The ‘live in’ look


By Marianne Delorey, Ph.D., Executive Director, Colony Retirement Homes 

Marianne Delorey, Ph.D.

My 13-year-old son suggested I write an article about cleanliness.  I wonder if it was an attempt to get me to back off on my prompting for him to clean his room (because it IS clean, Mom *eye roll*).  But I also thought it was timely because about now people are starting to think about spring cleaning.

When you have lived your life by your own standards, but then you move into an apartment, why do your standards have to change?  Why does your landlord have the right to tell you to clean your apartment?

The answer is pretty simple.  In multifamily housing, what affects one apartment often affects another, so many cleanliness issues can become the neighbor’s issues.  There are also legal reasons you should listen to your landlord. Most leases do have sections requiring the apartment be kept in “a clean and sanitary condition.”  There are also laws in Massachusetts, the most important of which is the State Sanitary Code. This code covers a lot of topics, most of which are not about cleanliness, so here is my summary of the relevant parts.  

The landlord is responsible for providing a place that meets minimum standards.  The tenant cannot jeopardize those standards. For instance, there must not be holes in the wall that harbor pests.  Tenants must not accumulate garbage that draws pests. If pests become an issue, they need to work together to solve the problem.

As a landlord, my definition of acceptable is “clean and clutter free, such that there are no odors, no pests, and you can easily move around the apartment and out the doors.”

Of course, my history affects how I see the world and one of my bigger concerns is clutter.  I am the daughter of a firefighter. When I talk to people about clutter, I appeal to their duty to care for our first responders.  To me this means seeing their apartment through their eyes.

You were just called to a fire.  Someone might be inside. You put on 40 pounds of protective equipment, making some passageways a tight fit.  You try to follow the wall, but there is so much furniture. You keep tripping because there is so much stuff in the way.  Are you going to stay in there any longer than you have to? You found someone, how can you carry them out through the clutter?

The state sanitary code backs these concerns, but I find that many people need something more concrete than, “keep egresses clear.”  For people who need something more concrete, here are my standards:

  1. No storage (not even temporary) on stairs or behind doors.
  2. No storage where items do not typically belong (no papers in oven, no clothes in tub, and yes, I have seen them both).
  3. No overloading outlets or cords across the floor (many people who have large furniture will overload the most accessible outlet and have extension cords around their apartment to that outlet).
  4. Stuff must not be piled higher than 3 feet.
  5. A pathway must be clear from each entrance and through each room in the apartment.  The pathway must be as wide as a doorway.  

Most residents keep their apartments very tidy. As a landlord, I do not care about dust or when the windows were last washed.  I do care about the safety of my residents and about the first responders who take care of them. Ok, so my son was right. He does not have piles of junk impeding egress or pests.  His room sometimes smells like 13-year-old boy, but if that is the worst I can say, maybe I need to look from his perspective. That might hurt, though, because I think he strained his eyes from rolling them at me.

Marianne Delorey, Ph.D. is the executive director of Colony Retirement Homes.  She can be reached at 508-755-0444 or and