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Re: Tenant & Lawn Care by MARY on July 6, 2011 @16:12

                              
I understand what you are saying. I am stuck with having to have a lawn because my single family home is in an association, and the neighbors to either side whine every time the lawn isn't good. The bylaws prevent anything but lawn from going down--I tried to get inventive on the side of my house and got a letter from the Board within days.

I guess I trusted that if I gave these people a really good deal on the rent that they would do what the lease said--the lease even states "Water, maintain, seed, fertilize, mow and otherwise care for lawn."

The reality is that tenants do not want to be bothered. The funny thing is if you research these threads back in 2005-2006, many LLs were saying on this board that they did not have a problem with tenants doing this--has something changed about the quality or type of tenant since then? Seriously. I am curious. Back then I didn't have an issue either.
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Re: Tenant & Lawn Care by MrDan (Georgia) on July 6, 2011 @17:54 [ Reply ]
Just some Info to read: Lawns and Landscaping
By Michael Geo. F. Davis, Attorney at Law

One of the most troublesome areas for the single family home rental is yard and landscaping maintenance by the resident. Whether it’s merely mowing the grass or maintaining thousands of dollars in professionally installed landscaping, this area is a continuing source of issues.

The lease

Unless the lease states otherwise, all lawn and landscaping maintenance is the landlord’s duty. A lease commonly assigns the resident the responsibility to maintain the lawn and/or to maintain the shrubbery and beds. Our firm advises that these standard lease terms include the basic yard maintenance duties, including the obligation to mow, edge and weed the lawn, trim the shrubbery and remove weeds from the beds. These duties are probably the easiest to monitor and are subject to some objective measurement. The landlord can take pictures of the yard to support his claims of noncompliance and follow up with the issuance of a Seven Day Notice of Noncompliance with Opportunity to Cure.

A lease that provides that the resident is responsible for lawn or landscaping maintenance should do so in clear language, identifying and specifying just what maintenance is required. This is particularly true if the lease contemplates that any maintenance will include duties beyond those customarily associated with the standard lawn, shrubbery or bed maintenance. The term “landscaping maintenance” can mean anything and should be explained and itemized. Some maintenance is so expansive that separate addendums are devoted to lawn and landscaping maintenance. At that point the landlord should ask himself if he would be better served with professional lawn care than the attempted micromanagement of the resident’s duties.

What’s not included

Generally shrubbery trimming is an inexact science, and the shrubs can be trimmed larger or smaller than at occupancy. If the landlord has specific requirements, such as maintaining the shape or size of shrubs, professionals should be employed. A court is unlikely to hold a resident to any level of expertise in shrubbery trimming. Unless the lease specifically requires it, maintaining flower beds may not include replacing flowers and plantings that die. Lawn or shrubbery maintenance is not likely to include tree trimming, large tree limb removal on the ground or roof, or tree removal, whether due to nature (lightning hit, high winds) or structural interference (too close to house, foundation). Lawn or shrubbery maintenance normally doesn’t include spraying for diseases, pests or weeds, fertilizing, reseeding, resodding or planting grass plugs. Without specific lease provisions stating otherwise, the resident is not responsible for the special care and watering of a newly sodded lawn or plantings, whether laid or planted before or during occupancy.

Watering

The most contentious area of lawn and landscaping maintenance is watering. With regard to exterior care, probably the single most common and the largest item of damage in single family home rentals is the damage to or loss of the lawn allegedly due to the resident’s failure to water. Lawn or shrubbery maintenance would include normal watering. “Normal” watering is the subject of dispute, but a court is likely to find the local jurisdiction’s watering restrictions are controlling.

Sprinklers

Sprinklers can be a solution or just another problem. The obligation to maintain the lawn or shrubbery is distinct from the obligation to maintain or fix the sprinkler system, including sprinkler heads, pipe breaks, pumps, wells or timing mechanisms, unless the resident caused the damage. The resident may deny that he caused the damage, claiming the damage predates his occupancy or blaming the landlord’s service or repair people’s vehicles. Since this may be difficult to disprove, the landlord should ready himself for the ongoing cost of sprinkler repair. The landlord should take the time to thoroughly familiarize the resident with the sprinkler controls. He should assume that the power will “blink” or go completely out several times during the lease term, and that this will require most timers to be reset or the clock time to be adjusted. The perfect watering set-up that exists at move-in may not last a month, unless the resident is knowledgeable enough to maintain the watering schedule.

