My Tenant chopped down my tree and removed my bushes!

43 Replies

I am taking over management of my property beginning July 13 - reading "The Book on Managing Rental Properties now. Current property management company has no response to my alarm upon seeing that new tenants have chopped down a (small) tree, removed established bushes in front of the porch, and removed landscaping plants in one area of the yard. Current lease only says they are responsible for lawn maintenance. What should I do? What recourse do I have?

Thanks. I'm a total beginner.

As always my advice to new landlords is to find a landlord/tenant attorney and have a discussion about relevant laws.

I would address this with a "cure or quit" notice.  That is, a notice to tenants to either fix the problem (i.e., replace the trees and other landscaping) or get out.

But, have you had a discussion with them?  Tenants can be hard on landscaping.  You don't say where you are.  Around here, water bills can be several hundred a month in the summer to maintain lawns and landscaping.  Most tenants aren't going to foot such a bill.  So, either you pay for water or the landscaping it going to die.  Maybe there was a problem with these bushes and the tree and they dealt with it.  For that matter, perhaps the PM gave them permission.

Agree to contact tenants. And contact management company to verify they did not ok this. Then kindly explain that landscaping will have to be replaced. And then evict and take them to court for the cost.

Thank you, Jon & Anthony. I have googled Cure or Quit Notice and have drafted one telling them to replace plants they removed with ones approved by me. I've given them 4 months to do it since nothing can be established right now in the TX summer. These tenants are only 6 weeks into their year's lease. I hope this was just over-enthusiastic perceived responsibility for lawn maintenance (??).

I will address this with them on Saturday when I have my first meeting with them to introduce myself as their new property manager (they know I'm also the owner), go over the lease agreement, and do a walk-through.

Current property management company said they didn't know about it. I asked them to address it with tenants, but they are not responding to anything since I gave them my 30 days' notice.

May I suggest, It might be better for you, as owner, to have a landscaper put in what you want, (as close as possible to original shrubbery) and charge the tenants for the bill, assuming they were not given permission, and have in fact, damaged your property.

Do NOT let them do it themselves, and do NOT let them suggest you take it out of their security.

Either of those cases:  got to court, get judgment for damages and lost rent (if any) and get them out.

People, especially some tenants, are just plain weird.  And they say and do the darndest things.  Welcome aboard.

I agree with getting their side of the story before sending them a cure or quit notice. Maybe they planned to replace it with something else but haven’t had a chance. I’m not saying they should have done it without permission, but some people want to make their place seem more like a home and maybe they didn’t think it was a big deal...or they misinterpreted what “lawn maintenance” meant and thought it was an open invitation to change the landscaping.

I agree with Marc both on having a landscaping company replace the vegetation and having an attorney review your lease and this situation. I'm a little worried you might not have much recourse if all your lease says is that the tenants are "responsible for lawn maintenance". If that's literally all it says, and doesn't specify that they are not to remove landscaping without your approval, you may be stuck this time. That is why I agree with having an attorney experienced in real estate/tenant cases review before you issue notices or present them with a bill. Best of luck, I hope it was just a misunderstanding on their end and that they make it right.

Many years ago, I used to put in class A landscaping for class B SFHs.  I even cut the grass for several years. I was a proud, new landlord.  Now I put in a few big box store Nandinas, Knock Out rose bushes and pine straw.  It gives good curb appeal and if the resident screws it up, I'm out maybe $80 or withhold the same from the security deposit. 

Take Marc Winters advice. This is the right way to manage the issue.

This is not a issue that you can show any compromise otherwise they will continue to take control of your property.

I would assume this is either their first time renting or they are extremely entitled indivulaes. If they are entitled l would suggest you get rid of them asap or things are only going to get worse for you.

Thanks, everyone - wow, it feels like I've jumped into the deep end before I am even officially the landlord (I was just the homeowner, but the former property management company is not doing anything since I gave them my 30 days). Quite overwhelming to think of evicting, going to court, etc. etc.

Welcome to landlording . A business where instead of managing property ,you actually run a daycare facility for adults who are too dumb to help themselves

"Just read that an eviction can cost around $5,000."

If this is just the beginning it will cost you far more in repairs that 5K if you do not get rid of them. The cost to keep bad tenants will always be more than the cost to get rid of them. Tip of the iceburg.

tenant may interpret that as part of them doing landscaping. 

I would just forget about it.  You never know they could stay for 5 years and it is a no issue. 

If they move out will potential new tenants NOT rent because of what they removed?

For now, I would just suggest that you verbally explain your discontent with the tenants, let them know that what they did was NOT OK. Going forward, maybe you'd want to restructure your lease with the specifics of things that require your permission prior.

