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A Landlord's Responsibilities For Gardens & Trees

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The responsibilities of private landlords do not come to an abrupt end when tenants place their signatures on their tenancy agreement. Taking a professional approach to private landlords duties is in the interest of both the tenants and landlords alike.

When both parties are discharging their legal and, in some cases moral, responsibilities fully problems and disputes are often avoided. When it comes to keeping a property in good condition, there are certain legal obligations for landlords to take into account.

According to the National Landlords' Association, these responsibilities include electrical safety checks, proper repair to the roof of any dwelling and an annual gas check up from an approved engineer. [1] But what tends to cause difficulties for some landlords is in other areas where the rules of what is legally expected are less well known. Of particular interest to many landlords in the south of England is who has responsibility for garden maintenance - the landlord or the tenant? And one of the key areas of concern is when it comes to the sometimes costly maintenance of trees.

Restrictions on Dealing With Trees

When buying a property to rent out, it can be tempting to deal with any future issues that might arise from tree maintenance by chopping them all day on day one of ownership. Gardens with trees in may look attractive and, indeed, can be something that tenants like when they come to view a property. However, trees which are too close to water service conduits and foundations can cause a great deal of damage when their roots get into places that undermine them. Furthermore, many trees develop low branches which can fall away under high winds and cause potential damage guttering, roof tiles or even windows. Why not cut them down?

Firstly, landlords only have the right to cut back or prune trees that are on their property or overhang it. If a tree is on a neighbour's property or they only own the leasehold, not the freehold, then restrictions will usually apply which prevents anything but reasonable works. Specific legal advice should be sought before chopping out a tree completely under such circumstances. Furthermore, tree preservation orders (TPOs) come into force for certain actions in some areas. In Southampton alone, for example, it has been reported that some 517 TPOs are in force which cover in the region of 4,000 trees. [2] Although many of these trees are located in public spaces some are on private land, so proceeding to cut a tree down without checking whether it is under a TPO could land private landlords in legal trouble.

Finally, some trees are home to rare species of wildlife and flora. If the tree you plan on removing is home to protected species of flowers, moss or even nesting birds, then you may not be allowed to do so.

The Upkeep of Trees

Given that there are restrictions on what landlords can do about removing trees completely, the focus of many landlords is on garden upkeep. When a tenancy agreement is written up, any clauses that the landlord wishes to include may be entered. It is up to the tenant to check on these clauses, which might or might not relate to garden maintenance, before they sign. Nevertheless, most private landlords use standard tenancy agreements which are adapted for the particulars of their property and so the maintenance of external areas tends to be the same in all such documents.

In most cases, it is considered to be the tenant's responsibility to deal with basic garden maintenance. This really means that they are responsible for mowing the lawn of their own garden and cutting back invasive weeds and brambles. It is commonly interpreted in courts that gardens must be free from large scale or prolonged dumping of items such as mattresses and white goods. However, for most tenancies, the upkeep of trees is not considered to be part of the tenant's wider responsibility. [3]

As such, the first priority of tree maintenance for a landlord is in the field of safety. With low hanging branches or overgrown trees which might cause a danger to people passing by, a landlord is exposed to potential legal proceedings against them, in the case of an accident. Therefore, procuring the services a reputable tree surgeon who can deal with these issues by removing growth and topping trees is a cost which should be built into any landlord's business plan. Equally, landlords have a responsibility to themselves and to their mortgage provider by taking action on problematic trees that grow on their property, potentially damaging it. Leaving these matters to tenants to sort out on their own rarely ends well for either party, so don't hesitate to take a clear lead on the upkeep of all trees in your property portfolio.