This information about how a unit is to be left is not applicable to short-term, nightly or weekly stays. Short-term guests have already paid to have their units cleaned for them–it is included in the rate.
Renting a furnished unit long-term, that is month to month at a steeply reduced rate, involves a partially refundable cleaning fee.
If you want some of the cleaning fee back at the end of your stay, that can be accomplished. But, we are also perfectly happy to clean your unit for you after you depart.
If you’d like us to do the cleaning, and most people do, please let us know the week before so we can schedule both help and time in between tenants.
What does it cost and how long does it take? A checkout clean will easily take up the total of your deposited cleaning funds. If you do it yourself please make sure you allocate roughly six or more hours to effectively clean your unit. Really. That is how long it takes. We don’t expect to just wipe down your unit before the next guest arrives. It has to be dismantled and really thoroughly cleaned.
I tell a story below, but for those who’d just like to know what is expected (and not expected), here is a list.
To get all but about $30 of your cleaning money back you should make sure the following have been done.
Pots and pans, dishes cabinets: Dishes should be squeaky clean, cabinets wiped out. If you suspect a pan has worn out please leave it on the counter. We will donate or discard it.
Leftover food: please either discard (or leave in a bag for us to sort for the chickens) any opened containers. The exceptions to this are salt, pepper, sugar, flour and the teas and supplies your unit came equipped with. Do NOT leave partially used items “for the next tenant.” We know it makes no sense, but they will not use them. Trust us.
Bath soap: Please do not throw away our containers for the organic soaps. We refill them.
Linens and towels: please do not bother to make the beds. We will be washing everything. Used towels should go in the bathtub. (This service is where the partially refundable comes in.)
Appliances: The microwave, coffee pot, toaster, refrigerator and stove should be clean. The drip pans should be cleaned and covered with new tin foil–or replaced. (Roughly $15)
Carpets: If your stay has exceeded six months or you have had pets in residence we will have the carpets cleaned. We use a black light to make sure any problem areas are dealt with.
The hardwood floors and most woodwork have a polyurethane finish. Do not use any oil base soaps (for example Murphy’s) as it makes them impossible to re-coat as needed Please vacuum, sweep and wipe down hard surfaces lightly with water, or glass cleaner (vinegar). Damp rag, not wet.
Bathroom: If you don’t think you could happily eat off of every surface in the bathroom, it is not clean enough. If the next guest sees one hair in the bathroom the assumption will be that it has not been cleaned. This is not easy to do and not something you would ever have to do in your own home.
You are not responsible for the following: replacing the shower curtain, cleaning the chandeliers, the blinds, the baseboard, moving major furniture to clean behind it or under it. And as stated, we always do the linens for the next guest.
The law on damage deposits is the landlord has two weeks to assess and actually clean/repair the unit to reach a total documented damage deposit refund, but there is no such rule on the optional refund of cleaning fees. That is truly at our discretion. If you are concerned or have questions after reading the list above, please ask. And certainly, if you find something amiss on your check in let us know. That is not complaining, it is information we need.
Now the story:
The purpose of a checkout cleaning is to make the just lived in unit “as new as possible” for the next guest. A totally clean slate.
And that, my friends and clients, is not something that is just like tidying up for a casual visitor. Things must be more orderly than “normal”. This is complicated by furniture that is antique, and the extreme variance in people’s perception of “normal”.
And the attachment to the idea that slight effort will result in “good enough” for the next tenant has its problems.
People “read” the situation carefully when they arrive. And if they find a hair in the tub, a spot on the refrigerator, crumbs in the pans, fingerprints on the windows–all normal unnoticed things that happen in the course of living in a place–they notice. And not in a nice or comfortable way.
An economist would call leaving a unit needing work (that would be resented if it was paid for) an “externality.” That is a cost that affects a party who did not choose to incur that cost. The tenant in the future does not want to pay for the maintenance required by the actions of their predecessor. And they should not have to. Most people are orderly, but sometimes even if orderly, they are busy and pressed for time. We know this.
That is why we do not charge equally for everyone–because it is not fair. The living habits on one set of guests may take three hours to erase, for others, six times that. A $500 difference in resources expended. In our opinion that should not be spread between all guests. Simply, we have a policy of cleaning funds being set aside because we like to keep our rates as low as possible and do not like to charge the tenant in X for the cleaning of Y. Time required is ridiculously variable and the cleaning funds, though present are relatively minor.
We also know that tidiness has nothing to do with the character of a particular guest.
How people approach the cleaning funds on deposit, public comment after the fact and behavior while on site, really are character issues. Grime is not. I don’t care what your mother said!
Oh, and it also does not matter what people self-report.
