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The thorny issue of gardening in rented properties

Wednesday 30 May 2018

With summer just around the corner, and the weather finally taking a turn for the better, the attentions of tenants and landlords begin to turn to the garden to make the most of the sunshine. But be aware, gardening can be a thorny issue when it comes to deposit disputes, says Michael Hill, an adjudicator with Tenancy Deposit Scheme (TDS).

In 2017, gardening was cited in over 2,000 disputes managed by TDS, that’s about 16% of all tenancy deposit deduction disputes.

Claims for gardening often cause disagreement because of the subjective nature of how a garden may look at its finest, therefore, it’s essential that the obligation placed upon the tenants in the tenancy agreement is detailed and specific. A clause for the tenant to return the garden in a tidy state may cause disagreement between landlords and tenants based on what they consider to be ‘tidy’.

Ideally, tenancy agreement clauses should detail:

  • Which areas of the garden the tenants are responsible for, such as; the front garden, rear garden and any side alleys;
  • Which areas fall outside of the tenant’s remit, such as maintenance of large and independent trees or plants;
  • What state the tenant is to return the garden in – this is most likely expected to be a well-maintained state, similar to how it was at the start of the tenancy.
  • Specifically detail whether tenants must take responsibility for cutting the grass, tidying flowerbeds, and sweeping up leaves.

In one recent case, a tenant installed a pergola in the rear garden mid-tenancy. It sat on top of the decking for people to walk through as they left the rear patio doors. At the end of the tenancy, the landlord claimed £950 to remove it as he claimed it was blocking natural light to the conservatory, but the tenant argued that it added character.

In this instance, while some would agree with the tenant stylistically, the adjudicator made an award for the cost of the pergola’s removal.

There was no evidence that the tenant had asked permission to make alterations to the garden and luckily for the landlord, the tenancy agreement stated the garden was to be returned in the same state as at the start of the tenancy, with no alterations were to be made.

It pays to ask permission.

To avoid gardening disputes, TDS recommends:

  • Ensuring your tenancy agreements contain a detailed and specific clause relating to maintenance of the garden and outside areas.
  • Taking into account the season which the tenant moves in and out of the property and how you would expect the garden to have been returned in these circumstances.
  • Ensuring any claim proposed against the tenant’s deposit is fair and reasonable.