Periodic inspections and immediate action

There is no substitute for the landlord or property manager visiting the rental. Lawn damage from lack of watering doesn’t happen overnight. Regular outside inspections can be done from the public sidewalk or street and don’t require any notice to the resident. Even drive-by inspections are better than nothing. At the first sign of lawn damage, the landlord should make an immediate appointment to visit with the resident and find out what is wrong. If the resident won’t cooperate, use should be made of the Seven Day Notice of Noncompliance with Opportunity to Cure.

If a resident is not complying with his lawn or landscaping maintenance duties, the landlord should serve a Seven Day Notice of Noncompliance with Opportunity to Cure. It may take a resident longer than seven days to repair a damaged yard. Landlords should be clear and specific, and do so in writing if any extensions are being granted to cure. Dealing in generalities through email or worse, orally, should be avoided. If the terms or deadline for cure become muddled, a court is likely to infer the deadline is the end of lease.

HOAs

A word about home owner associations (HOAs) violation notices is in order. The landlord must determine if a HOA violation notice is in fact accurate and reasonable. The landlord/owner has two independent duties – one as an owner to the HOA and the other as the landlord to the resident. The landlord cannot parrot an unreasonable HOA demand to the resident and then blame it on the HOA. Despite the HOA allegation, if the resident is in compliance with the lease (and association rules incorporated into the lease), than the resident has nothing to cure. The landlord has a duty to defend the resident’s lease rights, even if that means retaining his own counsel to send a well-worded warning to the HOA.

Litigation

Many judges will consider payment for damage to the premises, including lawns, to be a security deposit issue, and not an eviction issue, such that any legal action before the end of the lease may be considered premature. The amounts involved in damaged lawns or landscaping can be quite large, the type of amount which can easily generate eviction or deposit litigation. The landlord is reminded that in landlord/tenant litigation, the prevailing party collects his attorney’s fees from the losing party. Given the proof problems that typically accompany these types of cases, a settlement is often the landlord’s best solution. Note that the discussion below of damages should be considered by the landlord in making any deduction from the security deposit for lawn or landscaping damage.

In litigation the landlord is required to prove the condition of the lawn at the outset of the lease, and the condition of the lawn after the lease has terminated. This can best be done with pictures, which will often show that the damage is greater than could be expected with ordinary wear and tear. However, ordinary wear and tear always depends on the circumstances, which includes the location, the weather over the lease term, watering restrictions, etc. What is ordinary wear and tear can vary dramatically. The landlord must be prepared to prove what ordinary wear and tear would be, and not merely rely on his assertion that the damage is greater than ordinary wear and tear.

The cause of the damage proof problem

The biggest proof hurdles are usually establishing the cause of the damage, and that the cause is the result of the resident’s intentional act, negligence, or lease noncompliance. Any litigation will most likely require the landlord to produce an expert to testify as to the cause of the lawn damage. Experts are notoriously equivocal when pinning down damage to one cause. Usually they are not able to rule out all the other causes, leaving the door open for the resident’s defense. Worse the resident may introduce his own expert with a totally different opinion of why damage occurred to the lawn. The landlord has the burden of proving that the cause was the resident’s fault, such that the resident either did something that resulted in the damage or failed to do something that would have prevented the damage. If the cause of the damage is solely attributable to the resident's intentional act, negligence or lease noncompliance, then the resident is liable. If the damage is attributable wholly or partially to a cause beyond the resident's control, such as lack of water caused by water restrictions or bug infestation from an outside source, then the resident will usually prevail. Without clear expert testimony, judges would be unable (and even with expert testimony judges may be unwilling) to allocate damage liability and hold the resident partially liable. Lawns and landscaping die for so many reasons. Even well maintained lawns die despite a homeowner’s or resident’s best efforts.

Damages

Assuming the court finds the resident liable for the damage, the next issue is the amount of damage. The damages may not be the full replacement costs of resodding the yard or replacing the landscaping. Like all other damage claims, the landlord must use the least expensive, practical method to replace or repair, replace the minimum area required, and recover only his unused cost of the lawn and landscaping. An expert will need to testify as to these matters. Depending on the geographic location, soil and a host of other factors, lawns and landscaping do have an average replacement cycle. If the resident has intentionally or negligently damaged trees resulting in their loss, the resident is liable for waste. The measure of damages for lost trees is the difference in the value of the premises before the resident rented them and after the resident vacated. The landlord will need expert testimony about market value if attempting to prove that the value of the property has declined, which resulted in a loss of future market rent.

