Question: I currently rent a three-bedroom home and I deal directly with the owner of the house as my landlord. I currently pay a gardener $60 per month to cut the grass and shrubbery, as we have a good-sized backyard. It seems odd to me that I should be responsible for incurring this cost when I don’t even own the house. Am I or is the landlord responsible for lawn and garden maintenance of my rental home?
Property manager Griswold replies:
There are no laws or rules regarding who is responsible for taking care of the grounds/landscaping. It is subject to negotiation between the parties. I strongly suggest that the landlord retain control over the grounds/landscaping maintenance and care since most tenants will not properly care and maintain the property, as they don’t have the same incentive as the owner. I am sure that you are different but I am sure you can see why I might have my doubts about the desire of the tenant to pour his/her hard-earned money into anything beyond just the bare minimum of mowing and edging. My experience is that most tenants will not make any improvements or upgrades to the property, as they are highly unlikely to reap the long-term benefits because their tenancy is likely to be relatively short. Thus, I would suggest you contact the owner and offer to pay $60 more per month in rent and let the owner pay the landscaper directly. While this may not seem like a big deal or an improvement in your situation since you are already paying $60 per month, it will be great to be out from under that liability should their ever be any extra work needed or should the landscaper fail to properly maintain the property and the landlord is looking for someone to blame! You could be very unpleasantly surprised to find out the cost of replacing the landscaping (especially large trees) if the landscaper you selected, supervised and paid is negligent. Let the landlord be responsible for the landscaping entirely and never give him/her any basis (however weak) to claim that it is your fault if the landscaping doesn’t emulate Butchart Gardens on a fine spring day!
Question: I have been renting a home for almost eight years. Five years ago, the titled owner passed away, and the property now is in probate court where the sole daughter is fighting to claim ownership. I have continued making my monthly rent payments to the daughter. I have no written agreement with her. The lines of communication between the daughter and myself have deteriorated and I am unable to address any repair issues relating to the house with her. Is it possible to set up an account of some sort where I would pay my monthly rent until the probate issue was resolved?
Tenants’ attorney Kellman replies:
Whatever rental agreement you had with the owner transferred to the heirs when the owner died. That rental agreement surely has terminated by the passage of time by now and would then have reverted to a month-to-month agreement. Even if no written agreement existed or currently exists with the heirs, the law will impose a month-to-month agreement on the payment and acceptance of monthly rent. You have the same rights to repairs regardless of the ongoing probate case. You should treat the daughter as the landlord since she has been accepting your rent without any objection from the family or court for five years. If she refuses to make repairs you may invoke your rights under law where you make a written demand for repairs and after a reasonable time without any response, you make the repair and deduct the cost from the rent. You may also take the more drastic action of withholding rent until repairs are made. In both cases you must be sure that the defects are significant and the repairs are really needed. Document everything you do for your protection. You may also simply contact the attorneys representing the parties for guidance. If they do not agree on what you should do (being no surprise that attorneys disagree on something), you may contact the probate court directly for guidance. Putting the rent in a separate account will probably not help you unless that account is required or approved by the probate court.
This column on issues confronting tenants and landlords is written by property manager Robert Griswold, author of “Property Management for Dummies” and co-author of “Real Estate Investing for Dummies,” and San Diego attorneys Steven R. Kellman, director of the Tenant’s Legal Center, and Ted Smith, principal in a firm representing landlords.
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