it seems like it's the property manager, not the front office, that would respond to your requests for maintenance anyway.
posted by ignignokt at 8:24 AM on September 7, 2011 [3 favorites]

I think that the time to talk to them about such things was before you started cleaning. At that time I think you could have demanded that a cleaning service come in, and maybe had them put you up in a hotel for the night, if the place was unlivable.

At this point, I think all you can do is aggressively document everything in the place, every ding in the wall and broken miniblind, etc. Ask them to fix the things that are broken and send them your move-in inventory. Then, when you move out, they can't ding you for stuff that was already broken. You could also maybe ask for a concession on whatever move-out cleaning is required at the end of the lease. For example, if they require that you get the carpets professionally cleaned, then you could ask that they waive that requirement in writing.
posted by cabingirl at 8:25 AM on September 7, 2011 [10 favorites]

Hmm, I don't know the legality of this but there's certainly no harm in politely asking. Obviously they knew the condition of the place so it was pretty douchy of them to give it to you in that condition. It also strikes me as on the douchy continuum to charge a "move in fee" instead of a refundable deposit (and explains why the previous tenants didn't clean up - why bother if you're not getting a deposit back?)

I would write a letter politely but clearly explaining the number of hours you all spent cleaning and the specific things you had to clean and why. I would also explain the light bulb and maintenance work you had to do and make sure to mention mold in the dishwasher and elsewhere as mold is actually a huge issue that people do sue over (not to say you should sue, but that you should mention it.)

Then I'd propose a specific amount and include why you came to that number, for example, you hope to be compensated for your cleaning work at a rate of $x/hr.

If they say no, there's likely nothing you can do about it. But you'll have asked, and as long as you're polite, I can't imagine it causing a bad relationship. This is part of what property managers have to deal with.
posted by serazin at 8:58 AM on September 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Did you see the apartment before you accepted it? When I was a landlord I had a clause in the lease that said the apartment was accepted as is in regard to cleanliness, etc. I sat down and basically read the lease to the tenant, if they had a problem with the condition of the apartment I cleaned it more than how the last tenant's left it, if not I didn't touch it.

Sound gross? Well, it was a business, I had no motivation to clean it further if they were ok with it.

That being said, I would still bring it up, in a documenting kind of way since you want to make sure and show that you did not cause that damage. I would not ask for money, though.
posted by stormygrey at 9:20 AM on September 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

Ask for it to be cleaned, in writing. If it is not done within the amount of time specified by law in your state, do it yourself and deduct it from the rent assuming your state law allows that. Also, I guess, you should read the landlord-tenant law for your state.
posted by jeffamaphone at 10:54 AM on September 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Pics or it didn't happen.

Nth that there is no harm in asking politely. Mention the mold! I like the formula serazin gave.

Good luck!
posted by jbenben at 12:07 PM on September 7, 2011

I assume the landlord didn't do a walkthrough with you on moving day, or you wouldn't be asking this question.

As cabingirl said, the time to get them to pay for cleaning is before you clean it yourself. That said, it certainly can't hurt to ask. They're probably aware of the condition of the unit before you moved in, even if they're too lazy to do anything about it.
posted by Koko at 1:47 PM on September 7, 2011

Just anecdata, but I had a similar situation in my last place, and we had picked up the keys at 5pm on a Friday, so there wasn't really anywhere to call. I just did all the cleaning myself and we told the property manager on Monday, and she knocked a couple hundred off rent for the next month. They were very reasonable and apologetic, and did not ask for photos (which I hadn't thought to take). No way in hell would I have left it to try to get them to take care of it first.

Your situation sounds way worse, and possibly shadier, though.
posted by ella wren at 4:08 PM on September 7, 2011

I used to be a landlord. Yes, it's totally okay to ask for reimbursement for your time and cleaning supplies. It works well to say, "May I take it off next month's rent?" If you can't bring yourself to ask for money, is there something you want for the apartment? New stove, permission to paint the living room, etc? Who did the painting? The painters will have seen the condition of the apt., and your cleaning work. Take pictures of the condition of the apt. for comparison at move-out.
posted by theora55 at 4:24 PM on September 7, 2011

If the previous tenant was supposed to leave the apartment clean, then maybe their deposit should go to the (your) cleaning service. Just one possible angle.
posted by amtho at 5:43 PM on September 7, 2011

In my experience, if you think you should write a letter, you should ask for something. Either don't write a letter, or ask for what you want. If you send a letter expressing your frustration, it doesn't really do anyone any good and the landlord won't give you anything (because you didn't ask for it and he doesn't have any clue if you want something, so why would he give you something?).
posted by freezer cake at 8:22 PM on September 7, 2011

Nthing that the time to ask about this is before moving in -- a lesson learned. There should have been -- in many jurisdictions by law -- a check-in process where you accept the condition of the apartment or note things that need repair or replacement, and this would have been the normal point to insist on a more thorough cleaning. Secondarily, a landlord that hands an apartment over to you in this condition either committed a gross error in oversight which they will be happy to correct, or is a crummy, lazy, cheap landlord through-and-through and this is a harbinger of your future expectations not being met.
posted by dhartung at 10:17 AM on September 8, 2011

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