Lawn maintenance is one of the most common sources of headaches for landlords. Some owners chose to let the lawn go, knowing that they have to replace it after the tenant leaves.
However, not all landlords have that option because their properties may be located in a deed-restricted community with a Home Owners Association. In some neighborhoods, the fines can be very steep, as much as $100 per day if the lawn is not in perfect condition.
So, what is the solution for maintaining your lawn and your sanity?
Short of not owning a property in such a community, here is what you can do to keep your grass healthy and your yard looking great.
Lawn and yard care includes many tasks: mowing, weeding, feeding, bush and tree trimming. You as a landlord have to decide who will be responsible for each of these jobs and include a “lawn and yard maintenance clause” in your lease. Check your state law if are allowed to ask the tenants to do law maintenance. In most states, the lease governs who is responsible for yard maintenance.
Here is a sample yard maintenance clause for single-family homes:
“LAWN AND YARD MAINTENANCE. TENANT is responsible for keeping the yard and lawn maintained on a regular basis, including watering, mowing, edging, weeding, fertilizing, pest control, and debris removal. TENANT must provide their own equipment.
TENANT may be fined $______ per occurrence for noncompliance, the charge shall be due as additional rent.
The lawn should be watered _______times for _______mins during the winter months and _______times for________mins during the summer months.”
Landlords have several options when it comes to grounds maintenance:
- Landlord’s responsibility – Either the landlord does the work or a contractor is hired to do it. The is the most expensive but hassle-free option.
- Tenant’s responsibility – This option can work with a proper clause in the lease. The landlord has to inspect the property often and be able to apply the fines when necessary.
- The tenant mows the lawn and the rest is the responsibility of the landlord – This is the most common option in our area mostly because everyone knows how to mow a lawn. Not everyone has the tools to trim a hedge or the knowledge to take care of the lawn properly – feed and apply pest control.
Option One – Hire a lawn maintenance company and include the fee in the rent.
You need to also hire a pest control company to come and control the bad bugs in your lawn and feed the lawn. This can get expensive but it’s a necessity in a neighborhood with a very strict HOA.
The problem with including lawn maintenance in the rent is that the rent price may be too high. For higher-priced properties, this will not be a problem but in middle-class neighborhoods adding $100 to the already high rents may deter some tenants from applying.
Option Two – Let the tenant do all the work.
This is a hit or miss option, most of the time miss. It’s hard to find a tenant who can do everything necessary to maintain a yard. Sometimes specialized tools are necessary for trimming, or knowledge is needed to know how to fertilize the lawn and keep it bugs-free. That being said it’s not impossible with proper instructions and regular inspections. The tenant and the landlord can save money.
Option Three – A hybrid between the first two options.
This is what we do. The tenant’s obligation is to mow the lawn, edge, weed, and mulch. We take care of fertilizing, lawn pest control, and tree and hedge trimming. None of this is difficult to do for the tenants. We hire companies that do the rest, once a quarter.
Watering the Lawn
Watering the lawn can get expensive and you will get a push back from your tenants on how often they are required to water. That’s why having it written in the lease is very helpful When tenants know in advance what they are supposed to do, they don’t make a big fuss about it.
If you are using sprinklers make sure they work properly. High water bill is a regular complaint and most of the time it’s due to broken sprinklers or even the irrigation timer malfunctioning.
The Most Difficult Problem: Insect Control
If you decide to let your tenants take care of the ground give them some instructions on what to do. I found the most difficult problem for me to solve was bugs but maybe that’s because we live in Florida.
There are many insects that live on your lawn. Many are beneficial and don’t damage the grass, some even keep the bad bugs away.
Unfortunately, there are some bad apples among the creepy crawlies. A few can chew through your grass in less than a month if you don’t control them.
The new and more environmentally friendly approach to control bad bugs is prevention: mow higher, water, and fertilize less and reduce thatch.
There are also many pest-control products that are safer to use for humans, animals, and beneficial insects.
Sometimes, when prevention fails, it’s necessary to take drastic measures to defend your turf.
Here is the plan of action to recover the health of your lawn.
Identity the problem
The first step is determining what’s wrong with your grass and what’s causing the problem. Many things can harm your lawn, from fungus to dogs urine.
Sometimes a little detective work is necessary to identify the problem. The easiest way is to get on your knees and look for insects. If you can’t see them, cut the bottom of a large coffee can, stick it in the ground and fill it with water. If there are any bugs, they will float on top.
This of course will not work on all creepy crawlies but it will reveal the worst offenders.
Another way is to contact your cooperating extension advisor or local nursery grower, describe the problem you are having and ask for advice.
Insect Control Methods
After you identify the insect that’s damaging your lawn, you have several treatment options. Go for the options that are safe for all, including birds and pets.
- Change the way you take care of your grass first. For example, in Florida, just mowing higher has made a huge difference for my grass. Healthy turf resists insects and other diseases naturally.
- If you have a constant problem with maintaining your grass, maybe switching to a different, more suited to your location grass will be more cost-effective in the long run.
- Use biological control, like the predatory nematodes, the Bacillus Thuringiensis, and endophytes. This control uses other living organisms to attack the bad bugs.
The next on the list are botanicals insecticides. Insect control derived from plants. The most useful ones are Neem, Pyrethrin, Insecticidal Soaps
Sometimes, traditional insecticides are the only thing that will control an infestation. Using these chemicals should be the last resort because they can make the problem worse in the long run. Chemical insecticides kill all organisms living in your grass even the beneficial ones.