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Often viewed as another ‘room’ or living space, a garden is seen as a huge plus point for the majority of tenants. But for landlords and agents, this sought-after space is often overlooked, with many inventory reports failing to record information about the condition and furniture of this outside space.

Whilst it may be a side thought, thorough garden inventories have the potential to settle disputes early at the end of a tenancy and therefore best practice to detail them in an inventory report.

For example, a landlord may feel that their garden has been neglected and wants to hold back some of their tenant’s deposit to cover the cost of returning it to its original condition. This is especially common during or just after winter, when the garden may not look its best.

Read on as we highlight the importance of garden inventories and outline who is responsible for maintaining the garden in a rented property, before exploring what should feature in a typical garden inventory check and assessing their role in minimising landlord-tenant disputes.

Why are garden inventories so important?

Including a garden inventory within a tenancy agreement is crucial because it helps everyone involved know the original condition of this outside space at the start of a tenancy.

Just as an interior inventory of the property provides a benchmark against which to maintain the inside of the property, garden inventories detail a minimum standard that tenants must keep to during their time at the property for the outside space.

This could include instructions on mowing lawns and weeding patio areas. Seen, signed and agreed by both parties at the earliest point of the tenancy, an inventory of the garden sets the right tone for understanding the condition of the outside spaces, making the reporting outcomes fairer for everyone.

Suzy Hershman, Head of Dispute Resolution at MyDesposits, said: “Garden maintenance is another common cause of dispute between tenant and landlord. It is often a contentious area because many tenancy agreements are not specific with regard to the landlord’s requirements and moreover some agreements do not mention the garden at all.”

Compiled by an inventory clerk or agent, this element of the condition report also offers guidance to tenants on how they should return the property’s garden when they move out. Having an in-depth description of the garden on day one means they can maintain and aim for this same standard at the end of their time living there.

Overall, a garden inventory and clauses in a tenancy agreement protect the landlord’s garden areas and spaces whilst helping tenants avoid having deductions taken from their deposit, to rectify any damage or neglect.

Who is responsible for maintaining the garden in a rented property?

As it is often a grey area, it is important to know who is responsible for maintaining a property’s outside space or garden. As we have covered in our previous blog Maintaining The Garden In A Rented Property, the landlord is within their rights to expect renters to mow lawns or weed patios and paths.

Research by TDS claimed that almost 75% of agents and landlords believe that the upkeep of a garden is solely the tenant’s responsibility. 13% believed it was an obligation for both parties, and only 9% thought that it was exclusively the landlord’s responsibility.

TDS believes that this could be creating a gap in communication between landlords, tenants and agents, which could lead to garden disputes later on.

Wherever possible, the landlord should be willing to provide the tenant with all of the necessary tools required to do this. Having somewhere safe to keep them, such as a shed, garage or store will also help the tenant maintain the outside space.

On the other hand, more specialised or in-depth gardening tasks can fall under the landlord’s remit. This can be completed by themselves or a contractor where for example, expertise in repairing a fence or trimming tall trees is needed.

Also, a garden may contain a particular shrub or plant that requires expert care, such as an exotic or well-established tree. This can be protected with a clause in the tenancy agreement, stating that the landlord or a professional gardener/landscaper will tend to this. For these reasons, many landlords will opt for hard landscaping or simple planting schemes.

Crucially, if a tenancy agreement clause does not bind a tenant to an expected garden-related task, whatever it might be, the landlord may lose their right to expect a well-kept garden. This emphasises why having a garden inventory is vital for good relations.

The wording of each clause should also avoid being open to interpretation or disagreements may arise between the agent, tenant and landlord. It is therefore in everyone’s interest not to use subjective language.

A landlord may have little recourse if the clauses informed by the garden inventory can be misinterpreted. A wise choice would be to include the statement “keep the paving free from weeds” so the tenant cannot later reply that they were unsure of what this involved in practice.

The main causes of garden disputes

According to TDS research, 39% of agents and landlords experienced damage to their rental property garden. While the majority experienced multiple garden problems at the end of tenancy, only 3% encountered one single issue.

