Q. My tenant wants to do the yard work in exchange for a decrease in his rent. I’m afraid the tenant won’t do a good job and don’t know if this is a good idea or not. What do I need to consider before letting the tenant do the yard work?
A. Many tenants enjoy doing the yard work and will do a good job, but there are some tenants who only will do the work when they receive notices from the community association, or the owner in the case of a single family home. You might allow this for a conditional period. Let the tenant know that, if they do not maintain the yard to your satisfaction, you will hire a professional yard maintenance service and charge the tenant a monthly cost plus any costs to repair or replace any damages caused by their negligence. Make sure this is written into the rental agreement and take pictures of the yard before the tenant moves in to prove any damages afterwards. Remember that you still need to declare, for tax purposes, the fair market value of the yard work done in lieu of rent.
There are many different interpretations of proper yard maintenance. It may mean mowing every third week to you and once every 6 months to the tenant. Describe everything that you expect your tenant to do in order to maintain the yard in a written and agreed upon “scope of work.” And as importantly, it may be a good idea to pass this “scope of work” by a licensed professional landscaping company to get an estimate of what it will cost to do the work. This way, you can fairly base the rent abatement on what it would otherwise cost the owner to maintain the yard and avoid any disputes or litigation because of it.
Make sure that the tenant has renter’s insurance that covers them and you for any damages caused by their negligence; it is a good idea to have them list you, your company and the owner as “additional insured” on the policy and maintain a file for the policy or the Certificate of Insurance. Lawn mowers and weed eaters can kick up small rocks that can damage windows or hurt people walking by.
Your rental agreement should indicate how often your tenant should mow the lawn, including the area bordering the sidewalks. Typically, you would require that the yard be mowed at least once a month and more frequently during the spring. The rental agreement should also indicate if the tenant is to edge, weed the flower beds, trim shrubs and fertilize the lawn, and state how frequently they should do it. The tenant is also responsible to rake up leaves in their yard, even if it comes from a neighboring house. They can trim any plant that encroaches onto your property, with your permission, but cannot go into some-
one else’s yard to do so, nor should they cut tree limbs beyond the property line. Also state that the tenant needs to properly dispose of yard trimmings in the green waste container.
Do not allow your tenant to trim trees or shrubs that are so high that the tenant must use a ladder to do so. Hire an insured professional to do that type of work. If the tenant has to maintain smaller shrubs, you can indicate the height or shape that should be maintained, but be reasonable. Tenants should not be expected to do complicated or overly time-consuming yard maintenance. Plants, shrubs and tree branches should not be allowed to touch the house, to avoid easy access for insects and termites, as well as damage to roofing and siding. The rental agreement should forbid the planting of trees or other plants without the landlord’s prior written consent. Some plants might be very difficult to remove in the future or cause a security problem or structural damage because of root growth.
Watering the lawn is another item that should be discussed in the rental agreement. Let the tenant know when to water, for how long and how often. Even if there is a sprinkler system, the tenant should be responsible for watering, by hand, those areas not reached by the sprinklers. Be sure to explain the sprinkler system and timers, if any, to the tenant.
The landlord is responsible for diseased trees or shrubs. Trees especially should be inspected periodically by the landlord or a professional. The landlord is also responsible for repairs to the sprinkler system, unless it is caused by the tenant’s negligence.
Lawns sometimes die, even with the tenant’s best efforts, so be reasonable in your demands. However, if the tenant does a poor job in maintaining the yard, you can write a 10 day notice to comply. If the tenant does not comply, hire a professional landscape maintenance company to prevent further problems. This is not a violation that typically merits an eviction.
Hiring a professional landscape maintenance company might be an easier way to make sure that the job is being done correctly. A competent company will mow your lawn monthly, or as you indicate, and can determine if other work needs to be done periodically, such as trimming the shrubs and trees. They will also be able to notify you if the lawn is not being watered adequately or being overwatered. Make sure that the company is insured and has a general excise license.