Here’s a question virtually every prospective tenant asks me when I show a rental property: “Will the landlord clean the home before we move in?” That’s a fair question that deserves a fair and honest answer to avoid misunderstanding and bad feelings going forward.

The vast majority of rentals that real estate agents represent are homes owned by individual owners, not apartment complexes. The owners may be moving out of the home, or the unit may be an investment property that was previously occupied by other tenants. In any case, it’s virtually definite that someone lived in the home before.

Landlords are people who come in all shapes and sizes as far as ability, desire, needs and concerns. Some take exceptional pride in their property, while others see it simply as a means of getting additional income each month. Some define the word “clean” as entailing copious amounts of bleach, cleaner, spackle, grout and paint, while others take the legal definition of “broom clean” very literally.

So when a couple sees a rental they like and ask me the “will it be cleaned” question, I answer very honestly: Assume the worst; assume that how you see the home now is exactly the way it will be the day you move in.

Don’t get me wrong—I always ask the landlord if the home will be spot-painted, the oven cleaned, carpets steamed, etc. Sometimes the answer is yes, but more often than not the response is that the home was already cleaned prior to being listed for rent. I don’t get into a discussion with the listing agent as to what “clean” means; that would be useless. At that point it’s pretty obvious whether the landlord cares about the property or not.

Clean is not the same as “safe” or “working,” and I don’t want prospective tenants to think that a home will be rented to them with broken windows or leaky faucets. There are standards for that, and any safety or maintenance issues will be noted during the tenants’ “walk-through” and addressed by the landlord. But just as in the case of buying a home, there is a rather clear line between maintenance and cosmetic issues: If a stove burner is not working, it has to be repaired. But if the walls or carpets are stained, that’s how the home comes unless the landlord is offering to clean them.

The bottom line is that I can show you a number of homes to rent, and you can decide whether or not the layout and condition of each appeals to you. If you love a home and are willing to take it just the way it is, great! But please don’t make assumptions or have expectations that will just upset you later.

There is a very thorough guide for tenants on this page that will walk you through the entire renting process and answers most questions you may have. Feel free to browse through it and contact me to discuss any aspect of renting a home.

Bo Twerdowsky

Real estate agent, self-professed computer geek, grammar policeman, proud father of two. Opinionated, questioning, intolerant of stuffy sorts devoid of a sense of humor.