Gardens can be a bit of a pain for landlords, especially if you discover the tenant hasn’t lifted a finger for five years and the weeds are ten feet high.
Sadly, there is often a fair degree of confusion about who is responsible for what. Tenants assume it’s up to the landlord to take care of things and landlords expect the tenant to do the work. Who’s right?
We got into the weeds of this issue on your behalf, so read on to find out more…
The Benefits of an Attractive Garden
Gardens are a selling point of a property for many tenants. Even if they don’t enjoy the actual work involved in maintaining a nice garden, tenants do enjoy having an outdoor space where they can entertain, their kids or pets can play, and they can soak up some sun on a hot day.
Some outdoor space is highly desirable, as we are discovering while lockdown rumbles on. Even a small patch of sunshine where you can sit with an early morning cup of tea or a late afternoon glass of wine is better than nothing.
Plenty of would-be tenants will actively filter out properties that don’t have a garden. Families with kids and/or pets want an outdoor space and even shared houses benefit from communal backyards and gardens where tenants can hang out their laundry and socialise with housemates.
If you’re considering investing in a rental property, it’s worth paying extra for a house with a garden, even if the garden is relatively small. However, the larger the garden, the more work is involved, especially during the summer months. Make sure you know exactly what tasks fall to you in this regard, or you could end up with a lot of work to do in the future.
Gardens in Long-term Lets vs. Short Term Lets
There are pros and cons to both short-term and long-term tenancies, but if your property has a garden, a long-term tenant is a better option. Why is this?
Well, short-term tenants might enjoy having a garden, but in most cases they won’t stay at the property long enough to warrant them taking care of it. In the case of a holiday let, they definitely won’t want to cut the grass or do a spot of weeding. Nope, it will fall to you to keep the garden looking tidy.
Long-term tenants are more likely to want to create a space they can call home. The garden is an extension of this, so unless they have a strong aversion to gardening, they will probably do the main jobs, such as mowing the lawn and keeping the borders tidy. And, if you’re really blessed, you might end up with a tenant who loves to garden, in which case, you might be lucky enough to find that the garden looks better at the end of the tenancy than it did when you handed over the keys!
Add Garden Clauses to Your Tenancy Agreement
Tenants are expected to abide by whatever is in their tenancy agreement. Mowing lawns and keeping on top of the weeds are often standard clauses in an Assured Shorthold Tenancy (AST) agreement. This is the minimum amount of work required to keep a garden looking reasonable.
Check there is provision for the garden in the tenancy agreement you give to tenants. Otherwise, you could end up without a leg to stand on when the tenant moves out. In addition, ensure your tenant is aware of their responsibilities.
Be specific about what you expect the tenant to do. Blanket clauses stating the garden must be well maintained are useless. For a garden clause to be effective in the event of a dispute with the tenant, their responsibilities must be very clear.
For example, ‘the tenant must cut the grass with an appropriate lawn mower to ensure the grass remains neat and tidy at all times. Furthermore, the tenant is obliged to maintain the borders, keep them weed-free, prune shrubs and bushes, keep the patio and paths weed-free…’, etc. Go into as much detail as possible, to avoid any wilful misunderstandings. Make it abundantly clear that the garden must be kept as it was at the start of the tenancy.
Do you mind if the tenant socialises in their garden, i.e. holds parties and BBQs? It might sound draconian, but some landlords don’t permit social events because of the associated noise and nuisance factor. If the property is in a quiet residential area and your tenants are party animals, it won’t be long before all-night BBQ parties start causing headaches for you and the neighbours. If you want to forbid garden social events, insert a clause in the AST saying so.
Consider whether you are happy to let tenants do what they like to the garden. For example, how would you feel if a tenant laid a new patio or dug up a patch of garden to grow their own veggies? If you’d be very unhappy about changes, include a clause in the AST to forbid changes without the landlord’s consent, such as the removal of plants or alterations to the garden. Tenants may then be responsible for any damages caused by them or their guests – this can extend to garden furniture and equipment, such as planters and greenhouses, etc.
You can also add a clause stating tenants must ask the landlord’s permission before they make improvements, with them bearing the cost of returning the garden to its original condition at the end of the tenancy. This is ideal if you want to allow more leeway but you don’t want sweeping changes to be made to outdoor areas.
