Gardens and Maintenance

9 Mar 2020

Gardens & Maintenance during a tenancy can cause headaches for both tenants and property owners or managers if there is not clarity around responsibilities. In this episode we get into the nitty gritty of gardens and maintenance and answer some of the frequency asked questions we receive. Our RTA Expert in this episode is Sam Galer - Manager - Customer Experience.

Transcript

Host - Belinda Heit – Communication and Education – RTA

Guest – Sam Galer – Customer Experience – RTA

Host: Welcome to the Talking Tendencies podcast. Brought to you by the Residential Tenancies Authority.  I'm your host, Belinda Heit. Join me as we explore everything you need to know about renting in Queensland with experts from the RTA and industry. We're here to help make renting work for everyone. 

Gardens and maintenance during a tenancy can cause headaches for both tenants and property owners or managers, if there's not clarity around responsibilities. In this episode, we get into the nitty gritty of gardens and maintenance and answer some of the frequently asked questions we receive. Today's expert from the RTA is Sam Galer, Manager, Customer Experience.  Welcome Sam. 

Guest: Thank you. 

Host: Now, can you tell us a bit about your role in the RTA? I know you've been on some previous episodes with us, but for people who've missed out on you, tell us about what you do. 

Guest: No problem, so I'm the Manager for one half of Customer Experience and so I look after the contact centre and the dispute resolution teams. 

Host: And you have a fun job, I know. 

Guest: Absolutely, love it. 

Host: Now, when it comes to lawns, gardens and trees on a rental property, they can cause a lot of debate as to who's responsible for them. What's the best way to deal with ambiguity in this area of yard maintenance? 

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Guest: No worries. So, I guess best way to deal with ambiguity, making sure things are clear, so it seems fairly obvious, one of the contentious subjects that we have. Best way as with most of these issues, is to be clear and upfront with communication between the parties right from the start. As well as to understand obligations under the Act. So when it comes to lawns, gardens, trees, who looks after them? For instance, the Act talks about you can't require the tenant to have specialist knowledge or specialist equipment. If we're looking at who would trim a hedge, for instance, if you're requiring the tenant to do it, potentially if the tenant isn't sure of what they're doing, they prune the hedge back too far, hedge dies. If you're looking for compensation for that, it may not have been reasonable to expect the tenant to have performed that work. 

Host: I've heard that you've had a similar situation yourself with the hedge, am I right? 

Guest: I thought we weren't going to talk about that. So I rent myself, we had a hedge that had grown from before we were there and it was actually higher than the house. I had a running discussion with my property manager that I was renting through as to whether they would get someone out to do the work, or whether it would be for us to do. And again, very, very politely stating my case that if I were to trim this hedge, aside from the fact that it probably would have required a large ladder and me dangling off it with something sharp, it's probably not a good idea But if I had pruned it back too far and the hedge dies, then they would be, the owner would not be happy with that. Generally speaking, the obligations are for the tenant to mow the lawns, sweep the paths, weeding that sort of thing. 

Host: Water restrictions and weather events can also have a major impact on the upkeep of the property. What should tenants do when it comes to water restrictions and watering gardens? I know we've been kind of lucky recently, we finally had some rain But before that we were in an awful drought. What kind of things do tenants need to be aware of in those instances? 

Guest: Okay, so one factor in this would be whether the tenant pays for water. So whether it's in the lease and there are some guidelines around that requirements for them to be able to pay for water, but we find a lot of these issues come from parties not communicating early and ignoring the situation. So the tenant knows, for instance, when there's not that water, we've got the droughts and grass is dying out, they're not comfortable or able to water the grass. You then see the grass die. It's expensive for the owner to replace it. These situations might not even be able to be prevented if there's water restrictions, but keeping the other party informed will generally help the situation and it's about preventing the owner and the agent from, I suppose, getting a rude shock. 

Host: So really, if you see the grass dying, let them know. 

Guest: Let someone know, absolutely. It's not saying that you've done the wrong thing. It's not saying that you've caused damage but being upfront and letting them know early that this is happening, there may be nothing that anyone can do but it stops it from being automatically seen maybe as the tenant’s fault. 

Host: So if we look at the other side of the coin in the event of a storm where there's been large branches that have fallen on a property, who's responsible for that clean up? 

Guest: Sure. So as with a lot of these situations, we can talk generally, it's not specifically mentioned in the Act that when there's a storm and the large branch falls down, this person is responsible. But it will come down to the individual situation and back to my first point on the specialist equipment, specialist knowledge. If you've got a large branch that's too heavy to carry, or you need to get a trailer to take it to dispose of it, potentially, then that's unlikely to be the tenant’s responsibility. They would be responsible for small branches that can be easily disposed of. Anything above that would be the owner and the agent’s responsibility if it's more likely to require specialist equipment, chainsaw for instance. 

Host: So in those bigger weather events, I mean, people have to be patient, don't they? 

Guest: Absolutely, and we did find with the floods in Townsville, for instance, and to a lesser extent recently. It's about being patient and being reasonable in expectations, so communicating the impact of what's happened and being reasonable, not expecting things to be done on the day, but keeping that clear communication. 

Host: Now what about when a property manager or owner arranges an external company to come and maintain the yard? Where does the tenant stand in that situation? 

