Should Tenant Pay for Landscaping If They Want It For My SFH?

37 Replies

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Originally posted by @Alan Francis :

I'm brand new and have one rental property right now, but if a request like this comes up and seems reasonable to both parties could you potentially offer to split the cost of the new lawn with the tenant? That way the tenant has some ownership in the investment hopefully getting them to treat it better? 

 Hi Alan, We are in the same position as this is my one rental as well! I have considered splitting it with the tenant but $3,600 is a lot even if we split it down the middle. I do want the tenant to have some ownership and take care of things as they agreed to in the contract. I think I will propose the rent credit idea and see if that would work. Thanks for your thoughts!

Originally posted by @Melinda Vandergeugten :

Howdy neighbor! At $850 I have to assume your rental is not in Montrose. :) 

Thanks for asking your question. There is some great feedback here. Melissa's rent credit idea sounds promising. I hope it all works out for you. 

 Howdy! Cool that you are in Tujunga. My wife and I have looked at property in your area too. You are correct, this is an out of state investment, especially at $850/month ;) I do like Melissa's rent credit idea. Thank you for your support!

Originally posted by @Steve Babiak :
Originally posted by @John Hodson:
Originally posted by @Daria B.:
Originally posted by @John Hodson: ...

.... Other areas look like they just need reseeding or sod. If the tenant wants to spend all this money for a complete redo of the yard then let them but everything should be by your approval. I would think a simple take up and put down resod would do.

 Thanks Daria! I will look into the resodding. That sounds less likely to dry up in the summer. Much appreciated!

Sod needs lots of water too, not as much as seed since the seed will need two to three weeks to grow to the approximate same state as sod. But lack of watering is going to be bad for sod too. 

 Okay, there are no drought watering restrictions. I've informed PM to give the tenants rent credit for 2 months to offset them buying supplies for the landscaping. Let's see how this goes. Thanks @everyone for all the feedback! I feel way more confident in dealing with this situation now.

You've received a variety of sound advice here John.  Looks like most investors agree.... Not your responsibility to "have to" upgrade it since tenants moved in and accepted the property"as-is" along with accepting the clause to maintain the landscaping.  The tenants, with your prior written approval, may upgrade/improve the property at their own expense, and all improvements and value therein become and remain part of the property (If this is noted in your lease agreement).  If you want to update the place you could do it at your own expense (considering the good advice from other investors above) and give notice to the tenants of a future rent increase in accordance with your lease agreement and applicable law where the property is located; pay now and charge higher rents on your next lease; allow tenants to pay and deduct the expense from the rent as a reduction in rent payments for the next 4 months or whatever you decide, etc... etc... several ways to structure it. 

Good luck.

Here's my two cents from the perspective as a amateur horticulturalist and someone who has landscaped an entire yard from scratch:

The price you're being quoted is crazy. You can pay some laborers a few hundred dollars to get all the weeds out. Then have a pallet of sod delivered... just enough for the tenant to feel like they're getting some grass, but not enough to demand a lot of water or maintenance. 200 - 300 square feet is plenty. It's really easy to lay down... Only a couple hours.

Then call a tree trimming company and ask about mulch. They'll usually deliver a whole truckload of fresh pine or other mulch for FREE. Pay laborers to move it from the driveway and spread it everywhere there isn't grass. 

The result is a very inexpensive, very clean looking, weed free yard for less than $1000 and only a few hours of your own time. I spend a lot of time on gardening forums and this is a trick common with gardening folks.

I strongly suggest never giving a tenant a rent credit for doing any work.  Sure, there are the fantastic tenants out there who do great work.  But, they are probably less than 1% of those that offer such a deal.

You're always better off to just hire someone to do the work, and keep the rent the same.  It's way easier to fire or sue someone who is not your tenant.

Hi John,

If my tenant wants something improved after moving in, it is at their expense only. As Sue Kelly stated earlier, they were happy with it at move-in. They might argue that you end up with a better property, which may be true, but you are happy with it as it is, or would have addressed it before leasing it out.

In all likelihood, your tenant will want to DIY it as much as possible to contain his costs (and hinted at with them wanting to rent the tiller). This raises the issue of a job going sideways and you ending up with a yard in worse shape than now, so you will want to protect yourself against that.