Since problems with a garden can sometimes be expensive to fix, you may wish to add in penalty clauses to the AST that stipulate the landlord will withhold a percentage of the deposit if a tenant fails to maintain the garden to the standard set out in the AST. Remember this is only enforceable if the rules you have stipulated are reasonable. If you include a clause in the AST saying that tenants will be held responsible for dead plants, for instance, you’ll find this difficult to enforce, especially if this is the only thing you are claiming a deduction for.
Tenants Garden Responsibilities
In general, tenants are expected to maintain the garden so it looks largely the same when they hand the keys back at the end of their tenancy. Landlords can’t ask a tenant to carry out garden improvements, so if a garden is a scabby patch of weeds and cracked paving, you can’t penalise tenants if it looks the same after three years. Conversely, if the garden is weed-free and the lawn is an oasis of greenery at the start of a tenancy, you should expect it to be in a similar state at the end.
Tenants can usually be made responsible for:
- Mowing the lawn
- Cutting hedges
- Pruning larger bushes and perennials
Landlords Garden Responsibilities
Landlords are responsible for some aspects of garden maintenance, in particular anything that falls under the guise of health and safety. It’s up to you to take care of jobs a tenant can’t reasonably be expected to do safely, such as:
- Pruning trees
- Trimming very tall hedges
- Maintaining additional land belonging to the property
- Repairing/replacing boundary fences/walls
- Repairing/replacing decking, patios, and other aspects of hard landscaping
Since you may not be able to do these jobs yourself, for example, if you don’t live locally or you are a portfolio landlord, it makes sense to hire someone else to do the work. This could be an ad-hoc contractor or a regular gardener. It very much depends on the size and scope of the garden.
Providing Gardening Equipment to Tenants
It makes sense to provide gardening equipment to encourage your tenants to keep the garden maintained. Consider providing a lawnmower and some basic gardening tools, such as a hand trowel and fork, a hoe, a rake, etc. Make sure there is somewhere secure where tenants can store this equipment, i.e. a shed. Remember many tenants will not already have this equipment, it is an investment most tenants only make in long term secure rentals. Similarly providing storage for those tools will ensure they aren’t stored inside the property doing damage to walls and flooring.
If you are paying a gardener to maintain the garden and they are using your equipment, ensure there is a robust lock on any outdoor storage sheds. This will prevent tenants accessing gardening tools and stealing or selling them if you have the kind of tenants you don’t quite trust.
How to Hire a Gardener
There is a good case for hiring a gardener to maintain the garden. Paying a professional handyman or gardener is more cost-effective if you are a portfolio landlord with multiple properties. They can visit once a month and keep the garden tidy, with more regular tasks, such as mowing the lawn, falling to the tenant.
Do a cost-benefit analysis if you’re not sure whether paying a gardener is worth the expense.
- Consider how much work is involved in keeping the garden looking nice – larger gardens will probably benefit from a monthly visit by a gardener
- Can you be bothered to do the work yourself? Do you even have time?
- Are your tenants the types to enjoy gardening? Or do they work long hours or have a young family?
- Do you care if the property’s garden looks attractive or are you handing over a concrete wasteland with a few dandelions thrown in for free?
- Will the neighbours give you a lot of grief if the exterior of the property isn’t maintained to a high standard?
Factor everything in and figure out how much a gardener will cost you. You can expect to pay somewhere in the region of £20/hour for a gardener, so two hours per month will cost you approximately £40.
Depending on how much you enjoy gardening, that will be great value or a total waste of money!
Since a well-maintained garden is a major selling point, particularly in high-end properties, it’s not unreasonable to add the cost of a gardener to the monthly rent.
Offering a Rent Discount for Gardening Duties
If you are lucky enough to find a tenant with green fingers, consider offering them a rent discount if they are happy to do their own gardening, but be clear about what they can and cannot do. For example, planting veggies might be fine, but digging up the entire garden and replacing it with a giant koi carp pond would likely be a step too far.