A way to further capitalize, would be to get quotes to 'reset' any change proposals by the tenant and have them pay a premium for the option. For example, if a landscaper charges $1000 to undo what the tenant did during their residency, you add a profit to the price for yourself, we'll say 20% ($200), then divide that total number ($1400) by the remaining  months in the lease (let's say 11 months); and that would add $109 to their monthly rent. If it turns out that you actually like their changes, then it's an improvement you didn't have to pay for and the premium is extra cash flow.

Being up front in your lease, this could act in two ways. 

1). It would give the tenant the feeling of freedom to change the environment to their liking if they chose and were able (keeping them content to rent from you, over owning their own home in order to have the same feeling).

2). It would act as an additional deterrent for those of whom are sticker shocked by increased rent and wouldn't dare to acquire that increase. 

Updated almost 3 years ago

Int the example-$1200 for Total...not $1400

I don't know of any tenant that thinks cutting down trees and pulling shrubs is a part of landscaping. If they were dead and unsightly, maybe.

I find it odd that you already fired your PM because it sounds like these are  your first tenants and they're only six weeks into the lease. No wonder your PM refuses to communicate with you. The plants could have been pulled within the last 30 days. Do you expect the PM to drive by every week and inspect?

I think the correct response would be to let the PM do their job. Ask them how they would handle it before you start dictating. If you don't like the answer, talk to them about other solutions. At least give them a chance to do the right thing before you fire them.

This could easily be remedied for a couple hundred dollars. It sounds like you went off the deep end and I don't blame the PM for cutting off communication.

Wow - this is fascinating - thanks, everyone, for your different opinions, and specific suggestions. So glad to have different options from experienced managers to consider, starting from scratch.

FYI, Nathan G - I've had this PM for over a year. They have either mis-handles or not-handled many things during their tenure. Their "emergency" line is too full to take new messages. February, tenants reported a slab leak to them. I did not know for 3 days. I had to do everything. When I went to the house to meet the insurance adjustor, I found 8 people living in it (only 2 on the lease). I got cited by the city for all the junk in the yard. Lease had nothing in it regarding junk or # of people. When these problem tenants moved out (trashed the place), I had to pull teeth to have them put max # of people in the lease, that everyone in the house had to be listed on the lease, etc. etc. They double-charged me for some of the repair materials, and would not remove them. They said they would go after the tenants for repairs beyond their deposit, so I approved more repairs than I may have. Then they told me that I would only get 25% of what they get from tenants, IF they paid, and before their fees for pursuing them. I'm not sure if I'm using all the right terminology. This is a small sample of the PM's behavior. I rented the house for 4 years 15 years ago, and it was so successful, it paid the house off. 

Problem with things not being on the lease now is that it's the PM's lease. I understand that I have to keep the lease as-is for the term of the lease, even though I don't like it, since tenants signed it as is?

Thanks, everyone!

@Margaret Bean you don't give a location, so its hard to say what an eviction might take.  Around here its under $500, not $5000.  But some states are more tenant friendly.  And some tenants know how to work the system and can really drag it out.  You're always going to have some lost rent with an eviction.  This is one of those very intermittent but very real expenses with rentals.  Never keep a bad tenant to avoid the losses of an eviction.  It can get much worse. 

Never count on the tenant paying the rent to make your mortgage payment.  Cash reserves are essential for surviving as a landlord.

Seems like you need a better lease, too.  Mine does address yard maintenance as well as any fines from the city.  That can be an issues around here, too.  If the city fines me, the tenant pays.  If they pay the rent, but refuse to pay the fines, I apply money received to the fines and the rent is still due.

I still don't see any response from the tenant.  Have you discussed the landscaping with them?

Sorry, @Jon Holdman - way up toward the top, I say I'm in Dallas, TX. I'm not sure if this is a bad tenant yet or not. We're meeting this Saturday (in 2 days - also mentioned higher up). Cost of eviction is what I read in the BP book on managing rental properties, by the Turners; includes lawyer, lost rent, and all associated costs. I used my reserves fixing trashed house from previous bad tenants, and then a plugged laundry line that caused more damage. Lease says plugged plumbing is tenant's responsibility, but PM company has not billed tenants, and does not respond. They are still taking their percentage from rent, until the 18th, a month from when I gave my 30 days' notice. I feel a hostage.

I've always heard Texas is more landlord friendly than my landlord friendly state.  Suing for possession(eviction) is about $300-$500 here.  It's when you seek damages/lost rent that it can be expensive.  Then it can become a question of how many hours are billed.  Getting a bad tenant out may be worth letting go of your sense of justice.