Who is responsible for the garden maintenance of a rented property?

After what felt like a very long winter, we are more than ready to bid it farewell and happy to welcome in spring and the prospect of some milder weather at last. And with the signs of spring all around us, this is the season when many tenants will be looking to start making more use of their gardens.

Whether your tenants would like to make the garden more aesthetically pleasing or are planning to host a social event such as a BBQ, it is important that tenants are aware of what they are permitted to do and what restrictions exist in relation to the use and maintenance of the garden in a rented property.

When it comes to defining their specific rights and responsibilities, identifying who is responsible for the garden maintenance of a rented property can cause confusion for both landlords and tenants. Subsequently, garden maintenance is a common cause of dispute between tenant and landlord. For an expert insight into how tenancy deposits protection specialists mydeposits approach claims for garden maintenance, check out their Dispute Insight on ‘How to claim for garden maintenance’ here.

Taking the time to clarify responsibilities for garden maintenance at the outset of a tenancy can save time and reduce the likelihood of a dispute further down the line. For example, what can and can’t be done to the garden by the tenant? What is the minimum (if anything) that the landlord is expected to do? What is the tenant required to do? How can landlords protect themselves against damage/neglect by the tenant?

What is expected of the tenant when it comes to garden maintenance?

Firstly, a tenant is expected to abide by the terms in the Assured Shorthold Tenancy (AST) agreement that were agreed prior to them moving 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 – for example the tenant would be expected to mow the lawn regularly and keep on top of weeding. This will usually be a standard clause in an AST agreement.

The tenant is generally only responsible for returning the garden in the same state that it was in when they moved into the property. This means that a landlord cannot expect a tenant to carry out improvements to the garden if it was already in a mess.

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

Social events in the garden (such as BBQs) are permitted unless otherwise stated in the AST agreement. Therefore, if a landlord wishes to forbid such activities, it is important to include a clause in the AST agreement prior to the tenant signing. It is also worth noting 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 making improvements), they are required by law to gain the landlord’s approval beforehand – this also includes planting their own garden. Failure to do so could allow the landlord to charge the tenant the cost of returning the garden to its original state.

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What are the landlord’s responsibilities regarding garden maintenance of a rental property?

The landlord is required to maintain any areas of the garden which it would be unreasonable to expect the tenant to look after – this usually includes the upkeep of trees for example. It is also the landlord’s responsibility to ensure that action is taken should the tenant report an issue which is not their fault.

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

What steps can landlords take to protect themselves from disputes about garden maintenance?

  1. Landlords should ensure that they are taking a sensible deposit from the tenant before the tenancy begins. This can then be used to recover some of the costs that might occur due to damage or neglect of the garden by the tenant.
  2. It is imperative that landlords clearly state within the AST agreement what is expected of the tenant when it comes to garden maintenance, and also any restrictions that may be imposed and that this is signed and dated by the tenant.
  3. It is recommended to embed dated photographs of the garden in the inventory check-in report. These can then be compared with the check-out report when the tenant is leaving to establish differences to the original state of the garden.
  4. Regular property inspections should be performed throughout the tenancy, which will allow the landlord to assess the condition of the garden and potentially spot any issues early, therefore reducing the extent and cost of damage.
  5. Landlords should have an adequate buildings insurance policy in place that covers malicious and accidental damage by tenants and their guests such as Total Landlord Insurance 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).

Check out Total Landlord Insurance’s series of guides for landlords here including the newly released, ‘How to manage garden maintenance in a rental property,’ for more information on this topic.