Is a Tenant Responsible For Garden Maintenance?
Landlord and Tenant Disputes and Deposits
One thing that COVID-19 has taught us, particularly in London, is the value of outdoor space. Estate agents say that people are selling up in London to buy in the country and those that continue to rent in London are now putting a garden, however small, on their list of priorities, when selecting a property to rent. A garden is a living thing and needs upkeep. Too much upkeep or too little can result in landlord and tenant disputes over who is responsible for the maintenance of the garden and deposit disputes. In this article, Nollienne Alparaque, head of the landlord and tenant team at OTS Solicitors tackles the thorny topic of landlord and tenant disputes over gardens.
UK Online and London Based Landlord and Tenant Solicitors
In Nollienne Alparaque’s experience tenancy agreement garden disputes fall into three main categories:
- Anti-social behaviour by tenants – normally this consists of late-night garden parties that annoy neighbouring property owners and tenants who in turn complain to the landlord. The other hot topic of complaint is trampolines and slides placed close to neighbour’s patios.
- Garden changes – beauty is in the eye of the beholder and that saying is equally true for gardens. A landlord may have spent years growing a tree or shrub knowing that the privacy created adds value to the property when they come to sell up. A landlord may have carefully cultivated a lawn only to find at the end of the assured shorthold tenancy agreement that it is beyond salvage because an artificial lawn has been placed over the top by the tenant as they didn’t want to mow the lawn.
- Garden maintenance – at the end of an assured shorthold tenancy agreement a landlord may be shocked by the state of the garden, especially knowing the cost of replacing shrubs or damaged fencing panels. Equally, the tenant may feel aggrieved because they think that the landlord should have paid for garden maintenance and lawn mowing on a weekly basis to keep the garden looking as good as the garden did when they entered the assured shorthold tenancy agreement.
It is estimated that garden disputes make up nearly a quarter of all tenancy agreement deposit disputes so it is important that both landlords and tenants know how best to avoid them and what to do if they are unfortunate enough to face a garden deposit dispute.
Top tips on avoiding landlord and tenant garden deposit disputes
Our top tips on avoiding landlord and tenant garden deposit disputes include:
- Checking the tenancy agreement is right for the property – if the property has a garden does the tenancy agreement say who is responsible for the upkeep? Is upkeep defined?
- Defining garden upkeep – if you don’t want your tenant to redesign the garden or to take out established trees or shrubs it is best to make this clear.
- Who is responsible for what- a landlord can agree to be responsible for all garden maintenance or a tenant can take full responsibility or it can be shared. Many people have very different views on garden maintenance with some seeing twice weekly lawn mowing as the norm whilst other see getting the lawn mower out and using it every six months as sufficient garden upkeep. If garden maintenance is to be shared it is vital to say who is responsible for what aspects of garden upkeep, for example, tree pruning, hedge trimming and the jet washing of patios and drives. Normally an assured shorthold tenancy agreement will confine or limit a tenant’s garden responsibility to routine upkeep such as weeding or mowing the lawn.
- What is in the garden – a landlord should make an inventory of what is in the house as well as the garden as the cost of replacing garden furniture or a shed or planters can eat into profits. If a landlord rents their property with an intricate Japanese garden and the tenant takes it up to lay artificial lawn then the tenant could be responsible for putting the garden back in the same condition as they found it when they signed their assured shorthold tenancy agreement. It can help if a landlord and tenant take photographs or a video of the state of the garden at the outset of the tenancy agreement. That way there can be no dispute over the state of fence panels or gate when the tenant and their family moved into the property. Normal wear and tear is to be expected but not teenagers kicking fence panels or dogs damaging gates in their attempts to escape the garden.
- Inspect the garden – an assured shorthold tenancy agreement will normally include an inspection term. During an inspection a landlord or letting agent needs to look at the garden as well as the interior of the property and record the state of the garden and raise any issues at the time.
- Be realistic – a tenant can't expect a garden to remain in a pristine condition without maintenance and a landlord has to accept that plants will die as not all tenants will lavish care and attention on them. However, a tenant can't expect to be able to erect a shed for their bikes or dig out the lawn for an inset trampoline without first getting their landlord’s agreement or without being willing to put the garden back to how they found it at the start of the assured shorthold tenancy agreement.
- Anti- social behaviour – it should go without saying but anti-social behaviour extends to the tenant’s use of the garden. Whilst barbeques and parties are to be expected it is all a question of degree and respect for the neighbours.
- Start as you mean to go on – if a landlord is letting out a property with a garden it is important to spend as much time on the garden as the house in making sure that it is safe and fit for purpose. For example, relaying uneven flagging or repairing a broken garden gate lock.
Resolving assured shorthold tenancy garden deposit disputes
The key to resolving assured shorthold tenancy garden deposit disputes is to look at what the assured shorthold tenancy agreement says about responsibility for the garden. It pays to make sure that the tenancy agreement is specific to your property and garden so you say, for example, that the tenant is not to prune the tree or specific large shrubs or that the tenant is not to place children play equipment in the garden or a section of it that is close to a neighbour’s patio or their conservatory.
If there is a deposit dispute then not only does the assured shorthold tenancy need to be very clear , you also need evidence (such as before and after pictures or video) as well as evidence of the cost of the repair. If a fence panel was damaged but it was ten years old then that will be factored in. If the fence panels were new at the start of the tenancy agreement, then keep the receipts.
Gardens are expensive but they add to the property and rental value. That is why it is best that your tenancy agreement is specific to your property so both landlord and tenant are clear on their lines of responsibility and therefore hopefully avoid a garden maintenance related deposit dispute.
UK Online and London Based Landlord and Tenant Solicitors