Why is do so many rental properties in England have grotty gardens? I don’t get it. A good garden adds valuable living space to a rental property, improves the quality of life for the renters who live there, and is good for the environment. What’s not to like?
Yet, for many landlords, the garden is low on the list of priorities during a refurb. Something to be tidied up as cheaply as possible, using gravel or even astroturf. After all, everyone knows that renters don’t look after gardens.
I believe landlords should consider gardens as an important part of a rental property, on a par with the kitchen and bathroom. A garden needn’t be a burden for landlords, and can be an asset. It can be something that sets the property apart and helps achieve a sustainable rental premium.
Providing a decent garden is also part of the bigger picture, taking into account ESG factors (Environmental, Social and Governance) in the way we make decisions as landlords.
Are you thinking of improving the outdoor space in your rental property, but are worried about how to make sure it doesn’t end up as a millstone? Well, in this blog post, I not only explain why landlords should embrace providing gardens, but I also share lots of practical tips to help landlords put in the right sort of garden, and how to manage it.
Gardens in rented properties at a glance
- Why Gardens are Important for Landlords and Renters
- How to be clear who’s responsible for what
- 5 Practical Tips about Gardens for Landlords
Why Gardens are Important for Landlords and Renters
1. Gardens are good for the planet
22 April is Earth Day, where people come together to advance sustainability and climate action in commemoration of Earth Day. Landlords can easily be part of that.
One of the Earth Day themes for 2023 is growing the Earth’s canopy by planting trees and bee-friendly plants. This is something tangible that all landlords can contribute to, and it needn’t cost a lot.
Over the long term, planting suitable trees and shrubs have a great return on investment. If the garden is small, trees and flowering shrubs can thrive in raised beds or even large planters, at a pinch. Even the smallest gardens can help improve make the local environment friendlier birds and insects.
With an estimated 4+ million rented properties in the UK, if a landlord planted one tree or shrub in each, that in itself would make a difference. Let’s get planting!
2. Rented properties with gardens are easier to let
Quite simply, properties with a nice outdoor space are easier to let.
Outside space has always been popular with renters, but it’s even more appreciated now following the lockdowns of the pandemic.
A garden provides renters with a sense of privacy, even if it is overlooked, away from the world outside. This is particularly the case in towns and cities where they can enjoy being outside, sitting in the sun in comfort with a coffee or a glass of wine, in their own space.
Gardens are very sought after for renters with children or pets, so long as the garden is secure. Families particularly appreciate having a low maintenance but nice outdoor space, with a patio area and some grass for the children to play on. Click here for other tips on attracting families and here for how to be a pet friendly landlord.
Due to their popularity, properties with an attractive outside space are always easier to let. Having a garden is practical as well as aspirational, and helps landlords attract and retain good quality renters.
3. Gardens increase returns: Higher rent and capital gain
Landlords of rental properties with nice, usable gardens can also charge higher rents. Over time, the property should go up in value better than a comparable property without a garden, or with an unattractive, grotty outdoor space.
It makes financial sense to make the most of outdoor space.
4. Gardens improve renter wellbeing
Finally, research has shown that gardens and gardening are good for mental health, improving in mood and quality of life.
The photo above is what the garden looked like when I bought the property in 2022. The rest of the photos on the page (apart from the astroturf) show what I transformed the garden into. It genuinely added another room to the property, and the renters love spending time outside, looking after the garden and relaxing in the sun.
It makes a difference if there’s somewhere to grow plants, as looking after plants and even mowing the lawn can provide a sense of accomplishment, which can boost self-esteem and improve mood. It helps to create a sense of oneness with nature, regardless of whether the garden is small, and just has large pots and no formal flower beds or borders.
Be one of those landlords who provides a garden for renters to enjoy. It needn’t be big. Just somewhere for flowers, shrubs or trees to grow and for people to enjoy.
How to be clear who’s responsible for what
1. Clause in Tenancy Agreement
It’s usual for the tenant to be responsible for the day to day upkeep of the garden. However, it’s important to make this clear in the tenancy agreement.
Tenancy agreements should have this as standard, but do check to be sure. As an example, the standard OpenRent tenancy agreement (affiliate link) has this clause:
The Tenant agrees:
If applicable, to keep the garden, patio, paths, balcony or terrace, (if any), in a neat and tidy condition, swept where necessary and weeded.
To maintain any lawns, trees and shrubs.
Not to alter the layout of the garden.Standard OpenRent tenancy agreement
On the other hand, the landlord is responsible for maintaining the fences, the safety of the patio or decking and any tree surgery. In other words, the garden is no different from, say, the bathroom or the kitchen.
