Dirtiest Landlord Jobs

There are many jobs in our great Commonwealth where you get to show up at 9am, leave at 5pm, and sit in a comfortable chair while staying perfectly clean.  Landlording is not one of them.  Even if your business grows into the range of 200+ units, you might still sometimes need to get your hands dirty.  Here's a list of my top ten dirtiest landlord jobs and how to deal with them.

Dirty Landlord Job #10: Mow the Lawn

Is mowing the lawn so bad?  Not really, but the memory of once vaporizing undetected dog droppings with the mower makes me especially wary.  The best way to have a clean mow is to conduct a pre-mow sweep.  With a plastic bag, quickly conduct a walking tour of the areas most exposed to dog or cat attacks.  Should you find any land mines, use the plastic bag as a glove to pick up the droppings, then invert the bag and throw it away.

This approach has the advantage of turning up tenant toys or other articles that your customers would be sorry to have chopped to pieces.

Tools for easier cleanup:

  • Plastic grocery bag

Dirty Landlord Job #9: Repair a Wall

Masonry crack in need of repair, a dirty landlord job

Small amounts of masonry can be performed cleanly.  Large amounts will generate dust and dirty wet smears.  When you empty out the cement mix into a bucket, you can expect half the dust that flies out to be sucked into your lungs.

Tools for easier cleanup:

  • Dust mask
  • Washable work clothes
  • Latex or vinyl gloves

Dirty Landlord Job #8: Painting

Every home owner and a good many apartment renters know what it's like to paint.  Ever watch a pro do it?  There's a technique that reduces splatters and minimizes clean-up time.

Using a chisel or angle point brush, feather the tips of the brush against any edges being painted.  Don't use masking tape; it costs money and doesn't leave an edge as nice as a well feathered brush.  Watch this YouTube video for professional paint technique (the feathering demonstration happens at 4:05).

Make sure to use an appropriate amount of paint on the brush.  If you move the brush moderately quickly, paint should not stream out of the bristles.

For walls, a 5 gallon bucket with a hanging roller screen should be considered essential.  This lets you get the rollers evenly coated with paint and then press out the excess, leaving you free to maneuver with a minimal of floor covering.

Tools for easier cleanup:

  • Chisel point brush (typically, 2 1/2" for most interior work)
  • 5 gallon bucket
  • Hanging roller screen

Dirty Landlord Job #7: Gutter Drywells

Gutter drywells, a dirty landlord jobGutter drywells allow the drainage from your roof to go safely underground.  This is especially helpful to reduce winter pavement maintenance: if it's not flowing over walkways, no one can slip on it.

Digging the drywells is an extremely dirty job.  If you have to cut through pavement, you need a diamond-tipped circular saw blade.  When you get to digging through dirt, you want good boots and work pants.

Patching the pavement or the grass is easier if you remove these top layers in square chunks and set them aside to replace later.  Don't wreck these if you can help it.

Tools for easier cleanup:

  • Diamond-tipped circular saw blade
  • Square shovel for grass
  • Work books and pants

Dirty Landlord Job #6: Cleaning a Vacant Unit

It's bad enough when you look at your own bathroom and realize it needs to be cleaned.  No one wants to look at someone else's toilet and realize that it falls to you to clean it.

It's amazing to me how many folks operate without a good pair of gloves.  Vinyl or latex gloves can be purchased online or in typical box stores (Target, Walmart) and pharmacies (CVS, Walgreens).  Usually these are sold next to band-aids.

Remember that the best defense against left-behind filth is a security deposit and a set of move-out instructions that itemize cleaning charges if the apartment is not left spic-and-span.

Tools for easier cleanup:

  • Gloves
  • Security deposit
  • Move-out checklist

Dirty Landlord Job #5: Patching Mouse Holes

Patching mouse holes is a dirty landlord jobIf you've hired an exterminator, you'll know that mice get through the tiniest of holes.  They typically crawl along heating pipes through holes cut for plumbing and wiring.

To stop mouse movement, you need to seal the holes with steel wool and Pur Black foam.

