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by Robert Griswold, Inman News

Dead plantsQ: I am a landlord with one rental house. I have a problem with damage done to the landscaping by the tenants who recently moved out.

The rental contract states, “The tenants agree to care for and adequately water the lawn, shrubbery and trees.”

I have always paid the water bill and there was no noticeable change in the monthly amount so I was very disappointed when I met them for their move-out inspection to find they let the trees, shrubbery and grass die.

This damage will amount to hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars in repairs before I can rent out the house again. Can the security deposit be applied to the damage done to the yard?

A: Based on the language you included in the rental agreement, I believe you have grounds for making reasonable deductions against the tenant’s security deposit as they clearly breached the terms by allowing the landscaping to die. Of course, determining what is proper maintenance for landscaping can be very subjective and you need to be fair in assessing the damage to the former tenants.

For example, if the grass can recover with watering it would be unreasonable to charge the tenant for resodding the entire yard. Hopefully you had pictures of the landscaping before the tenants moved in to establish the pre-move-in condition of the landscaping. Take pictures now to show that the damage occurred during the tenancy. This will be particularly helpful if the tenants go to small claims court to challenge your security deposit deductions.

Also, you should seek at least two or three bids for any replanting or other professional services. It is likely that getting these bids will take longer than the maximum time allowed to account for and refund any remaining balance of the tenant’s security deposit, so you should also contact the tenant in writing to let them know of any other deductions and exactly what your concerns are about the damage to the landscaping. Once you receive the bids, select the lowest bid that will do the work properly and send the former tenant the final accounting indicating the remaining balance due or amount owed.

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.”
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Copyright 2008 Inman News

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