Responsibility of Outdoor Maintenance of Rental Property: Landlord or Tenant

Suppose you are renting a house, a townhouse, or part of a multi-family house property where there is a substantial outdoor area. Who is responsible for the maintenance of those outdoor areas, such as tree trimming and gutter cleaning? It depends on two things:

  • What does the lease say?
  • What area has the tenant rented?

First, it's important to know what is stated in the lease. Whenever there is any question in a landlord-tenant relationship, the first and most important place to look for answers is the lease. A lease is a contract, and two parties can generally come to any legal agreement they choose. (There are a few exceptions, where parties cannot contract to do illegal things, such to discriminate, avoid taxes, or commit crimes; apart from that, almost any contractual terms are enforceable.) In terms of a lease, the two parties (landlord and tenant) can come to any division of maintenance they want. Not all leases address outdoor maintenance, but if a lease does, the lease's terms will control.

Second, if the lease is silent on the subject, what has the tenant actually rented? The landlord owns the whole property and is responsible for the maintenance in all areas not rented by the tenant, while the tenant is responsible for maintaining the areas under his or her control. So in a multi-family unit, where the tenant rents one unit of several, the tenant only has possession of his or her own unit. The landlord would be responsible for the maintenance of common areas, including the outdoors.

However, if a tenant rents an entire house and it includes surrounding property, such as a front yard and a backyard, then unless the lease says otherwise, the tenant is probably responsible for much of the routine outdoor maintenance because it's within the area rented by the tenant. There are some limitations to this general rule. For instance, landlords are still typically responsible for repairs, but that line is not necessarily as bright as it should be.

The last thing either party wants is an acrimonious dispute over who had to perform some maintenance. Tenants who don't want to be responsible for outdoor maintenance, or at least not be responsible for all of it, should make that clear in the lease. For example, a tenant who is willing to mow the lawn and rake leaves, but who does not want to trim trees or clean gutters, should make sure the lease is clear on the division of responsibility.