Summer is here and as the mercury (hopefully) rises tenants will be looking forward to spending more time outdoors. Whether you have a garden, a yard or just a balcony, in this article first published in Residential Property Investor magazine, we look at how to make sure it is safe and ready for the hot weather.
Getting out in the garden is on everyone’s minds at this time of year – and now is the perfect time to check your outside spaces for any damage occurring over the winter months, to make sure your garden, yard or balcony is at its best.
Who is responsible for maintenance?
The age-old question! In short basic garden maintenance is the responsibility of the tenant. Your tenancy agreement should include the specifics, but responsibilities would generally include emptying the bins, cutting the grass and bushes and weeding. Any structural issues are the responsibility of the landlord. Ideally your agreement should include:
- Which outdoor areas the tenant is responsible for, eg: front and rear garden, side alleys etc
- Which areas are the landlord’s responsibility, eg: large trees
- What state you expect the garden to be returned in, eg: well maintained, as it looked at the start of the tenancy
- Specific responsibilities such as tidying flower beds, sweeping leaves. If you provide tools or garden furniture, make sure they are in good working order. Paths, patios and decking
While we were spared the dramatic conditions the Beast from the East brought last year, freezing temperatures can still take their toll on paths, sheds, decking and fencing over the colder months. Repeated melting and refreezing of snow and ice allows moisture to seep into decking boards, which can lead to warping, and problems around the screws called ‘mushrooming’. As a result, you need to check decking in the gardens of your rental homes to make sure it is even and solid, with no crumbling areas. Ice can also worsen any cracks in paths or drives, so check for uneven paving slabs and wobbly bricks, and make sure they’re repointed or cemented where necessary.
It wouldn’t be the great British summertime without digging out the barbecue and if there is no clause in your contract regarding this, it may be worth sending a letting of advice to your tenants or adding an addendum to the tenancy agreement-though this is not mandatory. Give our advice team a call for more information.
If your rental is in a block of flats it is likely the block has its own ruled regarding barbecues on balconies or in communal gardens and you should remind your tenants of these.
If you provide a barbecue for your tenants, then check it over to make sure it is in good working order. If not, then let them know it is important they check theirs before lighting it.
Hosepipes and hot tubs
While commonly associated with water systems in large building such as hospitals and schools, Legionella bacteria can build up anywhere where the conditions are right. Grandfather Stephen Clements, of Cromer, died after cleaning his patio with a garden hose containing Legionella bacteria. It is believed he inhaled the bacteria which had developed in the pipe after it was left in the garden with water still inside. The combination of stagnant water and the heat of the sun creates the perfect breeding ground for Legionella, with Watersafe, the UK’s main accreditation body for the plumbing industry issuing safety advice which, which can be shared with tenants. It says:
- DO fit an approved double check valve to hosepipes to prevent any water, or contaminants from the garden, ponds or paddling pools, flowing back into your mains drinking water supply
- DO turn off your hosepipe at the tap and ideally fully disconnect it when not in use
- DO fit a self-closing flow control, such as a trigger spray gun, to prevent it being used when unattended
- DO keep your hose somewhere cool and out of the sun
- DO gently run the water out of the hose before you use it – without any form of spray attachment on the end.
- DON’T place hosepipes in drains, garden ponds, buckets or watering cans where they can be submerged as contaminated water could be siphoned back into the drinking water pipework in the home.
- DON’T use a hosepipe that has been sitting around and full of warm water to fill a hot tub. The warm water within the tub will allow any bacteria – including Legionella – to grow. It is fair to say a hot tub is far from a standard fixture and fitting in most rental homes.
- However, if, by chance, you do provide one for your tenants, or have holiday rentals with hot tubs, there are also strict guidelines to adhere to. These state a competent person must be used to:
- Ensure equipment is serviced and tested regularly
- Regularly test the chemical levels in the water and adjust dosing accordingly
- Keep proper records of the above
You must also have clear management procedures in place to make sure these checks happen. For more information on your responsibilities with regards to Legionella have a read of our guidance for landlords.
Traditionally crime rates spike in the summer months, with garages and garden sheds more likely to be in use and left open. According to police, burglars know sheds are a weak point when it comes to security and often see them as easy targets, with expensive items such as bikes, lawn mowers, garden and power tools inside. As a landlord the force advise you to:
- Make sure the shed door, door frame and walls are solid. l Replace any damaged or rotten areas with new sections.
- Try to place the shed door facing the house and not too close to a perimeter wall or gate.
- Consider integrating your shed into a home alarm system l Install security lighting Garage security can be improved by:
- Extending the alarm system
- Fitting a garage door blocker on the outside of the door
- Fitting door locks that can be locked either from the inside or outside
- Installing dead bolts mounted one on each edge of the door inside the garage Inside the property itself, windows are also more likely to be open in the summer so make sure your tenants not only have access to the keys but are fully aware the windows need to be closed – and locked – while they are out, particularly if they are going away for a period of time. Similarly, if they are out in the back garden, they should make sure the front of the house is secure.
- Holidays – taking a break
- It is hard work relaxing if you are a self-managing landlord, but if you are going away and don’t want to spend your break glued to your mobile it makes sense to ask someone to keep an eye on your properties and act as a point of contact for tenants. Repairs:Ask about any repairs that need doing and complete them before going away to minimise the chance of any problems. Arrange cover: Ask a trusted friend or relative to act as a point of contact while you are away. It makes sense to make sure there will be no change of tenancy during this period. Provide them with: l
- Spare keys to doors, windows, sheds, garages etc
- A list of your handymen/contractors
- An emergency fund to pay for any urgent repairs l Your own contact details It also makes sense, where possible, to show them the houses in question and go through what they need to do to turn off the utilities, gas, water, electricity, in case of an emergency.
Tell your tenants:It may seem obvious, but let your tenants know that you are going away. Give them the dates your will be away and provide details of the new point of the contact and your details for emergencies. It is advised you put this in writing and send the letter by recorded delivery to ensure your tenants get it.
If your tenants are away
You should always have a clause in your tenancy agreement explaining the circumstances in which your tenants need to inform you they are going away – eg how many days the property can be left empty before the landlord/agent must be informed. If they are going away on holiday, ask your tenants to: l Set timers on internal lights and radios
- Ask a friend or neighbour to pick up the post and free newspapers, particularly if there is a glass panel in your door. Also ask them to make sure letters and newspapers are fully pushed through the letter box properly.
- Cancel newspaper deliveries
- Ask a neighbour to put out the bin on bin day – and bring it in again l Check if a neighbour would like to leave a car on the drive
- Mow the lawn before they go away – as well as asking a neighbour to water any pot plants to prevent them from looking wilted and abandoned. They should also be reminded of more general crime prevention advice and asked to:
- Keep valuables out of view of windows and angle blinds so that would-be burglars cannot see inside
- Make sure they have locked all doors and windows when they go away l Make sure any burglar alarm is set
- Be cautious about information they post on social media regarding their holidays, which can alert criminals that homes will be empty.
- Now all that’s left to do is enjoy the sunshine, safe in the knowledge your garden – and homes – are safe and secure for all.