So, though we really don’t care if a guest cleans or not, the unit must be close to perfect for the next guest, so we like to know in advance so we can schedule appropriate time both for the cleaning, and not booking the unit too closely.
Indulge me in telling you a story that may make this more clear, and ask yourself in the window of between an 11 AM check out and a 3PM check in if the cleaning I describe below could have happened? Hint: it involved three workers, two trips to the hardware store, a makeshift repair, and about a day and a half. The tenant was great–just busy and not a slavish housekeeper. No problem.
If you like, here’s the story, with pictures, and keep in mind when you look at them that the more updated, more expensive units are MUCH easier to take care of. Smooth, shiny, hard, surfaces are a lot easier to deal with.
This unit (D of the Odell) recently had about a $40,000 upgrade having to do with surfaces. Tile floors, new fridge, induction cook top, dishwasher, self cleaning oven. These things make life easier. We understand this. The furniture is still antique.
We once had an individual stay with us in a different apartment who was memorable in wit, education, and charm. This person was communicative, but not invasive, smart, funny, clear and reasonable in every request. A really delightful individual. The rent was negotiated to the lowest possible point in the oldest and smallest apartment of the Wakefield House, but paid 100% on time and in full. This individual was truly a great guest–and we think so to this day. We would invite this guest back in a second, and give a glowing recommendation to any other landlord.
Even though we retained the cleaning fee.
It is our job to make sure the units are clean for the next guest, and sure, we sometimes get paid to take care of that.
On the appointed hour of departure, the guest cheerfully related, “It should be good to go. I left some things for the next tenant.”
This kind of statement tends to make me nervous–because it can mean anything. As you will soon see.
I took a quick look around the unit.
At first our littlest apartment, the tiny Hobbit Hole unit, appeared pretty orderly. The counters were clean. The rug and floor had been vacuumed. The things, as my own cleaning helper says, that make it “look” clean–like the faucets wiped off–had been done.
We have learned however, over time, that things can’t just look clean on the surface, they have to actually be clean. And in a place where people can and do cook and live deeply, that can be a project.
First there were some dishes to do.
Not an abusive pile, but when I started to wash them I found every cup and glass had a slight film of grease. All the pots and pans were sticky or had crumbs. Trying to remedy this, I discovered that the replacement dish soap the guest had bought mid-stay would not cut any grease, The dishes had been washed, yes, but they were not clean. Troublesome!
So I loaded all the cups and plates and cookware into a wheel barrow and took them to my apartment to run through the dishwasher, returning with some better soap to stock the unit.
I inspected a bit deeper. Found a grocery bag worth of stale and mostly used food in the fridge. Into the trash, it went and in doing so I noted that the trash can was both broken and dirty. Note to replace. $20.
The handle of the freezer had been broken.
I expected this because a few hours before the guest had told me about it, stating it appeared to have been glued in the past. I looked at it and took down the serial number to order a part, attempted to re-glue it and made a note to apologize to the next tenant–scheduled to move in almost immediately. No time to order a part before arrival. This kind of thing makes us look disorganized. I wish the tenant had told me about it so I could have had it fixed in time.
(The tape is to secure the glue which may or may not be effective.
Then I looked at the stove. It is a self cleaning model that the tenant had noted cleaning.
That was of course true.
Would you like to be the next guest?
I noted this was going to take several hours and another purchase. New rings for the stove because grease had been baked through the tin foil covering. Not bad. Easy to fix $15 and a trip to the hardware store. Given that one can spend hours attempting to clean these things, it is often better to just replace them.
I moved on to the bathroom. There was a weird stain in the tub. (Later I began to think dye had been used–either hair or clothing.)
The stain is there for good. (I know, I worked on it for over an hour.) The other dirt washed out.
I have ordered one of these: a commercial adhesive anti-slip mat.
$20. It won’t fix the tub, but they do work well as long as you are careful applying them. A good thing to have and know about for older tubs. Sadly, I can’t get it in before the next tenant arrives.
Then I checked the toilet.
And I have to admit, this will take a bit of explaining.
Never mind the “ewwww” factor, on closer examination I found the guest had, for some reason, made a failed attempt to flush half a pot roast down the toilet.
This, though a classic example of “cutting out the middle man”, was not a good idea. I went back to get my disposable gloves.
Below is how it should look when a guest checks in.
As noted above, if you don’t want to do all or any of this we don’t mind. Just be clear with yourself. If you have not cleaned the oven and refrigerator don’t worry about vacuuming. We’ll have to do it again anyway after we get done with the actual cleaning.
Microwave clean, soap on counter, appliances clean, counters and sink clean, clean dish towels set out. Pot holders washed and dried.
Pots and pans orderly and clean.
