Ultimate guide to garden maintenance for landlords and tenants - Total Landlord Insurance

March 12, 2024
Ultimate guide to garden maintenance for landlords and tenants - Total Landlord Insurance

Read an interactive and user-friendly version of this guide below.

The first signs of spring are an uplifting sight, and we’re ready to welcome the prospect of some milder weather as we move into the summer months. But this is also the season when weeds spread very quickly, the grass needs mowing regularly, and gardens can suffer if they’re not maintained.

Many tenants will start to make use of their gardens during the spring and summer months, so whether they’d like to make the garden more aesthetically pleasing or are planning to host a social event such as a barbeque, it’s important that your tenants know what they need to do and what the restrictions are when it comes to the garden.

In this guide, we’ll cover all you need to know about garden maintenance in your rental property. From getting the basics right before the tenancy starts and during the tenancy, to landlords’ and tenants’ responsibilities in the garden and how to prevent disputes.

Get your buy to let garden basics right

Before your tenants move in there are a few garden basics to bear in mind, which could reduce the risks of disputes involving garden maintenance during or at the end of the tenancy.

Pick your tenants carefully: If your property has a garden, you might be better focusing on long term tenants, who are more likely to take care of the garden, than short term ones who aren’t going to stay long enough to justify maintaining the garden.

Design a low maintenance garden: Go for slow growing, drought tolerant flowering shrubs and perennials combined with hard landscaping. Aim for a garden that will attract tenants without breaking the bank or needing too much effort to maintain.

Consider outsourcing the garden maintenance: If you have several properties with gardens, it may be cost effective to take on responsibility for the gardening yourself by employing a specialist gardener to take care of the upkeep and including a gardening charge in the rent.

Make sure that any gardening equipment you supply is in a good state of repair and stored in a locked outbuilding or shed: If you decide to provide your tenant with gardening equipment, particularly power tools, make sure it’s in good condition and compliant with current health and safety standards. If you don’t have a Residual Current Device (RCD) built into your fuse box, you should use a plug-in RCD – any socket that may be used to plug in a lawnmower, hedge trimmer or other power tool should have RCD protection.

Tenancy agreement garden maintenance clause

If you don’t want to allow certain activities in the garden, or have any other specific expectations, it's important to include a garden maintenance clause in the rental agreement and agree this with the tenant before they sign it.

Tenants are expected to keep to the terms in their tenancy agreement that they agreed before they moved into the property. The minimum that is generally expected of the tenant throughout the tenancy is that they keep the garden litter-free, reasonably tidy, and not overgrown. The tenant would generally be expected to mow the lawn regularly (and water it during dry spells) and keep on top of weeding. This will usually be a standard clause in a tenancy agreement, but it’s a good idea to make sure that the tenancy agreement specifically defines both the landlord’s and the tenant’s’ responsibilities.

“If the garden is not referred to in the tenancy agreement, it is implied that a tenant is responsible for returning the garden, as well as the rest of the property, in the same condition as it was when they moved in, allowing for some seasonal growth.

Putting a crystal-clear garden maintenance clause in the agreement will make it much easier to negotiate with the tenant as the tenant’s responsibilities can be pointed out. Problems can, and do, result from unclear terms in the tenancy agreement on exactly what the tenant is expected to do to maintain the garden.

When clauses are unclear, people can have very different perspectives on what they mean. If the clause is clear, any negotiation for costs can be specific on what areas the tenant was responsible for and has not returned in the reasonable condition they should have.”

Suzy Hershman, Resolution Department Lead at mydeposits

A good tenancy agreement garden maintenance clause will:

  • clearly lay out how any borders, lawn or paved areas should be looked after during the tenancy
  • define that the garden should be in the same condition at the end of the tenancy as it was at the start, allowing for seasonal changes
  • make it clear that the tenant can’t alter the garden in any way without the landlord’s consent

Taking the time to make sure responsibilities for garden maintenance are clear at the outset of a tenancy can save time and reduce the chances of a dispute in the future. For more information on tenancy agreements, read mydeposits guide to what to include in your rental agreement.

