Dear PoPville – Tenant upkeep responsibilities?

Photo by PoPville flickr user Carly & Art

Dear PoPville,

Myself and two other girls rent a house. Our landlord seems to expect that we should be doing all gardening work, including keeping the already overgrown ivy and weeds in check. (For reference, the back fence in the backyard is covered in probably a 2-foot-thick wall of ivy and is growing past the property, and it’s been that way since we moved in two months ago.) Is he correct in his expectation? We’re happy to do minor weeding, and in fact I’ve killed the majority of them, but our neighbors have supposedly complained about the ivy encroachment, and that seems like a tall order for tenants–we don’t own any major gardening tools and don’t want to invest in any since we are renting.

We’ve also had complaints from our neighbors about the state of the outside of our house–it clearly needs a new paint job. What are the owner’s responsibilities in this realm? Does he have to paint it?
Basically, our house is really old, and we’re the first tenants to actually care about the living situation we’re paying for. Giant pieces of paint fall off when we open the windows, the windows don’t have any screens, two of the window panes have big cracks in them, we don’t have a doorbell. Does anyone know the minimum the owner should be responsible for fixing?

29 Comment

  • You didn’t mention the lease at all in your post … most leases contain a provision about who is responsible for yard work. In my experience, it more often than not falls to the tenant.

    Out of curiosity when you moved in did the windows have screens/panes have cracks/no door bell? If so and those weren’t provisions of the lease, you might also be out of luck in expecting your landlord to fix them.

    As for the paint, I have no idea!

    • The lease doesn’t actually matter. According to DC law landlords are responsible for maintaining rental properties both inside and out. This includes mowing, sweeping walks, cleaning up trash, etc. That said, obviously some of those things you can take into control yourself. Some of the stuff sounds cosmetic some of it sounds pretty dangerous ie. cracks in window panes. Inform the landlord of your rights, maybe agree to do some of the work, just as a good natured gesture, and ask for them to fix the rest. If they don’t there are all sorts of steps you can take. Here is this as a reference. Good luck!

      • Hmm can you point to the case law and or provision of DCMR clarifying this point? I was under the impression from the DCMR that this pertained specifically to housing code violations. I do think that the lawn could probably reach a code violation for overgrowth, so it may be a moot point. This appears to also only be enforceable from May to October. Duties of the tenant DO include clean and sanitary upkeep … I am unsure if this includes lawn care.

        Arguably massive overgrowth may lead to an increase in pests, which rises to violation of DCMR.

        I would also suggest checking about the windows for code violation.

      • While it’s true that the homeowner (and often the landlord) is ultimately responsible for this upkeep (and can be fined by the city), if the lease contains a provision indicating the tenant is responsible, then the landlord can pass those fines onto the tenant. So the lease does matter.

      • T

        you’re doing it wrong…

    • No… it does not depend on the lease. Your landlord is responsible for maintaining the inside and outside of your property within reason. Here is something to reference. I would do some of the work… but you shouldn’t be clearing out vines and you DEFINATELY shouldn’t be living with cracked windows… Look at this as a reference.

    • Yes, we have lived there for two months sans screens and doorbell, with cracked window panes, etc.

  • ah

    I don’t think responsibilities in this are allocated by law.

    My suggestion is you contact the landlord and propose something along the following lines, based on neighbor complaints (which he has as much incentive as you to avoid):

    1) He will pay for 2-3 cleanups per year done by a professional yard crew (weeds, trimming, mulching, leaves).
    2) You will do periodic maintenance such as minor weeding, mowing, and basic cleanup in between.

    He should have the exterior painted–it’s in his interest because the wood will start to rot if it’s not properly sealed. He should also fix up the cracked windows.

    As for the doorbell, go to radioshack or Amazon and buy a wireless doorbell for $20.

  • i was in a similar situation when i first moved to DC. the landlord expected the renters (all young women) to bag leaves and keep hedges trimmed. we had no tools or money, really. and we resisted (mightily!). he was right, though. it was the tenants’ responsibility. we had to eventually hire it out.

    as for the state of the house, you rented it like that! and no, he does not have to paint by any law there is!! (if that were the case, half the houses on my block would be in violation of the law!).

  • Agree with amb297 – Unless the lease specifically says otherwise, I’d say that tenants should expect to do a certain amount of basic yard work and care. Not landscaping, but basic upkeep. If you live in a house, you take on certain responsibilities, and these might include things that require some lawn tools.

  • Had the exact situation at my place (vines and weeds, complaining neighbors). Our landlord said it’s in our lease, and while we could probably protest that, just doesn’t make sense as we are getting a great deal. Instead, we asked the landlord to suggest someone. They cleared out our very full front area for a cheap price when split among roomies.

  • Multi-unit rentals usually have the landlord covering this maintenance. When an entire house (single family dwelling) is rented, the responsibility falls squarely on the tenant, unless specifically stipulated in the lease.

    The Georgetown Tenant Survival Guide addresses mostly multi-unit rentals. Rental of an entire single family dwelling on a single lease is handled differently by DC law. (although there is a large degree of overlap.)

