Snow and lawns in Minnesota Duplex

11 Replies

Hello BP. I inherited a tenant in one unit of a duplex in St. Paul, MN on a M2M lease (the other unit is vacant - which I will owner occupy for a year). I’m switching them over to my own lease and need to set snow and lawn terms. The property is on a corner lot with two sidewalks, and the holdover tenant claims their old landlord assigned one sidewalk to each tenant for snow removal. There is a two stall garage and the old agreement was that the tenant would also shovel their side of the driveway if they rented a parking spot. These terms were not in their lease but one sidewalk and half the driveway badly needed shoveling on the day I closed which confirms this was indeed the tenant’s understanding. They claim they also shared lawn mowing with the other tenant but would alternate weeks (also not in the lease). I’m curious how you handle snow and lawn care in small MFRs. My original thought was to offer a rent discount for snow and lawn care to a single tenant and they’d just be responsible for everything. That avoids the issue of “well that’s not my problem” if the other unit is vacant (or if one of the garage stalls goes unrented). Existing conditions prove this tenant has that attitude. I also don’t like a “switch turns” approach to lawn care because that just opens the door for fighting between two tenants when I eventually move out, and I’d like to avoid that drama. Any suggestions? Thanks in advance!

If you are living there, I would expect that you mow it.  If you don't want this your other option is to come to an agreement with them about mowing and snow removal or you could hire it out. 

If it isn't in the lease there are no grounds for sticking to it.  If they are on a month-to-month I would present them your new lease with whatever terms you decide.

@Andrew Heairet It sounds like you have already identified the issues.  By state law, you must compensate the tenant for yard work done.  You can give a rent discount, or as I do I give free use of the garage to the unit that takes care of the rent in a duplex.  Do not split the duties.  You should have an agreement that spells out the expectations, equipment you provide, and what happens if the tenants do not do the work, do not do it well enough, or they cause a fine by the city.  I have been doing it this way for 14 years and have never had an issue.  Sometimes I have prospective tenants ask me for the garage without doing yard work, and I tell them yes if they are willing to pay for the yard maintenance company to do the work.  PM me if you would like my agreement.  Good luck.

Thanks everyone for the input. The parking addendum to the lease is the same value as the lawn and snow discount addendum so it sounds like we're all roughly on the same page and the practice of valuing parking and yard work comparably is common. While I will be living there I certainly have no issue doing regular lawn/snow maintenance. This was more a question of getting expectations in place for the future if/when I move out and it will have two tenants. I can present both parking and lawn/snow addenda as optional additions to the lease and work with whatever result we agree to. Thanks again!

@Andrew Heairet wanted to jump in and offer what I do/have done. I owner occupied a duplex for awhile and I did all lawn and snow removal myself. It seemed as if the owner lived there it was expected I took care of it. Plus, nobody cares more than the owner of the quality of the property. I wanted it to look good and my tenants were very happy!. I no longer live in that one and have a few more, I pay a professional lawn and snow removal company to do all of my properties. I dabbled with having tenants do it but again the quality was terrible. Some let the grass grow long, didnt trim, only shoveled if it was a lot of snow, etc. Even adding detail to the lease did not help. Now, with a professional service it is off my plate and I do not worry about it and all of the properties look great. I can charge a little more for rent as many tenants like that they do not have to do any "maintenance"!

I think James mentioned the other thread above but if you move out I would still prefer to hire it out vs barter rent.  You would really only be saving $30-$50 per month compared to using a professional and you don't have to cloud your relationship or worry about it getting done.  Collect your garage rent and put that to the mowing budget if you move out in a year!

Thanks everyone. This was a great help!

@Andrew Heairet I have it in my lease that one of the units is responsible for both lawn and snow care for a rent discount ($50 a month).  I buy them a shovel and a lawn mower (provide the tools for them).  This way, we don't have to worry about whose turn it is to take care of it.  From my experience, it's substantially cheaper to offer a rent discount than to have it professionally done (maybe the people that have done it for me in the past are on the higher end).

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@David Barnett who maintains the lawnmower (drains old gas, etc)?

The reason I hire a professional for MF is so I don't have to worry about it.  Won't have to worry about whether the mower starts, whether the mower kicked a rock at a tenant's car, or worry whether someone is actually doing it.  Totally cool spending $30-$40 more to have a professional head out there.  Depending on property size I pay $35-$40 per cut and he cuts every other week.  Late summer when the grass isn't growing as strong he cuts only when needed and makes that decision on his own.

@John Woodrich Completely understand your perspective, and respect it.  I have the tenants manage the equipment.  I had someone cut the grass on a "one-off" basis and it was costing me $50-$60 a cut.  I've had fairly good luck with one set of tenants taking good care of the lawn.  The other set is a bit more touch and go.  The management company deals with the threats from the city and works with the tenant to cut the grass if there is a violation.  After meeting the neighbors at that property, I think it's more a function of the "neighborhood watch," sticking their nose needlessly into other's business.  If the lawn doesn't get cut (and it's in the lease), then the fine would get passed on to the tenants. I understand the liability concern, and I think that can be managed and mitigated with appropriate insurance levels.

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