How do I prevent tall grass violations on section 8 rental home?

27 Replies

I'm renting out my townhome for section 8 for the first time.

When the previous (non-section 8) tenant occupied, I received a fine for a tall grass violation (the tenant did not own a lawn mower and I did not hire enough landscaping services throughout their tenancy). The fine was $350.

For the new section 8 tenant, is it fair to pass this fine along to them if it's written into the lease? (am I even allowed to write that into the lease? "tall grass city code violations will be the responsibility of the tenant" for instance...)

Even if I could make lawn maintenance and code violations the responsibility of the tenant, would that be fair if the tenant does not own a lawn mower to begin with? I suppose I could strongly suggest it when they sign the lease...

I'm out of state, otherwise, I'd mow the lawn myself.

To avoid the fine, I could hire someone and I'd just have to figure this as a monthly expense (a reliable mower in that area costs $50/job - I would need him at least 9x a year - 1/mth in spring/summer and 3 times during the fall/winter at least).

I'm finding it difficult to expect/ask a section 8 tenant to buy a lawn mower for the property. My own mower cost $400 and its battery-powered (not the best).

    Please help me think this through: for those of you with section 8 properties that are susceptible to tall grass violations, how do you handle this?

    Tell them they are responsible for grass cutting and any fine for not doing the job . They buy their own lawn mower . 

    @Noureen A S.

    I have a 2 unit section 8 building.  I hire the lawn care out.  $30 every two weeks.  Cutting the grass once a month will cause you to be in violation.  I include the fee in the rent.  Being out of state $350 fine is a lot of grass cuttings.  The tenant has to abide by the terms of the lease.  Not sure you can make them buy a mower and cut the grass.  Sounds like if you provided the mower it might be ok.  Each housing authority office is a little different.  Contact them, but I’m sure you can’t make them buy a mower.

    @Kenneth Garrett You cant make the tenant buy a mower , but you can make them responsible to cut the grass , how they choose to do it is their problem .  I rent a place with 1/2 acre to a 78 year old man , and he cuts the grass . He does a little every day 

    I write it into the lease and explain it to them. It's very clear. With regards to violations, I also write those into the lease. I state that they are responsible to reimburse me for any fines I receive as a result of their behavior or lack maintenance of the property. I give excessive noise and failure to cut the grass as examples. 

    Still, some don't consistently comply. I tell them I will hire a landscaper to cut their grass for them, but they will have to pay for it. That usually gets them to cut it. My favorite that I also write into the lease is the tenant will pay me to do their work: $50 trip charge + $40/hr. I explain to them I really don't want to charge them for their work and I really, really don't want to do their work. That's always worked in the end since local lawn mowers are about $25 while I would be $75.

    You have to remember they are adults and should be treated like adults. Every other business and government agency expects them to follow the rules or suffer the consequences and people figure out how to do it. Section 8 or not is irrelevant.

    People who move into single family and townhomes are responsible for routine maintenance, including yard care. They know that when the move in.  Thy don’t need to mow.  The just need to ensure it gets mowed!

    I would just hire a lawn maint person and factor that cost into your rent if possible.  Its rarely advisable to expect a tenant to care for the yard. they just wont - its just unrealistic and a situation set up to fail. 

    @Noureen A S. What does your lease say?

    We almost always provide lawn service and snow service for exactly this reason. Policing tenants to cut lawns and remove snow is not with the hassle or liability. Your better off having it taken care of and adding it to the rental amount.

    Maybe I’m old school, but I just think it’s so weird to ask a tenant to handle maintenance of YOUR home. That’s YOUR PROBLEM as a landlord, since you signed up to own property. Can you imagine an apartment complex asking their tenants to fix the sink or toilet when it acts up?

    Originally posted by @Bjorn Ahlblad :

    @Noureen A S. You can write anything you want in the lease and maybe they will comply maybe they won't. Why get fined and frustrate yourself further. Hire a gardener and bake it into the rental price. All the best!

    Because with Section 8, the Housing Authority basically sets the maximum rent, so you can’t just “bake things into the rent”.

    @Noureen A S.

    All my tenants are responsible for yard maintanence. They are also responsible for all fines associated with it. I also wrote into the lease that if I have to mow, it is a $60 fine. Make the decision on who is responsible for the yard and write it into the lease.

    @Noureen A S.  

    You can require a Section 8 tenant to mow their lawn and you can pass the fines on to them. It is just a question of whether they will actually mow the lawn or pay the fines. It is probably better if you hire it done, but obviously that costs more money.

    You can buy a new lawn mower at Home Depot for $159. Battery powered mowers don't work as well as gas, unless you sink serious money into one. You can find a used lawn mower for even less money. Another option is you can just buy them the mower and it stays with the property. 

