Mort Studebaker was the owner of single family home rentals. His rental agreement required the tenants to take care of the landscaping.
A simple concept you would think, but not really. First of all, the tenants didn’t really read the couple lines of fine print in his agreement and they knew nothing about landscaping or plants. More importantly even though they were moving in for what was usually a two year term, they had no landscaping tools.
The Dead Yard
His last tenant-turn really angered Mort. The tenants had not watered the grass all summer and it had died. It looked like a burned out mess. Years ago, Mort had installed a sprinkler system, but the tenants wanted to save on their water bill, so they decided not to turn on the sprinkler system.
In this case, before Mort could rent the house, he had to completely redo the yard at a cost of over $2,000. He was sick and tired of fighting with his tenants over landscaping. Sure, Mort had obtained a security deposit from the tenants, but it would never cover the cost required to replace all of the grass in the yard and any additional damage to the house. As a result, he decided to modify his rental agreements to clarify the tenant responsibilities. He added the following:
- Landscaping must be returned in original condition at move out.
- Mulch during tenancy.
- Grass must be kept at least two inches (2”) long , but not longer than five inches (5”).
- Water, weed and maintain all planter beds.
- Water all trees and bushes under six feet (6’) tall.
- Keep tree water bags full May – October (when he supplied water bags).
- Water features must be kept filled, clean and free of debris and algae.
- Leaves must be cleaned up by December at the tenant’s expense.
He also gave the tenants the option to hire a landscaping company, of his choice, for approximately $150 a month. Finally, he also included some penalties for non-compliance. He was fair about this by giving them 15 days to clean up after the notices were mailed. If no cleanup was completed when he re-inspected, he put in place financial penalties that were in sync with state laws. If he drove by and saw the property looking great, he would send them a note thanking them for their efforts and usually included a $25 Starbucks gift card . If the work was not completed, the landscape addendum authorized him to hire a landscaper to clean up the property and bill it to the tenants.
Before he rented the houses out, he delivered the landscaping in excellent condition.
He prepared the property for rent by:
- Complete landscaping ‘clean up’ before new tenant move in
- Fresh mulch when the season required it
- Lawn cutting and edging
- Walkways, decks, patios and fences pressure washed if necessary
- Cleaning of gutters & downspouts
- Winterize irrigation system
Biennial/As Needed Tasks:
- Tree and bush trimming
- Fertilizing and over seeding grass
Additionally, he took before “move in” pictures of the landscaping and the inside of the house and emailed a copy to the tenants when they signed the rental agreement so that they knew in what condition he wanted the property back. He also implemented a separate “Landscaping Addendum” to his lease that codified his expectations. This agreement had to be reviewed and signed by both parties at move in.
In the end, he was able to solve his problems with the new Landscaping addendum and was able to reduce his operating costs at the same time; something which all landlords strive for. If this story sounds like your Landlord experience, consider creating your own addendum. You might even consider leaving some tools in the shed, but if you do that your Landscape Agreement must include language with liability limitations if they use the tools and get injured.
Clifford A. Hockley is President of Bluestone & Hockley Real Estate Services, greater Portland’s full service real estate brokerage and property management company. He is a Certified Property Manager and has achieved his Certified Commercial Investment Member designation (CCIM). Bluestone & Hockley Real Estate Services is an Accredited Management Organization (AMO) by the Institute of Real Estate Management (IREM).