The steel wool job will get you dusty because you'll have to crawl into all the forgotten corners of each room.  Wear thick gloves to reduce scratching your hands on heating elements.  Cut the wool into right-sized pieces with tin snips while holding both inside a plastic bag; that way all the snipped shards are captured.

If you decide to foam for added endurance, Great Stuff is easier to use but also easier to eat through than Pur Black.  In either case, you'll want a scrap piece of cardboard to catch drippings and several pairs of good vinyl or latex gloves.

Tools for easier cleanup:

  • Steel wool
  • Tin snips
  • Plastic grocery bag
  • Vinyl gloves
  • Scrap cardboard

Dirty Landlord Job #4: Renovating Near Lead Paint

Remember that deleading requires special credentials and an enormous amount of safety precautions.  Deleading is a separate set of articles.

If you're qualified, have given EPA notice to the tenants, and are ready to renovate around or near lead paint, you want to mask off the area with floor to ceiling plastic and gaffer's tape.  Gaffer's tape is available at hardware stores and leaves no residue.  The plastic prevents accidental dust from floating into living spaces and settling.

Any time you tear into a wall, you should take care to disturb the paint as little as possible, in case it may be lead.  A properly fitted respirator can reduce accidental exposure.  Clean your tools afterward in case they were accidentally dusted.

Tools for easier cleanup:

  • Sheet plastic
  • Gaffer's tape
  • Respirator
  • Soap and water

Remember: do not renovate for the sake of removing lead without first being credentialed.

Dirty Landlord Job #3: Replace a Cast Iron Drain Pipe

Cracked cast iron drains are dirty landlord jobsOdds are good that your old cast iron drain will give way, and when it does, it will be partially inaccessible.  You might need a chain cutter to snap the pipe.  Don't be like my plumber: wear gloves, a mask, and safety glasses.  Otherwise all that rust and fecal matter are going to get chipped up onto your face and hands.  You could get sick!

Tools for easier cleanup:

  • Vinyl or latex gloves
  • Respirator
  • Safety glasses

Dirty Landlord Job #2: Replace a Toilet

This sounds awful but if you follow these steps, it's not so bad.

You want to put on your trusty vinyl gloves.  Have two trash bags opened up flat on the floor side by side.

Shut off the water and flush the tank.  Hold the lever down to drain out as much as possible.  Use a large sponge and a bucket to absorb the water out of the tank.  Repeat this for the bowl.  Take off and throw away your gloves into the first of the two trash bags.

When you remove the toilet, place it into the second of the open trash bags.  If there's any dirty wax ring stuck to it, you've captured it in the bag.

Tools for easier cleanup:

  • Large sponge
  • Bucket
  • Vinyl or latex gloves
  • Two trash bags

Dirty Landlord Job #1: Clean a Drum Trap from Below

Cleaning this style of drum trap is the dirtiest of all landlord jobsMost of you won't know this horror.  If your house is like mine, though, you have old ABS plumbing and a drum trap running tight up under the bathroom floor.  The only access to the drum trap is from below, so the trap has been installed with the clean-out facing downward.

You must assume that when you loosen that trap clean-out, all of Satan's minions will fly out toward you and in every direction all at once.  There simply is no preventing it.

Line the floor and walls with sheet plastic.  Use a wire coat hanger to suspend a large bucket as close around the trap as possible while still allowing your arm to reach the outlet.  Put on all the dirty clothes from jobs 2 through 10 above, especially gloves, respirator, and goggles.

Message the upstairs tenants to remind them that under no circumstances may they use the shower or other plumbing for the next hour.

Climb up the ladder to reach the trap.  Take a deep breath and hold it.  Unscrew.  Good luck!

Tools for easier cleanup:

  • Sheet plastic
  • Wire coat hanger
  • Bucket
  • Vinyl or latex gloves
  • Respirator
  • Goggles

Bonus Tip:

If you have to unclog a garbage disposal, you can make great progress with a pair of tongs and a flashlight.

So that's the list!  What do you think, do these jobs sound less dirty now?