Include the garden in the inventory, check-in and check-out reports

If there’s a dispute over garden maintenance, an adjudicator will review the evidence, in particular the inventory, check-in and check-out reports, to compare the condition of the garden at the end of the tenancy to how it was at the beginning.

It’s important to make sure you prepare a solid inventory and check-in report at the beginning of the tenancy in case it’s needed later.

Five check-in and check-out tips for rental property gardens:

  • Take an inventory at the start of the tenancy which details the exact condition of each area of the garden. Check-in reports should always give clear descriptions and be supported by good quality photographs which will be the basis for any future discussions
  • Check-out descriptions should be detailed, and photographs should be taken from the same angle as they were in the check-in report, so a clear comparison can be made
  • Make sure that the tenant is present at check-in and check-out if possible. If this isn’t possible, you should be able to demonstrate that they received the reports as soon as they were available and had the opportunity to comment. The tenant should sign both reports as evidence of their consent
  • Be sure to take into account the seasonal time of year the tenant moved in, and ‘seasonal growth’, as conditions of gardens differ and any deterioration between check-in and check-out may be due to seasonal changes rather than neglect by the tenant
  • Take into account reasonable wear and tear, which will apply to the fixtures and features in the garden such as fencing, sheds, paving and gates

What are the tenant’s responsibilities for garden maintenance?

Because the tenant is generally only responsible for returning the garden in the same state that it was in when they moved into the property, a landlord can’t expect a tenant to carry out improvements to the garden if it was already in a mess.

In addition, tenants can’t be expected to perform tasks that require expertise. For example, a landlord can’t penalise a tenant for failing to prune a tall tree – it would be the landlord’s responsibility to make the relevant arrangements for this.

Basic upkeep of the garden is usually a tenant’s responsibility, but as mentioned, it’s a good idea to list out specifically which parts of the garden the tenant is responsible for in a garden maintenance clause of the tenancy agreement. These will generally include mowing the lawn, keeping flower beds and paths weed-free, maintaining any low growing shrubs and disposing of any rubbish.

Social events in the garden (such as barbecues) are permitted unless otherwise stated in the tenancy agreement. If, as the landlord, you don’t want to allow these activities, it's important to include a clause in the rental agreement before the tenant signs it. It's also worth mentioning here that tenants are responsible for any noise and nuisance or damage to the property caused by themselves or their guests.

If the tenant wishes to change the garden in any way (even if this means making improvements), they are required by law to get the landlord’s approval beforehand – this also includes planting their own garden. If they don’t do this, the landlord can charge the tenant the cost of returning the garden to its original state.

In a recent mydeposits case study involving a garden outbuilding that was erected without permission, the adjudicator considered the amount of work needed to take the building down and dispose of it, so that the garden would be returned to its original condition. The landlord’s quote for £1,800.00 to carry out the work was found to be reasonable and proportionate so was awarded in full.

What are the landlord’s responsibilities for maintaining the garden?

Landlords are responsible for maintaining any areas of the garden which it would be unreasonable to expect the tenant to look after – this usually includes maintaining trees, large shrubs and climbing plants - to make sure that they’re safe. Reasonableness must be applied when it comes to larger maintenance jobs that may require a professional and would fall under the landlord’s responsibility. It’s a good idea for landlords to carry out these tasks annually, before winter, to make sure the garden doesn’t get out of hand. Some climbers, such as wisteria and ivy, grow very quickly from springtime onwards so need to be kept under control.

“From the landlord insurance point of view, keeping large shrubs and trees under control has two benefits. Firstly, since trees and shrubs send their roots out in search of moisture, keeping them to a neat and sensible size prevents them from sucking up larger amounts of extra moisture in warmer weather, which could reduce the risk of subsidence related issues as the soil is less likely to dry out.

Secondly, keeping garden hedges, bushes and trees under control can deter potential intruders looking for a place to hide or getting close enough to the property to see if it’s worth breaking-in.”

Steve Barnes, Head of Broking, Total Landlord

It’s also the landlord’s responsibility to make sure that action is taken if the tenant reports an issue which isn’t their fault.