Trash can empty, cleaned and with new liner. Note the floor is not really clean in this picture. That comes last, after all the other cleaning is done.
Oven clean, new drip pans if needed.
Refrigerator empty and clean. The only things that can be left in the fridge are baking soda and non perishable condiments–no mayo. People will generally not use open containers. If it is not something you would find on a breakfast table eating out, it can’t be left. (We do collect things for charity and the chickens, but it is not a favor to us to not decide yourself what should be done with leftovers–of all types.)
Here are things we try to do between every stay which we don’t expect departing long term guests to do.
Clean the windows and blinds.
Install new shower curtains
Iron the doilies
Clean the light fixtures
We do the these things because in an old house with inevitable wear they shout: “We care about how you found the place!”
Please tell us well in advance if there is a problem that we will need to deal with between guests–not as your hand is on the door knob–well in advance. That is not complaining, that is just keeping us up to date, and we really, really appreciate the information.
Everyone deserves a clean, fresh start to their stay. That said, the apartments are probably not perfect when every guest checks in. For instance, we do not clean the older ovens between every short stay because it takes chemicals to do so. It smells bad and sometimes there is no time to let things air out. The ovens do get cleaned at the end of long stays–we schedule time for this. Likewise, we do not move all the furniture and clean behind it on every stay. Nor do we expect clients to do this. In fact we hate it when the furniture is moved!
In conclusion: In the example cleaning above, after over ten hours of extra cleaning, a check written to my helper for $120, two trips to the hardware, store, possibly $100 in parts needing to be replaced, how do you think I feel about withholding any cleaning funds for the effort–which it takes no imagination to see was over the total deposited amount of $200.
So how do I feel? Very nervous.
Ever note the one-star and five-star dichotomy of our reviews? People either seem to love us or they really, really hate us.
Here’s the truth.
We make mistakes, but we actually do a pretty good job. And people tend to forgive small mistakes–just like we forgive them in turn. The only virulently negative public comments we have ever gotten after the fact were from people have who left the units in total disrepair. The cleaning I describe above was not terrible at all. Just kind of normal, with a few odd twists. The departing guest was charming and fun which makes a lot of difference in how we feel about tidying up after.
The visitors writing terrible reviews of us? They shared in common, late rent, quarreling, chronically barking dogs, abusive treatment of spouses. And on departure, hours or days of effort from us cleaning up the disasters they left. These were people we had to set limits with during stays.
Review sites are complicated. The person with a grudge is very motivated to write about their “mistreatment.” And under the rules of free speech they are entitled to any published opinion they care to have–made up or not.
In case you have not worked with “the public” of late, I will sadly relate that people do not like having limits set on their behavior. And frankly, a certain set is used to bullying the staff–either in person or online. This does not work very well when the owner of the house is the staff. Our long term view is a few bad reviews online are less harmful than actual bad behavior on site which we simply do not tolerate. We have limits.
And that is what a partially refundable cleaning fee is–a gentle limit on how much time, effort and money a departing long term guest leaves the collective house economy with. It is not a value judgement or a character issue. No one gets a perfect score. Everyone gets some help for free.
Rick and I have talked about it many times, and we persist that we will not raise rates on everyone in order to accommodate potentially expensive checkout cleaning for long term guests.
Here are some pictures of a very clean check out that happened this morning.
The unit was better than when this client moved in–I’m going to have to ask what she used on the bathroom floor.
Talk about perfect!
Wow. What a great job. Nice surfaces, sure, but way better looking now than when she checked in.
I walked downstairs with the laundry and refunded the whole deposit.
If that’s not you, then my advice is, don’t sweat it. There’s no shame in having someone tune up things for you. And we won’t think better or worse of your character over this.
End note: I found the formerly-abused spider plant
in the Odell House unit D (the one pictured above) in glowing good health.
New leaves, perfectly moist soil, positioned carefully in just the right light.
(Remembering tipping it over with the vacuum cleaner cord last summer, and hurriedly sweeping it back in the pot in frantic moment between guests, I was beginning to feel, well, inadequate.)
Nice mommy gone, evil mommy back in charge.
When I called my tenant to thank her for her checkout, she asked if I had noticed it.
Yes. . .
I begged her to come back and rescue it!
She advised, “Oh, just water it now and then and it will be fine.”
“It’s not like that, I leave them there with the guests, and then I can’t get into the units. People sometimes put them on the radiators!”
The response was appropriate shock.
This client still has to drop off the keys, and I am hoping, when I go up to make the bed tomorrow, that the plant will have made its escape.
Though obviously slow to make value judgements about guests based on cleaning habits, I actually do notice if they kill the houseplant. You’ll note almost all of the units have one. If you grow fond of yours, I am sure we can come to some arrangement. :)