At the same time, from the tenant's perspective, if the job goes well, the property is in better shape then before and he might want protection against a rent increase in the near future because of that.

Both of these can be addressed with a written agreement and a remediation deposit refundable on satisfactory completion. You can figure out how much deposit to request based on getting the yard back to at least it's present state. At the same time, you can assure the tenant with appropriate wording in your agreement that the rent will not be increased other than by market conditions during the remainder of his tenancy. You should probably also state in the agreement that any plant/shrubs/trees put in place by the tenant during this overhaul become the property of, well, the property, again, as noted by Sue Kelly.

Looking at the pictures, I'd say the the yard would benefit substantially with just a mowing.

Good luck with your decision.

One of our rental houses had a "lumpy" yard because the previous owner had tilled it and left it all chopped up. It was covered with grass and was difficult to mow. We didn't invest much money (less than $500) to correct the problem. We waited for the rainy season when the ground got soft again. Then our landscaper used a shovel to take away from high spots and fill in low spots. That season it became fairly even. It wasn't a perfectly level lawn, but we weren't aiming for perfect. We hand pulled the nastiest weeds and used Scott's Weed & Feed. We used our seed spreader to over-seed with new grass seed as well. Over time and with use, the yard leveled itself. Our tenant's maintain the yard with mowing and edging, fertilizing and weeding. We allow our tenants to let the lawn go brown during the summer for water conservation. It quickly greens up again when it rains.

A few more thoughts come to mind about your situation. Since you are an out of town investor and rely on a property management company, it may be harder for you to implement a solution. I'm assuming the tenant made their request through the PM and the PM contacted you and you asked the PM to get a quote, right? Now the tenant's expectations have been raised, because they were probably there when the professionals came in to do the bid. They may have heard the sales pitch from the landscaping company. So share the quote with the tenant and let them know what it would take to get the lawn in perfect shape. If they want that kind of lawn, then let them know you will let them do that at their expense and the PM will oversee the project.

However, offer them a simple alternative that is less costly, like what we did. Let them know if they go the simple route, you will pay for half the cost, up to a $$ limit, or you will pay for materials if they provide the labor. That will sweeten the deal for them and they will be more likely to work favorably on this project, which in the end will improve your property and the living condition for these and future tenants.

About the seven stumps.... you need to know where they're located, their size, and what kind of plant they were. You don't want the tenants to injure themselves or their lawnmower by getting too close to them, so take some preventive measures. Remove them or leave them in place. If you leave them in the ground, consider creating a flower bed around them. Depending on what type of stump it is, you may need to kill the roots to prevent shoots of new growth. To do that, drill into them and inject an appropriate herbicide in the hole to kill the roots. Small stumps can sometimes be dug out by hand and/or by a chain on a truck hitch. Also, a backhoe can easily pop them out. Large stumps had best be ground or incorporated into the landscape design.

I too like Melissa's rent credit idea, except instead of a credit off the rent, make it a separate transaction by offering to reimburse for the materials they use for landscape improvement or give them a specific allowance of money up front for this purpose.

Landlords who take pride in their properties will often attract tenants who take pride in keeping their place nice. Start the tenancy off with a decent looking yard. Good luck!

@John Hodson you are asking if the yard looks bad? I guess it is all relative to what you consider bad. Since you are asking the question, in my opinion it looks like crap. I would pay a landscaper to fix it. I have paid money at several properties to clean up landscaping, remove junk bushes, level ground and make sure the grade sloping away from the house. I like my properties to look nice on the outside. Many rental owners let their properties look like crap to save money. It is a personal preference on how you run your business. 

For example K-Mart hasn't remodeled their stores in 20 years. Target remodels theirs every 5 years. I prefer to be Target. I feel having a nicer property attracts better tenants just like Target has been more successful than K-Mart.

I would not recommend letting the tenants do the work unless you are sure they are qualified and motivated to finish it.

No, No, No. 

They rented it that way. This is a cosmetic issue, not one of functionality. I might consider if they were willing to pay for it but these types of requests always stress me out because if you want to protect your property you'll need to oversee the project. That's the type of work you do when you own a home, not rent one. Once I allowed a tenant to construct raised beds in the backyard. She had to pay for everything. When I told her  several years later we *might* rehab the property she flew off the handle about all the time and money she invested in the yard. Drama you don't need later on.