Short answer: It’s legally and financially the landlord’s responsibility unless otherwise stated in the lease.
As landlords, you are responsible for everything on the property.
- Building – interior and exterior
- Landscaping upkeep
- Driveway maintenance
- Lawn care and mowing
- Tree trimming and removal
What if I have a management company?
It depends on the terms of your agreement with the management company. The best-case scenario is; the management company states that it is responsible for ensuring that all of the items above are happening. You have a pre-approved cost associated with each of them.
For maintenance outside of the agreement, a good management company will contact the landlord to discuss the issue, present solutions, and their related costs. Then, together, you can decide on the best course of action.
For instance, a storm comes through and knocks down a big tree branch, but it’s left hanging high up in the tree. The management company has their pre-approved tree care vendor examine the damage and estimate to cut the branch down. This estimate is above the pre-approved costs. So, the management company calls the landlord to get the extra costs approved. As the landlord, you can request more bids, approve the current bid, or even decide not to do anything (definitely not recommended!).
Once you make the decision, then the management company should handle everything else. It is better to communicate with the tenant at every step because sometimes tenants get impatient when they think nothing is happening and try to fix things themselves.
What if the rental agreement says that the tenant is responsible for all maintenance and repairs – inside and out?
Well, good luck to you, Mr. Landlord. Legally and financially, you’re good since the contract states it. However, it also means you have no recourse if the tenant does something you do not like.
What if a tree grows right along the fence line, the trunk is on one side but the rest of it passes through the fence and is now on my side?
This one can get complicated depending on your agreement with your tenant. For the sake of answering, let’s assume that you, as the landlord, are responsible for the trees. If your contract states that it is the tenant’s responsibility, the tenant would be working things out with the other property owner in the answers below.
If the tree trunk is on the property line, then both owners are responsible for the portion of the tree on their side of the boundary.
That is also the case for roots under the ground on your property and branches hanging above your property. This is valid even though the tree trunk is on your neighbor’s property. The general rule of thumb is that you are responsible/allowed to maintain your property, up to the property line. That includes the ground below and the skies above. However, neither owner can damage or destroy the tree without the other owner’s consent. It means that if you cut the roots on your property without the knowledge/consent of the other owner and it causes the tree to die, you can be held liable.
Exceptions to this exist for “Acts of God” damages. Meaning, a storm causes a tree or tree branch on your property to fall, causing damage to your neighbor’s property, then you are not liable and your neighbor should file an insurance claim. One exception is that if the tree or branch has been dead for a while, your neighbor has complained about it, and you never took care of the issue.
What if the yard care company is not doing a good job, but as the landlord, I was not made aware of any issues, and now the landscaping and trees are a mess causing my tenant to take matters into their own hands?
If your rental agreement specifically says that the landlord is responsible, you should be doing periodic checks on your property to ensure that everything is up to your standards. If you have a management company, they should be doing this.
Let your tenants know the proper protocols are for notifying you or the management company of issues. As the landlord, you are still responsible for any damage caused by the “tenant taking matters into their own hands”.
You should also have clear roles and responsibilities for your “yard care” company. The company that cuts the grass may not realize you expect them to do anything regarding the trees and landscaping. If their company provides only lawn care or grass cutting service, they may not know about trees and landscaping maintenance. Hire a Certified Arborist to do a yearly review of your trees and shrubs. If you pick the right company, then you’re hiring a professional tree care company and landscaper who can guide you on both fronts.
Written by Kristen Palm on behalf of Clipper Tree & Landscaping