    I would also suggest you mow more often. Even if it isn't bad enough for code violation, you should still maintain your landscape out of courtesy to your neighbors. You won't want it to be that crappy looking rental house.

    "Tell them they are responsible for grass cutting and any fine for not doing the job ."

    Well, I guess you could write it and they sign it.  Then you get a fine, now you gotta collect it.  Then you get to deal with the H/A giving out the voucher.  I'm not crazy about letting tenants getting away with stuff, but odds are if they have leaky toilets they won't tell you till it drops thru the floor.  However, you may want to call their caseworker and vent your frustrations to see if you get a reaction.

    Since as an owner, you're responsible for bad actor tenants, how about just hiring a landscaper to come by and cut the lawn?  It gets done to your standards at a min cost.

    All of my tenants are responsible for yard care and snow/ice removal. We have only SFHs, and they all know from the start that this is their responsibility. We don't deal with Section 8, but if we did, those tenants would be no different than those who aren't getting assistance.

    If we notice grass getting a little too tall I'll text the tenant and ask them to mow, but when we notice a well-kept yard, we also text about that, thanking them.

    We have it a little easier than some of you. If there are complaints about a yard it's the resident that gets the fine, not the landowner, at least for a SFH. Unpaid utilities are also the problem of whoever's name is on the account. The city will shut off utilities, and they will not set them up with a new account at another address until all past due bills are paid. As a landlord, I'm happy to have one less thing to worry about.

    Originally posted by @Chloey M. :

    Maybe I’m old school, but I just think it’s so weird to ask a tenant to handle maintenance of YOUR home. That’s YOUR PROBLEM as a landlord, since you signed up to own property.  

    I’m on the opposite side of this. I think it’s weird that a tenant would move into a home knowing they’re responsible for the lawn maintenance, sign a legal document (the lease) agreeing to maintain it, and then after all that FAIL to maintain it. 

    It's very common for tenants in SFH's to be responsible for cutting the grass. It's a simple task.

    @Kyle J. No, we agree on that. 

    If someone signed up to do the work, then that's part of the agreement, and they should handle it.  I'm just saying that the idea of having a tenant work on YOUR yard is not cool to me. I'm saying that I personally would not add that to my leasing agreement to start with.  They shouldn't be doing anything to my home except live in it. 

    @Chloey M.

    "Maybe I’m old school, but I just think it’s so weird to ask a tenant to handle maintenance of YOUR home. That’s YOUR PROBLEM as a landlord, since you signed up to own property. Can you imagine an apartment complex asking their tenants to fix the sink or toilet when it acts up?"

    That would be true if you want to continuously rub it in their face that it is “MY HOME” and not yours. Obviously depends on the quality of the tenant, which it all comes down to picking the right tenant, but if you got a good tenant and you respect them and make them feel that it is their home, they will do a great job maintaining it. I have tenants who have brought in mulch, stones, did sheetrocking work, etc and greatly improved “my” home because I let them feel like it is theirs. Yes I verify the lawn actually gets mowed, and there's not piles of trash, and I have had to send a couple text messages here and there to say “hey I noticed some trash at the side of the house”, but overall, let them feel they own the place and they will take care of it.

    This is the big difference between single-family house rentals, and apartment buildings. It's one of the many reasons I prefer single-family rentals, just you can't scale up as quickly.  Apartments there's no way to make them really feel like it is theirs.

    I think the 2 key variables for SFH rentals are a)purchase desirable houses, where good tenants want to live and want to renew that lease; and b)pick good tenants. The rest is easy.

    @Noureen A S.   if you have them do it put the responsibility and fines in the lease, also discuss when showing/ renting to be clear to those who won't do it.  It is x amount per mow if I have to mow it, all fines are passed on to the tenant.   If a section 8 tenant says they are unwilling/unable to take on lawn care don't rent to them. It is part of the deal. ALso keep in mind that at least here mowing is weekly or every other week.  Monthly would be an insufficient. 

    @Noureen A S. Depends on your lease, but I’d rather not expect/rely on my tenants to take care of it. My rental is about 20 mins away from my house and actually the neighbor offered to manage lawn care pretty cheap as he’s retired/bored and wants it to look as nice as his! Lol so you may be able to get into something like that.

    I’ve also seen some clients I do books for that do an exchange of rent for lawn care or rent for maintenance (not like a full or even half month, but just a set amount). It’s usually costing the owner less but the issue can be if the tenant actually does the work or knows what they’re doing.

    @Noureen A S. also if you hire someone the tenant has to take all the crap off the lawn for the mower to mow so make sure you are clear about that.  It is the worst to hear from your landscaper about lawns littered with toys when he comes to mow (MF home).  I have one unit part of a MF where they offer to have the son in law mow because they don't want to move their stuff but I am sticking with my guy because I don't want the son in law to just mow around big sections of the lawn or mow infrequently so they have to pick up every week.