The Great Yardwork Debate: Who’s Responsible at a Home Rental?
Author: Tiffani Wroe
There’s no question that homeowners are responsible for performing (or paying for) maintenance on their yards to keep them healthy and attractive—but what about landlords of rental homes? Unless you own a rental property where an HOA pays for yard care, you need to take care of the details of yardwork responsibilities before your tenants move in. If not, you could be dealing with a dead, ugly landscape in no time.
On the one hand, your tenant lives in the space, so just as they are responsible for keeping the property clean, you might expect them to be responsible for yard maintenance. However, tenants see the yard as requiring specialized care, like when they request repairs to the roof or plumbing. If you don’t establish ahead of time who will care for the yard, neither you or your tenant will act, and your yard will quickly descend into chaos. Here are a few smarter approaches to the yardwork debate, so you and your tenants enjoy a healthy lawn.
Table of Contents:
1. Self-Service Yard Care
This agreement states that the tenant is fully responsible for all aspects of yard care. That means tenants will need to properly care for the lawn and trees, take care of any weeds and perhaps even perform pest control if pests are affecting the yard’s health. You can either provide necessary yard care tools to your tenants (like a lawn mower and clippers stored in a backyard shed), or you can demand that tenants provide their own yard care tools. This latter option might require you to drop rent prices because it’s unlikely that many renters are willing or able to purchase major yard care equipment.
Self-service yard care clauses are rare. This means that if you include a self-service yard care clause in the rental agreement, it’s imperative that you point this out to tenants, so they are aware of their responsibilities. Even after doing this, you might end up with an overgrown or dead yard, but thanks to your written clause, you can seek penalties from your tenants for their negligence.
Then again, you might also be fined by your municipality if your city or neighborhood imposes standards for yard care. It is due to the risk involved that few landlords opt for self-service agreements; if you don’t want to endanger your rental property’s landscaping, you shouldn’t choose the self-service yard care option.
2. Full-Service Yard Care
A much safer choice—albeit a more expensive one—is to assume the responsibility of yard care yourself. A full-service lawn care agreement compels you to care for the yard, usually by hiring yard care professionals to visit on a regular schedule. The type and frequency of care will depend mainly on the rental property’s landscaping.
For example, one of my properties is surrounded entirely by grass, so I searched for a lawn service near me, took their advice for scheduling of services and that was that. However, if you have a number of large trees or fast-growing shrubs, or if your property is subject to flooding or seasonal snows, you might need a more complicated schedule of yard care.
Because more intricately landscaped yards require more intensive yard care services, some landlords endeavor to eliminate much of their landscaping to cut costs. Depending on how you execute it, this idea can have merits. For example, if your attempt to reduce yard care compels you to install native flora, you are helping the environment while reducing your yard-related costs.
Xeriscaping, the trend of landscaping to reduce water use, also has its benefits because it means you might not have to pay for water utilities for your tenants if you aren’t wasting water on the yard. However, you should avoid the temptation to Zeroscape, or eliminate your landscaping entirely leaving only bare dirt or rock behind. This act will devalue your property, discouraging reliable tenants from seeking any agreement with you. Instead, you should find a happy medium between reducing your yard care responsibilities and maintaining an attractive and functional yard for tenants.
A full-service agreement is more advantageous than self-service for a variety of reasons. Primarily, you can be confident that licensed professionals are performing the care your yard needs to look good and stay healthy. If they somehow neglect service, they have business guarantees you can take advantage of to get your yard back in shape.
Plus, because you are paying for yard care and giving your tenants a stress-free landscape, you can charge more in rent. This will also attract the best possible tenants to your property, reducing the work you need to do to turn a profit.
For a little bit of this and a little bit of that, you can craft an à la carte agreement with your tenants. This divvies up the responsibilities of yard care between you, so you don’t have to pay a professional price for every little service, and your tenants can enjoy a decrease in their monthly rent.
Typically, agreements like this give daily or weekly responsibilities to tenants. Your tenants might be required to water the yard, mow the lawn or clean the pool. Meanwhile, landlords are tasked with a larger, less regular yard care projects, like tree trimming, lawn fertilizing and pre-emergent weed control.
It’s possible to divide the yard care tasks without your tenant’s input, but this could result in improper care, as often occurs in self-service agreements. It’s better to be flexible and have a discussion with your potential tenants to glean what yard jobs they are capable of and comfortable with performing. Then, you should list these in the rental contract, noting that if tenants fail to complete these yard duties, penalties will be incurred.
As with the self-service agreement, it’s important that you discuss with your tenants what penalties could ensue as a result of their yard negligence, so they might feel more compelled to perform yard care and keep your landscaping healthy and nice.
4. Local Legal Considerations
Before you decide what type of yard care agreement you want to impose on your properties, you might want to spend an hour or two researching your local regulations. In some municipalities, landlords or property managers are required to care for the exterior of the property, just as in some areas they are required to perform all maintenance for the electrical and plumbing systems.
If your properties exist in a region where these laws are in effect, you don’t have a choice — you have to opt for full-service agreements. Meanwhile, some states do not have strict requirements for full-service agreements but rather require landlords to make plain what duties tenants hold regarding to exterior maintenance.
Finally, in still other locations, governments compel landlords to provide fair compensation to tenants who perform certain types of chores, including yard work. Minnesota’s landlord-tenant law provides a good example of this latter case. Because regulations surrounding property management can be strict, it pays to look into your local laws before deciding on the yard care agreement.
Yard care is a vital component of property maintenance—but is it something you need to worry about and pay for? You’ll need to consider your properties, your tenants and your local laws and regulations to find out.