What do I do if my tenant has let the garden overgrow?

Countryside is a big part of the romantic view of British life. Those in the city go to the country for getaways, those in the country go elsewhere in the country for getaways, and a vast chunk of the population have made their own attempts to tame nature between the four fences behind their houses.

Thanks to the modern garden, a handful of begonias and a water feature can bring the wonders of the countryside to your back doorstep, and folks are mad about them. At least, folks who own their own are. Landlords and tenants have a bit more of a fair-weather friendship with their gardens, and are often less keen on cultivating their own little patch of paradise.

Why? Well, the landlord might have his or her own. They might not want to put the effort into maintaining a piece of land they never see, and which the tenant might let revert to the jungle look after a few months anyway. Similarly, the tenant might not feel it necessary to maintain a garden they’re probably not going to enjoy on a long-term basis.

There are many rented properties, then, where the garden devolves into a forgotten forest of discarded junk and unkempt foliage. This strikes me as a little odd – a garden is an important part of a property, and should be factored into a landlord’s investment decision.

Gardens in rental properties

I don’t think there’s a middle ground; if your property has a garden, you ought to advertise it as a property feature, keep it as well maintained as possible, and request that your tenant does the same. Certain tenants in particular, such as families, look for homes with gardens, whilst others tend not to be as fussed.

If you are targeting tenants like students or single professionals who are less likely to be interested in a garden, and aren’t interested in keeping it maintained yourself or including it as a service charge, don’t invest in a property that has a garden. If you do, convert it to patio or something equally easy to maintain.

This isn’t just because an unkempt garden is an eyesore – they can be hazardous. Some estimates put the number of garden-based electrocutions, poisonings, maimings and other injuries close to 350,000 per year. There’s also the issue of trees getting a little over-amorous with guttering or blocking natural light to the property. And let’s not forget the age-old issue of boundary disputes.

So if you don’t want your property to be devalued and even a little dangerous, any garden should be well looked-after.

So what do you do if your garden is overgrown?

In most cases, the garden forms part of the dwelling-house and the tenancy agreement covers its upkeep. You’ll generally expect the property back in the same condition as you let it; however, determining whether a garden is in the same or a similar state as it was six, twelve or more months ago is far from an exact science.

Most tenancy agreements have a clause such as that seen in our own:

“… [Keep] in a clean and tidy manner the garden of the Property and … keep the Property free from rubbish or offensive matter.”

Commercial Trust, AST

Some go into a bit more detail about mowing the lawn, weeding the flower beds and borders and general cultivation. I don’t think this is strictly necessary; you aren’t letting a flat to Charlie Dimmock (I assume). Generally, taking detailed photographs and including the garden as a checkpoint on your inventory form should be sufficient.

If you then find that the garden has become overgrown, you can put two polite reminders in writing to your tenants:

  • that the garden is covered in the tenancy agreement, and that the cost of restoring it can be recovered from the deposit; and
  • that gardens get trickier to manage over time, so the sooner you get stuck in, the better!

Circumstances change all the time, and your tenant might have found themselves with insufficient free time to manage the garden. Consider offering to help, or perhaps amending the rental agreement to include a service charge for a gardener. If your attitude is that they’re not moving out right away and it’s really their problem if the view outside the kitchen window looks like something out of Avatar, be sure of two things:

  • that matters have improved before you start arranging viewings for the next tenancy; and
  • that your landlord’s insurance policy covers garden-based accidents, to tenants and visitors.

Finally, be sure that the garden isn’t actually dangerous. You might be inclined to ignore a messy lawn, but you should be aware if your tenant’s garden is a genuine death-trap full of discarded strimmers, snakes, and man-eating plants.

And Charlie Dimmock.

This information should not be interpreted as financial advice. Buy to let mortgage rates are subject to change. Speak to our advisors for a mortgage illustration.

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