What’s The Real Deal with Carpet Cleaning?
According to the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, landlords CANNOT charge for routine carpet cleaning - either during the rental term or from a security deposit - no matter what the lease says.
A landlord CANNOT legally deduct from a tenant's security deposit even if:
- The lease requires that the tenant pay for carpet cleaning when they move out
- The lease states that the tenant must provide a receipt showing that they had the carpets cleaned
- The lease says that the tenant must pay for carpet cleaning when they move in
- The lease says that the cost of carpet cleaning will be deducted from the tenant's security deposit
- Any of the above rules are listed in a NONSTANDARD RENTAL PROVISION
A landlord CANNOT require a tenant to pay for carpet cleaning in advance of moving. Any payments in excess of rent are considered security deposits ATCP 134.02(11). Withholding that money would be considered a withholding from a security deposit, which is illegal absent "unusual damage".
When Can a Landlord Charge for Carpet Cleaning?
A landlord may only withhold from a tenant's security deposit for carpet cleaning where there is "unusual damage" caused by "tenant abuse" ATCP 134.06(3)(c).
What Can A Tenant Do if their Landlord is Trying to Make Them Pay for Routine Carpet Cleaning?
- Write a letter to the landlord explaining that they cannot deduct money for routine carpet cleaning unless the carpet has been damaged (by the tenant) beyond “normal wear and tear” ATCP 134.06(3)(c). Also, if the tenant resides in the City of Madison, city ordinances don’t allow withholding for routine carpet cleaning MGO 32.07(14).
- File a written complaint with the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection. Do so by calling 1-800-422-7128 or by visiting their website.
- File a claim in small claims court to recover an illegally withheld security deposit (or portion thereof). A tenant may be eligible for two times the amount wrongly withheld Wis. Stat. 66.0104(2)(b).
Why Can Leases Include Charges for Routine Carpet Cleaning?
The short answer: The law doesn’t consider leases with charges for routine carpet cleaning void and unenforceable.
So, if it’s illegal for a landlord to withhold a portion of the security deposit for routine carpet cleaning (absent damages beyond “normal wear and tear”), why can landlords include provisions that seem to make those charges part of the contract?
In 2013, J.B Van Hollen, the (now-former) Wisconsin Attorney General, offered some insight on this point. The document, available here, focuses on two questions:
- Question: Does routine carpet cleaning at the end of a tenancy fall within the landlord's duty to keep the premises "in a reasonable state of repair" as prescribed in Wis. Stat. 704.07(2)?
- Answer: No. The landlord's statutory duty to keep premises in a "reasonable state of repair" does not encompass routine carpet cleaning.
- Question: Would a provision requiring the tenant to pay for professional carpet cleaning, in the absence of negligence or improper use by the tenant, render a rental agreement void under Wis. Stat. 704.44(8)?
- Answer: No. Because routine carpet cleaning is not a statutorily-imposed obligation of a landlord, assigning this responsibility to a tenant through a contractual provision does not render a rental agreement void.
Per Wisconsin State Law, landlords have an obligation to keep their rental units in a “reasonable state of repair.” Any lease that contains a provision which waives the landlord’s responsibility for maintaining the property is void Wis. Stat. 704.44(8). However, since routine carpet cleaning is not part of the landlord’s obligation to maintain their units, requiring the tenant to pay for routine carpet cleaning is not a waiver of a landlord’s obligation. Because of this, the inclusion of a routine carpet cleaning provision (on its own) likely does not render the lease void and unenforceable.
So, why can’t landlords go ahead and deduct from the security deposit?
Well, as the opinion also notes: "[...] the permissibility of provisions requiring tenants to arrange or pay for carpet cleaning at the termination of their tenancy does not mean that landlords can deduct carpet cleaning charges from the security deposit of a tenant who has failed to comply with such a provision. Under ATCP 134.06(3)(c), landlords are expressly prohibited from withholding security deposits 'for normal wear and tear, or for other damages or losses for which the tenant cannot reasonably be held responsible under applicable law.' The accompanying note cites carpet cleaning as an example of an impermissible basis for withholding a portion of a security deposit. My conclusion that carpet cleaning provisions are valid does not affect the prohibition against deducting carpet cleaning expenses from a tenant's security deposit as a means of enforcing such provisions."
A note in ATCP 134.06(3)(c) makes it clear that even though a landlord is allowed to write a lease saying the tenant has to pay for routine carpet cleaning, they may not take this out of the security deposit. Any carpet cleaning charges they collect in advance must be treated as part of a security deposit, which must be subject to a refund. Deductions cannot include "normal wear and tear." Essentially, a landlord would have to sue a tenant as a separate matter if the tenant did not pay for routine carpet cleaning required by the lease (CR 14-038, Sec. 10).