How to avoid turf wars over garden disputes
As flowers blossom and gardens look lush, it’s easy to forget that the most pleasurable of pastimes – enjoying one’s garden – can trigger a multitude of disputes, both with landlord-tenants and between neighbouring properties.
After all, gardens routinely rank in the top five reasons for deposit disputes in private tenancies. But it needn’t be like this if judicious landlords and lettings agents take some simple measures.
Untended gardens a hotbed of deposit disputes
Weeds, lawns, fences and overgrown bushes are the major issues with gardens, but the disputes often arise because of confusion over who is responsible for dealing with these common problems. According to a poll by TDS amongst 2,000 landlords and letting agents, 75% believe garden upkeep is down to the tenant. The problem is that the tenant doesn’t always know this. 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 is usually expected to mow the lawn regularly and keep on top of weeding. This will usually be a standard clause in an AST agreement.
Conduct a thorough inventory at check-in – this will allow all parties to have a benchmark to work to. Advise tenants they must return the garden to that condition at the end of tenancy. Also, undertake seasonal checks – tenants knowing they are being inspected are much more likely to do what is expected and ask questions if issues arise.
Green isn’t everyone’s colour so keep garden designs simple
Tenants won’t necessarily have a voracious desire to keep gardens tended. So, assuming you are not dealing with a green-fingered man or woman, avoid busy flower beds and difficult-to-care-for plants. Opt instead for low maintenance borders and slow-growing trees or bushes. Also, If the property has a shed or garage, provide gardening equipment for the tenant such as a lawn mower and rake. Underpinning these steps is good communication – so from the start of a tenancy encourage a culture of open conversation. Make it easy for tenants to report issues as they arise, for example on a shared portal. Perhaps provide tenants with seasonal reminders about maintenance tips.
Occasional parties needn’t ruin a summer
Of course, with the best will in the world, disputes between neighbours can arise. In the case of your own tenant’s alleged nuisance, you’re not technically liable. However, you may be liable if you’ve allowed the tenants to cause the nuisance or if, when renting out your property, you were aware that nuisance was inevitable or almost certainly going to occur. It is in your interest to remind tenants of their overall responsibilities to neighbours- in the case of a flat, there will normally be a clause in the lease expecting people respect others’ amenity. Hence in terms of noisy parties, or odious smells, it will be expected that would be occasional and for limited periods of time. Ensure there is a ‘noise clause’ in your tenancy agreement and that tenants are aware that if they breach that clause, a possible repercussion could be eviction.
What’s the best way to deal with boundary problems?
Under the umbrella term of boundary disputes comes high hedges, dilapidated fences and walls and shared driveways, amongst others. In rental properties, the majority of external and structural property issues are a landlord’s responsibility to handle.
Communication is key. Boundary disputes can usually be avoided by a simple discussion, preferably between you and the neighbour, as opposed to the tenant and the neighbour. Be aware of what you are responsible for and let your tenant know. However, don’t let them make any changes to structural elements of the property that could affect the neighbours, because it’ll be partially your issue to fix.
Much of the above is about effective, early relationship building with tenants. Contact AIIC to find out more about our range of inventory services.
Published on 02/05/2023