Monkey Business in the Garden

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Do your tenants ever give you problems with gorillas in the garden? Probably not.  Disputes involving gardens appear in a little over 10% of disputes - and even fewer involve gorillas! Nonetheless they do occur, as in this recent adjudication…

“The check-out report makes little reference to the garden, except to note the presence of a stuffed gorilla and to note that the garden was overgrown at check-in.

As the garden was overgrown at the start of the tenancy, but did not contain a stuffed gorilla, I award £10.00 for the removal of the gorilla.”

As was the case in this dispute, awards made to landlords with respect to gardens are usually for the removal of rubbish, and rubbish in the garden should be easy to record (especially if it takes the form of a stuffed gorilla). However, claims by landlords for lack of maintenance are often not supported by sufficient evidence to make an award and they are given little consideration in the inventory and check in and check out reports. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and a simple description of a garden in “good” or “well kept” condition, as we often see, is hard to objectively qualify and compare if it’s disputed.

Adjudicators approach the condition of a garden in much the same way as the condition inside – the tenant should return the property to the landlord in the same condition as at the start, allowing for fair wear and tear or, in the case of gardens, seasonality. This is why photos of a garden will be extremely valuable. Not only can they verify your written description, but the changes which gardens undergo through the seasons means liability for a change in its condition can be harder to assess. Dated visual evidence of the garden at the start and at the finish allows an adjudicator to make an accurate assessment as to whether the tenant has neglected their responsibilities and should be liable for the costs of returning the garden to its former condition.

The condition of gardens in the rental properties we see tend not to be of high quality, but there are always exceptions and this may well change as the number of ‘amateur’ landlords letting out their own homes continues to rise. In another dispute, a tenant intending to fulfil his responsibility of maintaining the garden cut back some plants and destroyed a plant of sentimental value to the landlord. However, the landlord had not told the agent or the tenant that this plant required special attention so it was not reasonable to expect the tenant to maintain the garden whilst giving special treatment to one plant without being actually told.

If you have particular requirements for your garden it is essential that you agree them in writing at the start of the tenancy. You may be an avid gardener, but don’t assume that your tenants will be.

Posted by Chris Kendall on 30 April 2012

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