According to the report, the most common issues of garden disputes are:

  • 75% said that they’d experienced disputes due to weeds
  • 41% of respondents claimed that damage to fences had been an issue
  • 68% said they’d dealt with disputes arising from overgrown lawns
  • 65% found that their tenant did not trim back trees or bushes
  • 27% of agents and landlords had to raise a deposit deduction for damage to the garden

What is in a garden inventory check?

Generally, there’s a lack of real guidance available regarding what needs to be included in garden inventories. Essentially, the check-in report (inventory) should pay the same amount of detail to the outside space(s) such as gardens, fences, outbuildings, garages and driveways, as the rooms inside the property. Never should the process become rushed at the end of an inventory, compiled as a mere afterthought, given its value in resolving landlord-tenant disputes.

The Tenancy Deposit Scheme (TDS) has created a guide for all three parties involved with a property inventory (the tenant, landlord and agent). Whilst often overlooked by property professionals, a garden inventory should form the benchmark regarding how the garden looked at the beginning and how it should look at the close of a tenancy.

Each part of the outside space needs to be recorded in the inventory before the tenants move in. The condition and any outdoor seating, for instance, should also be noted. As with the internal walls, it helps to include the condition of any outbuilding, garage door or fencing so that this can be compared at the end of a tenancy. A landlord may have not been asked permission to stain or paint a fence so they could argue that the garden has not been left in the same condition as it was on the day the inventory was taken.

What level of detail should be included?

The TDS guide recommends that garden inventories record the “general condition only”, so will not include an itemised list of plants. Listing tools such as hedge trimmers that the landlord has supplied or garden furniture could be the exception to this rule. These items will need to be left on the property at the end of a rental period unless the tenancy agreement states otherwise.

Including photographs of any garages or sheds, the garden, property exterior and driveway, can further help avoid tenant confusion. Acting as a visual record of the spaces as seen before the tenant(s) have lived there, these images should enhance not replace written descriptions of the garden’s condition.

MyDespoits recommends that photographs should be embedded into the check-in inventory/report and check-out report, and that they should be digitally dated and in colour. Additionally, it’s important to make sure any images are referenced to the relevant area in the property.

Garden inventory checklist

Aside from photographs, the types of questions to answer when compiling a garden inventory should include the following:

  • Have any driveways, patios and paths been well maintained?
  • Has the lawn been cut and does it look healthy?
  • Does the garden have any weeds or loose paving?
  • Are the flowerbeds looking cared for, season permitting?
  • Have any hedges or bushes been pruned?
  • Are there any leaves or grass cuttings on the lawn?
  • What colour/condition are the property’s fences, shed and garage door?
  • Has the landlord supplied tools, furniture or outdoor lights?

Minimising disputes with inventory reports

The UK’s leading property agent body Propertymark advises that a “comprehensive tenancy agreement should outline the obligations of both parties involved” from the start. Likewise, “it should also explain how the garden should be managed, and what the tenant has to do to keep it in good condition”, as described above.

In not one (but three) real-life disputes, the aforementioned Propertymark article reveals how a TDS panel highlighted the importance of having a detailed inventory of landlords’ gardens as “reliable evidence”. You can view these details and the nature of each ruling on the Propertymark website.

This shows that garden inventories have a major role to play in resolving landlord-tenant disputes at the end of a tenancy, too. When a tenant moves out of the property they may query any deductions taken from their deposit regarding the condition of the house or ground-floor apartment.

A second TDS article further confirms the importance of having a garden inventory. Noting that “in the absence of such documentary evidence at both the start and end of the tenancy, it will be difficult to show that the condition has changed”.

This means that landlords could find themselves out of pocket for any changes that are required through tenant neglect or damage. This article confirms that it is the landlord’s responsibility to provide documentary evidence such as a garden inventory. Failure to provide such a report could ultimately prevent them from making a deduction from the tenant’s deposit.

Are garden inventories a commercial opportunity?

Whilst most clerks do not currently charge for gardens in an inventory package, a good question is should they now start to? Improving the accuracy and degree of detail in a garden inventory check is surely the way forward. It protects landlords, encourages tenants to maintain the garden and could create additional revenue for letting agents.

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