Guest: So this situation should be spelled out in the special terms and conditions at the start of the tenancy and brought to the tenant’s attention then. The main issue with this tends to be when one party changes their mind or wants to change frequency, for instance. So if there's a gardener arranged to come once a month, and maybe the owner decides that the grass is getting a bit overgrown and wants them to come more frequently than that. It's about having that communication with the other parties, and both parties being reasonable and clear. 

Host: In those cases, would there have to be an entry notice for that third party company to come and do that work. 

Guest: The legislation would say it should be an entry notice at all of these times, or when a tradesman essentially is coming. Unless the parties agree that they don't need one. So if the gardener is coming and you know what day they're coming and it's part of the agreement, it's spelled out in the special terms of the lease, then there doesn't have to be an entry notice. But we do find where the communication deteriorates, then you'd start to look at well. 

Host: Formalising that. 

Guest: Formal notice to make sure that we're clear on what's happening. 

Host: Good to know. Now I'm interested in this one. 'Cause I've got a few fruit trees in my yard. If a property owner has fruit trees on a rental property, does the tenant have the right to pick the fruit and can the owner enter to collect the fruits? 

Guest: First of all, with your situation, what sort of fruit are we talking? 

Host: Well, it's a bit of a variety. It's a bit of everything. 

Guest: My answer is unlikely to change depending on the type of fruit. Again, we would come back to special terms, particularly with regards to entry. The tenant’s entitled to full use of the property and you could argue that that includes the fruit from the trees. What we find more commonly, though, than wanting to collect the fruit is where the tenant doesn't collect the fruit or doesn't want to collect the fruit. So mango trees are one of the benefits and advantages of living in Queensland. Amazing fruit, but they can drop a lot of fruit which then can rot and attract pests if it's not collected. So having it spelled out at the start of the tenancy is the best way to go. 

Host: Free mangoes out on the footpath. 

Guest: Exactly, then we start getting into other discussions on profiting from that. 

Host: Now we get a lot of questions in relation to the cleaning of gutters in storm season and who's responsible. Is this a responsibility of the tenant? 

Guest: Okay, so if the tenant hasn't done anything to cause the gutters to be blocked then this would generally be considered the owner's responsibility as maintenance. Not to promote any particular product here, no product placement, but there are companies that we're aware of can put grilles over the guttering. That's something that's coming out in recent years that may be an option to reduce this issue from happening in the first place. 

Host: That one we get asked a lot and we don't want to see tenants up on ladders and stuff like that. 

Guest: No, you certainly don't want to see me up on ladders, 'cause you'll probably see me down off it very quickly. 

Host: The other thing we get asked a lot about is fair wear and tear in relation to gardens and maintenance. Can you explain to us what that means? 

Guest: Fair wear and tear is one of the key parts of our legislation referring to the condition of the property. It's not defined within the legislation, but it refers to the impact that normal use can have on a property, and that includes the garden. It's down to individuals to decide whether they believe something is fair wear and tear, or whether they consider that it's damaged. 

Ultimately, the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal or QCAT would be the body that would decide and adjudicate there, but that would come down to whether the tenant did anything to cause the damage. We could be looking at anything from small bare patches of grass where you know the kids have been playing cricket to large patches of dead grass under a trampoline or a temporary pool, for instance. It's part of the ongoing argument with my wife as to as to why we don't get a trampoline because I'm not particularly keen on having to rotate it and prevent the grass from dying out. 

Host: Never thought of that with the trampoline. 

Guest: No. Well, this is why I'm here. 

Host: What would we do without you, Sam? Now swimming pools, you mentioned there particularly the inflatable ones, but I'm talking the more permanent ones. When we look at those and their maintenance on the property, what do we need to be mindful of there? 

Guest: Talking about permanent pools, seems like we're just rotating through the arguments of my wife and I, so that's fine. I'll need to look at the next list. With regards to pools, both parties need to be really clear on who's responsible for what and to be aware that pools can be a lot of work. So, who pays for the chemicals, who will clean the pool, who will balance the chemicals. Special terms are important, but also to note that if the tenant is to clean the pool as part of the special term, that they can't be required to use a specific business to do this. We do hear a lot of owners organising pool maintenance and including it in special terms.  

One additional thing with that would be that the tenant should report any changes observed quickly. So as with any repairs, if we're looking at, for instance, the pool pump making weird noises then stops, tenant doesn't report that. If it's then found that the pool pump needs replacing instead of fixing and then we've got associated costs with water, chemicals, those sorts of things you really, as with all of these, reporting things early and letting the other party know. 

Host: When it comes to property maintenance, whether it be emergency repairs of any kind. Let's say electrical or plumbing or anything like that. A property manager or owner can specify particular providers for that, can’t they? 

Guest: They can, if there's an agreed handyman who's going to come out and do the work. The difference there is that that's really the, you're contacting that repair person, but the owner is paying for it, so they're not requiring the tenant to use a specific contractor for the tenant’s responsibilities. We're talking about repairs and maintenance that needs to be carried out, so absolutely they could have their resident handyman or a particular company that they use because it's the agent and the owner who are essentially footing the bill. 

Host: Well, I think we're all in the know now when it comes to gardens and maintenance on a rental property. Thank you so much for joining us today, Sam. And obviously we've got heaps of information on our website on this subject as well at rta.qld.gov.au. 

Thank you for listening to the Talking Tenancies podcast. For more information about the Residential Tenancies Authority, visit rta.qld.gov.au. 

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