Renting with a green-thumb

November 16, 2015

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With spring in full swing, many of us can’t resist the urge to begin planting, whether it’s flowers, shrubs, or even a veggie patch. But what are the rules for renters? Are you allowed to remove existing plants to make way for your own garden?

Check the rental agreement

It may seem at first glance like putting in a garden is a win-win situation, because gardening ensures that the outdoor areas of the property are well-maintained. But not all landlords will see it that way, so it’s important to make sure that you’re on the same page. As with most rental concerns, the first order of business should be to check your rental agreement. Most leases specify that tenants are responsible for maintaining a property and leaving it in the same condition as the beginning of the lease. This means that if there’s an existing garden, you may be responsible for weeding it, raking leaves, and keeping the lawn tidy.

It gets a bit more complicated if you want to improve the garden by planting flowers or vegetables of your own. A landlord might be more interested in maintaining the current state of landscaping, rather than allowing tenants to transform it. When in doubt, first check the lease. If you are still in doubt after reviewing your rental agreement, you should seek independent legal advice.

Communication is key

If there’s nothing in your rental agreement about landscaping and garden maintenance, communication with your real estate agent or landlord is essential. You’ll need their permission to alter the landscape, even if you’re improving it with attractive flower beds and fruit trees. Before you ask permission, assess the garden space and determine what you would like to do with it. It’s a good idea to be as specific as possible with your request, including the dimensions you plan to use and which varieties you would like to plant. Make your request in writing, and be prepared to strike a compromise. If you are living in an apartment complex or block of flats, you should also check if the garden forms part of your tenanted premises as it is common that this area can form part of the common property. If this is the case you should approach the body corporate manager to discuss further.

Room for compromise

A landlord may not be willing to let you dig up the entirety of the back yard to create your own vegetable garden, but they may be willing to compromise with the existing landscaping. If there are already flowerbeds, this area has been prepared for planting and can be easily returned to its original state at the end of the lease. Container gardens are another potential option, as they don’t have any effect on the current landscape. You can grow flowers and vegetables in pots, barrels, or boxes. As these aren’t permanent, they won’t have a detrimental effect on the existing garden area but still let you flex your green thumb. Hanging baskets and window boxes can make the property more attractive and are easily removed.

Be aware of city and council regulations

Finally, it’s not only your landlord you’ll have to contend with when getting the green light for your green thumb. Local councils have regulations in place about gardens on private property. This includes local council water restrictions in particular, which may prevent you from being able to keep a large garden area green. Dry weather conditions can put a damper on your gardening plans in a drought.
The bottom line is that as a renter you are responsible for returning the property to the landlord in the same condition you received it. If you plan to make any alterations, even in the form of an attractive flower bed, you must first receive permission and be willing to compromise if necessary.

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