It’s not uncommon for portfolio landlords to hire a full-time gardener to maintain all their properties. This cost can be applied to a tenant’s monthly rent if they have previously agreed to this. But if it states in the tenancy agreement that the landlord will provide a gardener, they are then obliged to do so for the length of the tenancy.

How to prevent garden disputes with tenants

Although garden disputes with tenants increase slightly during the summer months, often any issues can be dealt with through good communication between landlord and tenant and taking the following steps during the tenancy:

1.Carry out regular periodic property inspections: This will enable you to assess the condition of the garden and spot any issues early, reducing the extent and cost of any damage. Even if you have a great tenant, routine inspections can help prevent problems from escalating at a later stage. Inspections also indicate to your tenant that you care about the property and expect it to be returned in good condition. Ideally, your tenant should be present during inspections so that they are made aware of any issues as they crop up, and they have the opportunity to raise any concerns with you. You must provide at least 48 hours’ notice before carrying out an inspection.

Make sure all quotes and invoices detail the exact work carried out: If any work needs to be done keeping the evidence will help with negotiating costs at the end of the tenancy if needed, and if necessary, help an adjudicator make a fair decision on what is reasonable.

Take a deposit from the tenant before the tenancy begins: This can be used to recover some of the costs if needed, due to damage or neglect of the garden by the tenant.

Take out landlord insurance: Landlords should also have an adequate buildings insurance policy in place that covers malicious and accidental damage by tenants and their guests, such as Total Landlord’s Premier cover, which also includes as standard damage to landscaped gardens by emergency services and damage to landlords’ gardening equipment in outbuildings (provided it is locked away)

“Fences and gates should be maintained to a good and secure standard and locks should be fully working and replaced if broken to keep gardens secure. You can also create an effective barrier to deter intruders by strategically planting thorny, dense or spiky shrubs and hedging.”

Steve Barnes, Head of Broking, Total Landlord

Share our top tips with your tenants: You can get off to a good start by sharing our top tips for tenants, perhaps including them in a tenant welcome pack

Garden tips for tenants

1. Make sure that you are present at check in and check out and that you agree with the content of the check-in report relating to the garden at the start of the tenancy and the check-out report at the end of the tenancy before signing them

2. Read the tenancy agreement thoroughly and make sure that you understand any garden maintenance implications before signing it. If in doubt seek clarification from the landlord

3. Check with the landlord (in writing) before carrying out any alterations to the garden – alterations would require the landlord’s consent

4. If you have any concerns about the garden, raise them with the landlord rather than attempting to rectify them yourself

5. Be open to inspections by the landlord, who should provide at least 48 hours’ notice before carrying out an inspection. Inspections are an opportunity for you to raise any concerns about the garden with your landlord before they escalate

6. You will be required to return the garden in the state it was at the beginning of the tenancy, so get into the habit of carrying out regular maintenance on the garden so that problems don’t escalate. Mow the lawn once a fortnight during summer and weed little and often

A good landlord-tenant relationship is based on cooperation and communication throughout the tenancy. Attract good tenants, get the tenancy agreement right and make sure that you prepare a solid inventory, check-in and check-out report. But don’t forget to carry out regular inspections during the tenancy, and keep channels of communication between you and your tenants open so that any issues can be addressed before they escalate.

Responsibility for the garden maintenance in a rental property can cause confusion for both landlords and tenants, so it's not surprising that gardens are a common cause of dispute between tenant and landlord, particularly during the spring and summer months. For an expert insight into how tenancy deposit protection specialists, mydeposits, approach claims involving gardens, check out their article on how to claim for garden maintenance and their case study involving garden maintenance.

How you manage your rental property garden is important, not only because it’s a common cause of dispute between tenants and landlords, but also because keeping your property looking good is in your interests. A neglected garden ruins the kerb appeal of your property and can be expensive and time-consuming to rectify. Follow the advice in this guide to be sure you’re doing all you can to reduce your risks and make sure your tenants can enjoy their garden this summer.

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