Why Lawn Service Should Be Addressed In Every Lease


Do you require your tenants to provide the lawn service?  Generally, whenever temperatures are between 55-85 degrees, grass will be in full growth mode.  Somebody has to make sure it is cut.  A complete lease will address the specific expectations for how lawn service is to be handled.  There are several different options but determining which is best usually starts with the property.  Several important variables factor into the recommended approach for lawn care.

Does The Property Offer Equipment Storage?

The first question to ask to sort out the lawn care puzzle begins with the actual property itself.  What happens if there is no place where equipment may be stored, and the lease states that the tenant is to maintain the lawn?  One or both of these things will happen:

  1. the tenant will hire it done and it might not be to the community standards.
  2. the tenant will ignore the lawn until somebody reminds them of their responsibility to maintain it.  Then they may still ignore it and the final reminder is the day the local Health department sends their crews over to provide lawn service.

There are a couple of solutions to this problem that we recommend to owners.

  1. Plan in the lease to provide lawn service.  Either adjust the rent amount or add-on a monthly charge to tenants for lawn service.  Don’t make this charge optional as you know what the tenant will say.  Then what they will do is ignore the lawn and the problem has not been solved.
  2. My personal preference is to add a storage shed for each unit.  Yes, a little upfront cost but it eliminates time spent discussing the performance of a hired lawn service, and it clearly places the burden on the tenant.

It just makes sense.  If the lease states the tenant is responsible for lawn care, then provide someplace where the necessary equipment may be stored.

Multi-Family Properties and Lawn Care

Multi-family properties offer mostly problems when it comes to demanding the tenants maintain the lawn.  With the exception of a duplex, the rent income must account for a hired lawn service.
Duplexes are the exception if addressed specifically.

  1. Does the duplex provide for a fairly easy to determine division so that each unit maintains a certain area of the lawn?
  2. Is there storage available for the equipment?

Even if these issues are addressed, be prepared for the most common problem.  When one side goes vacant, the hired mowing crew is going to charge to cut and care for the entire lawn.  They will likely cut right over the part the occupied unit is maintaining.  We have tried many times to have a crew charge us less, or just cut a smaller portion.  They are running a business and their costs just to bring equipment to the site make it unlikely there will be any discount.
One other idea.  Ask the occupied unit tenant if they want to cut the entire lawn for a rent credit until the other side is occupied again.

Rented Property and Lawn Care

Once you have a place for equipment to be stored, it is common that the responsibility for lawn care is the tenants in single family detached properties.  It is their lawn and landscape.  Just because the tenant is responsible for lawn care, the lease needs to be specific as to what exactly a tenant is allowed to maintain outside. Planting flowers and pulling weeds are different from painting the exterior or adding to the character of the home with 20 lawn ornaments.  Clearly you are not going to expect or want a tenant to paint the exterior of the home.  Personal touches like lawn ornaments should be monitored to be within the standards of the community.
When the tenants are responsible for lawn care the standard as to its adequacy is quite subjective.   Do the tenants place the energy into it to at least keep it the property looking appropriate to the community?  The alternative is to send a crew regularly and charge the tenants.  Then collect from the tenants.

The Vacant Property

If a property is vacant…how often are you willing to pay to have it cut?  Vacant homes need to be on a schedule or regular route.  When you utilize a landscaping/mowing crew do they document their work?
Professional crews won’t agree to provide lawn service once a month without charging a lot more.  Once a month means a lot more work, not only on equipment but also clearing out debris that accumulates.  It is logical that an owner would attempt to save by reducing the frequency of care.  Professional crews run routes and it is not a good business model for them to wait for a phone call that a yard needs care.  Those calls cost a lot more than just having a regular stop on a route.
The best practice, for cost and end results is to be scheduled with a crew and have the lawn every 7-10 days.

Why Use A Professional Crew?

It is not unusual for a neighbor to contact an owner or manager and offer to provide lawn service.  There are two important reasons to hire a professional crew and use their routing system.

  1. If the home is vacant, you are likely seeking a new tenant.  A well maintained yard will help to attract one.
  2. You do not want to attract the attention of the Health Department.  Once they see a home needing lawn service, they like to stop and see what else may need to be addressed.  The potential penalties are too high.   In most areas, if a municipality sends a subcontracted crew to maintain a lawn, expect charges in excess of 6x what it would have cost you to have hired the work done yourself.  With lien rights if you fail to pay.

How do you know if the neighbor really will be available on a regular schedule?  Or that they have the funds to have their equipment repaired if it fails?
The key to have a crew of professionals, that route their days and have all the correct, well maintained equipment.

Poor Lawn Service

What if you are not pleased with the job the crew is doing?  That happens and you really need to discuss it with the owner or leader.  Use the community standards and fitting in with how the majority of lawns are cared for to begin the conversation.
Make sure the scope of the job is clear.  If you expect edging along a sidewalk every week, and do not think you are getting it, then get the scope in writing.   If you would like some bushes trimmed, or some fertilizer put down, the mowing crew may or may not provide those services.   In most markets there is lots of competition for these services and you may want to get a couple of bids.
Like in most things related to property management, the successful solution to appropriate lawn care starts with clear communication and standards.  Leases need to be clear as to how the lawn care is to be handled.  A decision should be made prior to marketing the home so the expectation is communicated to all applicants.  If tenants are to be responsible, then make sure they have a way to take responsibility and not just hire out the work whenever they feel like it might be due.

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