  • do you happen to live in georgetown? because i had the exact same situation while renting a place a block above M street with a brick patio. i enjoyed gardening and spent a fair amount of money on planting, tools, etc. but when i moved out, the landlord withheld most of my deposit for “yard maintenence,” namely the ivy that covered the fences. (and “dusty baseboards,” but that’s another story…)

  • I could be wrong, but I was under the impression it’s always the tenant’s responsibility unless the lease says otherwise. Just like you need to bring your trashcans in by 6pm, shovel snow and sweep fallen leaves off the sidewalk in front of the house, and keep the front lawn mowed. If you’re incapable of doing these things you can hire a neighborhood kid to do it cheaply. The painting is not your problem, but I’m pretty sure basic lawn maintenance is.

    BTW I just took care of my own ivy encroachment problem with a $1 pair of gardening gloves, scissors, and my own two hands.

    • If the city was to ticket for not shoveling snow or yard issues (haha) – the ticket I think goes to the owner of record because it is their house (the renters are just living there). Saying that, I think most owners either explicitly or implicitly push that off to the renters.

      • In the event of a snowstorm, is it reasonable to expect the landlord to travel from wherever he or she lives to shovel the tenant’s snow? I don’t think so.

  • Read your lease
    Go to the hardware store, garage sale, craigslist and buy some shears and get to work on the ivy.
    You don’t need to keep it Home & Garden perfect – just not an eyesore.

    The windows and paint are your landlords responsibility. Tell him/her that you have concerns regarding those issues and ask that they be fixed – I’d worry more about the windows than paint as a tenant.

  • I have a very similar situation. It’s easier for us to just maintain the yard our self and not have to worry about the crying neighbors, fines, or the landlord raising our rent. As for paint that’s up to the landlord and they don’t have to paint. The window is different because of the crack and if you called code enforcement they would make them fix it, but that involves time and getting on the landlords bad side. The neighbors are going to com pain because they know you’re a renter, don’t worry and just try and do what you can.

  • Classic. Ignore the links posted by people who actually have the legal answer to the question but instead offer your own personal view because, well, it’s your own personal view.

    • T

      You don’t understand and that Georgetown Housing Guide doesn’t provide the complete picture. Sure, a rental unit must comply with certain Housing Code Standards. Yes, the landlord can be fined if the unit does not comply.

      But, at the same time, the lease can specify that the renter is responsible for just about anything (see the illegal lease provisions section of the Georgetown Housing Guide). For example, the lease can specify that the tenant is responsible for yard maintenance, keeping the walks clear, etc. As a result, any fines received by the landlord for housing code violations that were the responsibility of the tenant under the lease can be recouped from the tenant by the landlord.

      So, effectively, it’s the tenant’s responsibility if it says so in the lease (with some exceptions).

      • Right answer.

      • No… you are wrong. Just because it says so in a lease does not make it so… the landlord is LEGALLY responsible for the property. If he decides to delegate that to the tenants and the tenant accepts then good… however the tenant has no LEGAL requirement to actually do any of that work. Would it be in good taste to shovel the walk, sweep the steps, etc… of course, however, from a legal perspective they are exempt.

        • For God’s sake you are both right. Think this through for a minute. If the lease specificies the tenant is responsible for cutting grass, trash, maintenance, etc., then the tenant is responsible to the landlord.

          Ultimately, the landlord is responsible for the property so the landlord is reponsible to the neighborhood and City Code if he/she should be cited. But that does not mean he can’t go after the tenant – who is responsible per the lease.

          All of this “but we are girls with no gardening equipment, and we’re just renters” bull needs to stop. You rented a house, not an apartment in a high-rise. You are part of a neighborhood. If you can’t shovel your snow or rake some leaves a house is not your best choice.

          Speaking as someone who has more than my share of group houses on my street, I am frustrated by the finger pointing. At the end of the day, it is your neighbors that have to deal with the effect – slippery sidewalks, overgrown yards. Do you want to live in that environment? Work it out with your landlord or just do it.

    • I don’t think Mt. P Dude and other similar commenters are ignoring or dismissing the legal angle, just offering alternative options. There are many instances where, even if legal recourse is technically available, it can be frustrating, time-consuming, and expensive to pursue. Depends on the situation and the individual–for some people, going the legal route is important on principle or if there are no other options; others may find it easier to just go with the path of least resistance (like taking on the yardwork instead of hassling with the landlord to do so).

  • Putting the yard work aside (the lease should cover that issue) i’d encourage the OP to get the landlord to take care of the cracking paint. You don’t want any lead paint issues!

  • I’m a landlord and I take care of the yard maintenance for my tenants (mowing and weeding the yard) mainly because I don’t want my former neighbors to hate me for being a lazy landlord and I care how the house looks.

  • You’re renting a house with a yard. Don’t you want to use said yard? Seems like if you wanted to use the yard, you’d want it to be nice enough so you and your friends could enjoy the occasional adult beverage while eating grilled meats.

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