2. Make ground rules clear from the start
In order to avoid any disagreements in the future, don’t just rely on a clause buried in a standard form tenancy agreement.
From a practical perspective, landlords (or their agents) should discuss their expectations about maintaining the garden when prospective renters first view the property. It’s important to choose renters who understand that they will need to look after the garden, and what this involves.
3. Have detailed check-in and check-out inventories
Landlords should arrange that their check-in and check-out inventories to include the garden, and have clear descriptions and photos of the garden and its condition.
Although I self-manage and do pretty much everything other than building or specialist trade work. However, I do outsource inventories to third parties, as an independent inventory will carry more weight as evidence in the event of a dispute.
5 Practical Tips about Gardens for Landlords
1. Provide the right type of garden for your target renters
The biggest tip for landlords is have a garden that’s easy to maintain, without the renters needing to be an expert gardener, who never misses an episode of Gardeners’ World!
Find out what sort of garden will suit the needs of your target renters. In all cases, it’s about making it attractive and low maintenance. However, be careful that they’re secure, as wobbly and uneven paving stones can cause a hazard.
What is popular with everyone, is a place to sit outside and enjoy the fresh air. I prefer paving stones over decking, as they last longer and need less maintenance.
Families will appreciate lawn for children to play on, which is probably not a priority for urban professionals. Pet owners and parents will expect a garden with good fencing. Almost all renters will like a patio area that is nice to sit out on. It’s nice to have a shady area. If you’re considering planting a tree, do it away from the house, as I did when I planted the apple tree in the raised bed in the photo above.
For an HMO, it’s likely that the renters will value a seating area, but it’s probably unrealistic to expect them to spend much time actually gardening. Any planting should be very low maintenance shrubs.
2. How to make a garden low maintenance for renters
I really recommend raised beds, bordered with railway sleepers, as shown in the photo above. They are easy to maintain, as the weeding is eay to do and it’s clear when the boundary of the bed is.
It’s a good idea to plant low growing, drought tolerant hardy flowering shrubs and perennials, with bulbs for spring. They don’t need much looking after. Lavender is a great option as it attracts pollinating insects. I put some in a concrete planter that was left by the previous owners.
I cover the bed in wood chip, to keep down the combined with hard landscaping is as near to maintenance-free as you can get with a garden.
3. Share gardening tips during maintenance inspections
When I carry out my six-monthly “maintenance visits” (sounds friendlier than “inspections”), I walk around the garden with the renters and share gardening tips.
For instance, I tell them not to worry too much about bare patches in the turf that appear in the summer, and that there is no need to water the grass in the summer. It does come back, and it’s not good for the environment to water lawns in the summer.
If they pull out weeds in the lawn (eg thistles), they can encourage grass to grow back in the bare patches by giving it a rake and sprinkling it with grass seed in the spring, keeping it watered until the new grass is established. It normally takes about 2 weeks.
I also point out which shrubs need pruning, and suggest they water the raised beds with a watering can in dry periods in the summer.
4. Consider providing gardening equipment
When prospective tenants view the property, ask if they already have a lawn mower. If they don’t, it’s a good idea to buy a little Flymo like this. It’s not expensive, and means they have no excuse not to mow the lawn.
Do get an electric mower PAT tested every year, and make sure it’s on the inventory.
5. Why astroturf isn’t an environmentally friendly option for gardens
Many landlords pave outdoor spaces cheaply, or cover them in astroturf, like the north-facing garden of this Airbnb I stayed in.
On the plus side it’s somewhere to sit outside and it’s better than a garden full of stinging nettles and dock. It can seem like a cheap and easy fix, but astroturf is bad for the environment. It’s a sterile habitat that is unwelcoming to birds, insects and worms.
Astroturf is made out of polypropylene or nylon (polyamide), and is effectively a single long-term use plastic. Fragments can make their way into the soil, as micro-plastic pollution. The lifespan of astroturf is around 10-20 years and it’s a product that’s difficult to reuse or recycle.
Whilst astroturf is better than a totally paved garden, because water can soak through, it’s not good for biodiversity as nothing can live in it.
Having access to a garden makes life nicer for the people that live there. With careful planning and communication, a garden can add as much value to a property as a nice kitchen, and make renters want to stay their longer.
Grotty gardens and outdoor spaces are bad for the soul, and have no place in the private rented sector.
Do the right thing, and get planting. It makes sense on every level!