Provide Low Maintenance Gardens
There’s a lot to be said for low maintenance gardens in rental properties. By this, we mean fewer borders, smaller areas of lawn, and no hedges. You will probably be stuck with whatever the property came with unless you want to renovate the garden, but there are some things you can do to make everyone’s life easier.
- Add weed control membrane to flower beds and cover with a thick layer of woodchip mulch – this will keep weeds to a minimum
- Replace grass with fake turf – modern versions look remarkably natural!
- Ensure patios are professionally installed so weeds don’t pop up between the paving stones
- Decking looks nice but it needs annual maintenance – patios are a better long-term solution for outdoor dining areas
- Plant slow-growing evergreen hedges rather than leylandii that can grow up to a metre each year
Resolving Garden Disputes with Tenants
Garden maintenance, or lack thereof, is a major bone of contention between landlords and tenants at the end of a tenancy. The outcome of any dispute will usually be dictated by what’s in the tenancy agreement, so it’s vital you have a clause that clearly states what the tenant is responsible for in terms of garden maintenance. If there is nothing about gardens in the tenancy agreement, you will not be able to claim for damages.
If a dispute does arise, the adjudicator will want to see evidence of garden deterioration and an estimate from an impartial third-party of what it will cost to put the garden right.
You will need to provide receipts for work carried out prior to the start of the tenancy if you wish to claim for repair or replacement. For example, if the tenant has destroyed an area of decking and it will need replacing, provide a receipt to state how much it cost you to install the decking in the first place, plus an estimate for how much it will cost to replace it now. If you’ve already had the work done, provide an invoice, but make sure the work is proportionate to the actual damage caused, i.e. you can’t claim for a new area of decking that’s twice the size of the original one. You also can’t claim for a replacement if a repair would have been more suitable.
Remember, you can’t claim the tenant caused damage when there is evidence the damage was caused by bad weather. So, if your tenant emails you to say a fence blew over in a storm, don’t turn around three months later and file a dispute stating the tenant wilfully damaged the fence. An adjudicator will see right through your bogus claim.
Protecting Yourself Against Garden Disputes
By taking a few simple steps, you can easily prevent future problems if a tenant fails to take adequate care of the garden.
Include the Garden in the Property Inventory
A neglected garden can cost time and money to fix, so it is important landlords don’t skip due diligence when carrying out inventory checks.
The property inventory should detail the exact condition of all aspects of the garden, front, back, and side, if applicable. Clear, unambiguous dated photographs should be embedded in the inventory report. Ask the tenant to sign the inventory during check-in and check-out to say it’s an accurate record. Ideally, use an independent inventory company to produce your report.
Carry out Regular Garden Inspections
Don’t forget about the garden when you carry out a property inspection. Pay close attention to the state of the lawn and other areas that are often neglected by tenants. Look for signs of pet damage, such as bald patches on the lawn or deep craters in the flowerbeds. If there are any issues, raise them immediately and ask the tenant to sort it out ASAP.
Check Landlord Insurance Covers Gardens
Check what your insurance covers you for when it comes to the garden and make sure you have the cover you need. That way you’ll be covered if anything goes wrong.
If you’re providing gardening equipment in a garden shed you’ll need to see if this is covered as some insurers will class these items as contents. In many cases there will be lower limits and higher excesses for items in the garden or in a shed, so check your cover and adjust accordingly. Theft is usually covered as standard, but if you want to claim because your tenant accidentally broke the lawn mower you may have to buy separate accidental damage cover.
Should you want insurance cover for potential damage to your garden, ensure you have the right level of cover. Accidental damage caused by a tenant can be covered by insurance but is usually an add on and not part of a basic insurance policy. Similarly if you want to protect yourself against malicious damage caused by your tenants you’ll need to add this as a separate level of cover.
Whether or not you or your tenant likes gardening, by now it should be clear that someone needs to take responsibility! Since this is your property, ultimately, the buck stops with you. However, it is reasonable to ask a tenant to do the everyday tasks, such as mowing the lawn, while you handle the big stuff. Be clear at the outset who does what and you should avoid most garden maintenance related issues.
We hope this guide has proven to be useful. Please do let us know if you have any garden horror stories or star tenants who have gone the extra mile to keep their garden looking glorious. Feel free to send us photos! As always, you can contact us on Facebook or Twitter.
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