Professional lawn care

Given the uphill battle to win a lawn or landscaping damage case, and the pressure to maintain the yard that is often applied by associations, it amazes us that more landlords are not realistic enough to hire professional lawn and landscaping care and include it in the rent. Even something as simple as mowing the grass can be botched by the resident, such as setting the mower blades too low and causing expensive damage. The lawn or landscaping is often a large investment, frequently exceeding the value of appliances in the rental. The advantages of professional lawn maintenance only begin with the certainty that the work is done correctly, professionally and timely. The periodic visits to the property by the service, usually weekly in the summer and biweekly in the winter, can be use to check on other problems like lack of watering. The landlord can request that the service report any problems to him. There is no substitute for the landlord’s periodic inspections, but another set of eyes at the property will help.

Lawn and landscaping repair can be quite expensive. Time spent during the application process ascertaining if the resident understands and is capable of the lawn or landscaping maintenance being demanded in the lease, at move-in explaining the maintenance required and equipment available, and periodically inspecting the lawn is time well spent. The best repair is the one that doesn’t have to be done.



    Re: Tenant & Lawn Care by MARY on July 7, 2011 @04:39 [ Reply ]
    Well said, thank you. My tenant agreed to water the lawn which I had just rototilled (all of this is in lease)and re-seeded because of the actions of another tenant. I laid everything out BUT the height of the grass. This did not become an issue because the tenant took down the automatic sprinklers and hoses and put them in the shed, without telling me. The lawn was not watered for ten days until I went up there and discovered that they were taken down. She stated "It was raining a lot so I took them down". They also agreed in writing to rake the lawn and help in the reseeding (got a big discount on rent) and they never even removed the straw that was on the lawn. We went up to make sure it was done and the tenant said they were having company and he would do it. Ten days later the straw is still there, the lawn is dry as a bone and the sprinklers are in the shed. She then went away house hunting and wrote me telling me that they had not mowed the lawn and that I would probably get a fine from my association. The reseeding was a total waste of time. We spent a lot of money on timers so they didn't have to do much. I also paid to have it rototilled and seeded, etc.

    What do people make of them putting the auto sprinklers in the shed...and then not mowing the hay that grew? Seriously, it is sort of in my face behavior. I felt bad for them because she was 9 months pregnant when they moved in and had a tight budget. Now she wants to know if she will be reimbursed for the watering that she didnt do, and is also complaining about the written clause to steam clean the carpets in exchange for having two dogs there. She says they were never out of their cages. I say it is in the lease and she should have brought it up before. I couldn't have bent over backwards more for these people.
    Seriously, was I too nice? I'm kinda thinking I was.
      Re: Tenant & Lawn Care by OK-LL on July 7, 2011 @08:51 [ Reply ]
      No good deed goes unpunished. This is real life -- you aren't the first person to extend a helping hand to this person and have the person bite your hand. Don't waste your sympathy on anyone -- if they wanted to be anywhere else in life besides just exactly where they are, they'd be making efforts to get there, not sitting around waiting on the kindness of strangers like you. Nine months pregnant and a tight budget are both things completely within the control of the tenant; it appears they WANT (not need) more than they can afford, and they found a sucker (YOU) to help them get what they haven't earned, a nicer home they can't pay for. The sooner you learn this lesson, the quicker you'll be a good LL turning a profit. Keep your standards high and don't fall for poor-me stories.
    Re: Tenant & Lawn Care by Jo (Florida) on July 16, 2011 @15:18 [ Reply ]
    Excellent article! Our property in Florida used to have nice plants and nice healthy lawn for years with a working sprinkler system. However, after a problem tenant moved in, our St. Augustine grass didn't get regularly sprinkled during the dry seasons in Florida and had totally died out down to sparse weeds and bare ground. Unfortunately, out FL property management company changed personnel and did not monitor or ever report any problems, nor did neighbors ever complain to us (we live 1500 miles away). The tenants were also parking on the front lawn instead of using our driveway for parking....yeah, parking over our sprinkler heads. (5 years later, we evicted this tenant for damaging our entire lawn and gardens, removal of all our carpeting without our knowledge, having illegal animals....after driving down to visit the house ourselves.) What was our FL Property Manager doing? Only collecting the rent, nothing much else. Consequently we suffered thousands $ in damages. As your article suggested, we will be closely following your advise in the future. Thanks for all the good tips.

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